Fact and faction in Ireland

Historic shillelagh – €5100 (£4590) at Fonsie Mealy.

In stark contrast to the elegant dolls’ houses which took the higher bids at a recent auction (ATG No 2403), a shillelagh was evidence of violence and tragedy in 19th century Ireland.

Extracted from Antiques Trade Gazette | Terence Ryle

Offered at Fonsie Mealy’s (22% buyer’s premium) sale at Castlecomer on July 23, the 3ft 5in (1.05m) long club was mounted with a plaque engraved Retrieved after Fair Day Massacre, Ballinhassig, 30 June ‘45.

Back then, there was a tradition for ‘factions’ of rural villages (the shillelagh was also catalogued as ‘a faction fighting stick’) to meet for organised bloody brawls – illegal affairs which often ended in all-out riots.

On the day in question, the men of Ballinhassig, about seven miles south of Cork City, lined up against those from neighbouring Ballygarvan.

Hundreds of fighters and spectators turned up from surrounding villages but so did the Royal Irish Constabulary out in force. Their arrest of the Ballinhassig leader, one Ranter O’Sullivan, sparked a stone-throwing riot. The police fixed bayonets and charged the crowd. Ten men and one women were killed. An inquest returned a verdict of justifiable homicide but the day went down in infamy.

Estimated at €300-400 at the Co Kilkenny sale, the shillelagh sold to a private Co Cork bidder at €5100 (£4590).