An Old Galway Silversmith - Article - 1904

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An Old Galway Silversmith - Article - 1904

Postby dognose » Wed Dec 12, 2012 11:23 am



Some thirty years ago I met with a silver chalice in Dublin having marks upon it which were unpublished, and, so far as I was able to ascertain, unknown. It bore an inscription, "Pray for ye good intintion of Mary Gabriel Skerrett, who preserved ys Chalice and a vestiment for ye use of her Nephew, Fr. Mark Skerrett, 1732." Knowing that the Skerrett family ranked among the thirteen tribal clans of Galway, it was highly probable that the chalice was of local manufacture, and the anchor, one of its impressed stamps, the trade-mark adopted by the maker, whose initials were R. I. twice repeated; but so far, I had failed to ascertain his name.


A few months after, when on a visit to the Rev. Charles Laurence, of Lisreahan, Laurenretown, Co. Galway, this conviction was strengthened on finding among the family plate a silver cruet frame with the same anchor marks; and now, again, through the courtesy of the Rev. I. J. Ryan, President of St. Patrick's College, Thurles, I am enabled to describe a chalice which he most kindly brought for my inspection. It is 9 3/4 inches high, with a diameter at the foot of 4 7/8 inches; the cup is tulip-shaped, and is supported on an octagonal stem, with a corresponding plain central reeded knop. The base is also composed of eight fan shaped spaces, one of which has engraved upon it the crucifixion with emblems of the passion, while encircling it is inscribed, "Pray for Patk. Prendergas and his wife, Mary Ann, who ordered ys to be made, 1725," and below, upon a circular foot, an engraved floriated border of chevrons. It bears the closest possible resemblance to the Skerret chalice, and both have the octagonal form carried out in stem, knop, and base, upon which is the crucified Redeemer, with emblems of the passion, and around the foot a leaf-pattern engraved border. Both are clearly marked on cup and foot with the anchor and initials twice repeated. To discover, if possible, who this R. I. was, I consulted Hardiman, but could find no records of either a goldsmiths' guild, assay office, or any plate mark register, except that the arms of the Corporation of Goldsmiths occur upon a monumental stone in the Franciscan Friary, dated 1579, to Walter and Margaret Davin. But, upon a closer search, I was rewarded by finding in a footnote to p.15 the desired information, contained in a most interesting and eventful biographical notice of a member of the Joyce family, of which Hardiman gives a historical account, and relates the following particulars: –

"Several individuals of this name have long felt grateful to the memory of William III. from the following circumstance. On the accession of that monarch to the throne of England, one of the first acts of his reign was to send an ambassador to Algiers, to demand the immediate release of all the British subjects detained there in slavery. The Dey and Council, intimidated, reluctantly complied with this demand. Among those released was a young man of the name of Joyes, a native of Galway, who, fourteen years before, was captured on his passage to the West Indies by an Algerine corsair. On his arrival at Algiers, he was purchased by a wealthy Turk, who followed the profession of a goldsmith, and who observing his slave, Joyes, to be tractable and ingenious, instructed him in his trade, in which he speedily became an adept. The Moor, as soon as he heard of his release, offered him, in case he should remain, his only daughter in marriage, and with her half his property; but all these, with other tempting and advantageous proposals, Joyes resolutely declined. On his return to Galway he married and followed the business of a goldsmith with considerable success, and having acquired a handsome independence, he was enabled to purchase the estate of Rahoon (which lies about two miles west of the town), from Colonel Whaley, one of Cromwell's old officers. Joyes having no son, bequeathed his property to his three daughters, two of whom only were married, one to Andrew Roe French, ancestor to the late Andrew French of "Rahoon, to whom, in addition to their own, the unmarried sister left her third; the second daughter was married to the ancestor of the late Martin Lynch, a banker, who in her right inherited the remainder of the estate. Some of Joyes' silver work, stamped with his mark and the initial letters of his name, are still remaining."

During the past year Mr. Dudley Westropp saw a chalice with Mr. Smith, of Wicklow Street, Dublin, which had been sent to him from Galway. It was dated 1730, and had on the base R.I. with the anchor, and on the bowl the initials M.F., as on the Lisreahan cruet frame. The association of R.I. and M.F. on this chalice is highly interesting, and suggest that it was made by French, who used with his own stamp those of his relative, or perhaps his predecessor, Joyce. Many examples of Cork seventeenth century plate occur, where the castles, ship, and makers' marks are used indiscriminately, as on some the initials only occur, while on others the castles are found without the ships, and vice versa. So in this doubly-marked Galway piece the stamps of Joyce were probably on the workman's bench along with those of French, and both were used, perhaps by accident, or, what is equally possible, Joyce had either taken his grandson, when out of his apprenticeship, into partnership or bequeathed his old-established business to him.
From this it may be safely inferred that the initial letters are those of R. Joyce, the Moorish captive, and the anchor, the emblem of hope, his trade-mark, bearing out Hardiman's statement that "the silver stamped with his mark and the initial letters of his name are still remaining."
In the National Museum, Kildare Street, Dublin, Mr. Longfield informs me there are three chalices with Joyce's R.I. marks, and inscriptions ranging from 1717 to 1721. The first has two marks on the cup and one on the base, with a star, which may have been a workman's mark, or one to guide the priest when administering the Sacrament. That for 1718. has the same initial marks on both cup and base, and the 1721 chalice has the same R.I. marks repeated twice on base and cup. The absence of the anchor from all these is curious, and can only be accounted for by the supposition that it was not adopted by Joyce until after 1721, as it is only found upon silver of later date, viz., 1725, I730, and 1732.
In 1784 an act was passed by the Irish House of Commons compelling all the provincial silversmiths in Ireland to register their names in Dublin, and we are, by the kindness of Mr. Dudley Westropp, enabled to give a list of those who carried on their trade in Galway, the first name of which is that of Austen French, with George Robinson, Martin Lain, and Laurence Coleman in 1784; Francis Dowling and Michael O'Meara in 1785; William Leatham, 1786; and James Kelly, 1799. These probably used only the initials of their names in a stamp, but they most certainly did not use the anchor, which was, I believe, the family trade-mark of Joyce and French.

The examples of Galway plate so far recorded are: –
1. The Skerrett Chalice and Paten. R.I. and Anchor. Collection of C. J. Jackson, F.S.A.
2. The Prendergas Chalice. R.I. and Anchor. St. Patrick's College, Thurles.
3. Galway Chalice, 1730. R.I., Anchor, M.F.
4. Lisreahan Cruet Frame. M.F., Anchor.
5. Chalice repaired by Messrs. Egan, Cork, in 1902. R.I., Anchor.
6. Chalice dated 1717. R.I. Kildare Street Museum.
7. Chalice dated 1718. R.I. Kildare Street Museum.
8. Chalice dated 1721. R.I. Kildare Street Museum.

There is yet another chalice in the Augustinian Church, Thomas Street, Dublin, with a bold R.I. stamp, closely resembling that of Joyce, but the dated inscription of 1648 is too early, unless it was antedated when made by him.

Source: Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society - 1904


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Re: An Old Galway Silversmith - Article - 1904

Postby dognose » Sat Dec 22, 2012 2:06 pm

Another article on the subject from Robert Day that was written over twenty years earlier in 1882:

In our April number for 1881, I attempted to describe some pieces of Cork-made seventeenth, century silver plate. Since then I have purchased from Mr. Donegan, of Dublin, a silver chalice and paten, as used in the Roman Catholic Church. The chalice rests upon an octagonal base and shank, with a knop of as many sides, and terminates in a plain circular cup. The only attempt at engraved ornamentation is a leaf pattern border round the base, and a representation of the Crucified Redeemer, with some of the emblems of the Passion–the pincers, the hammer, and the ladder of seven steps; between the engraved border and the edge is the following inscription :–

"Pray For ye Good Intintion Of Mary Gabriel

The maker's stamps and town-marks occur upon the base of the chalice and on the edge of the cup. They are the letters R I, an anchor, and the same letters again repeated. These also occur upon the paten. The chalice unscrews and comes in three pieces, and both weigh 10 oz. 8 dwt. I have been unable to give these town-marks a location. The town mark of Birmingham is the anchor, but our chalice was made long before this emblem was granted to the capital of the midland counties. None of the authorities on silver plate that I have consulted give a similar mark. The character of the letters prove that it is not foreign; and Galway, being a seaport town and having a Goldsmiths' Guild, and the chalice having come from there, I think it highly probable that it is a specimen of Galway manufacture. The arms of the Corporation of Goldsmiths in Galway occurs on one of the tombstones there, in proof that such a guild existed.

I regret that I have not a correspondent in Galway that would help me in ascertaining some particulars of the history of this guild, but I hope the publication of this Paper will enable some of our members residing there to clear up the matter. I have already, in treating of the Cork town-marks, compared the state of Ireland in the first quarter of the eighteenth century with the railway system of our own times. Then there was practically no means of getting from Galway to Dublin, except upon a pack-horse, or in a primitive chaise; and a man of property was sure to make his will before adventuring his life through the perils that would have beset him in such a journey. When this was the case there was little chance of the Galway silversmiths risking their plate upon the uncertainty of the double journey to and from Dublin, for the sake of having it assayed and stamped with the hall-marks. As in Cork, so in Galway, a stamp was adopted that was of equal value to the old "Hibernia" of the Dublin Assay Office. In Cork it was certainly the ship between two castles; in Galway, I hope yet to prove that it was the anchor.

I have already stated my reason for assigning the chalice to Galway. It was the gift of Mary to her nephew, Father Mark Skerrett, an old family and Galway tribal name. Hardiman, in his History of Galway, gives the following account of the Skerrett family:–"This old and respectable family is of considerable antiquity in Galway. The name was originally Huscared, and they derive their family origin from a noble English stock, one of whom, Roger Huscared, is mentioned by Dugdale as a judge at a very early period. Robert Huscared, or Scared, held lands in Connaught under Richard de Burgo in 1242. In the Registry of the Monastery of Athenry, Walter Huscared and Johanna his wife are mentioned among the principal benefactors of that foundation; and Richard Scared, or Skeret, who is supposed to have been their son, was Provost of Galway in 1378," &c.

In 1731, one year before the date engraved upon this chalice, the severe penal statutes against the Roman Catholics were put into force in Galway; and the subjoined extract from the returns made by the Mayor, Walter Taylor, in that year, will show the state of the Catholic clergy, and, as it makes frequent mention of the Skerretts, is interesting in connexion with the Skerrett chalice:–"They (the Sherriffs) also gave me an account of a reputed Popish chapel in Middle-street aforesaid, in which chapel there is an altar, a canopy, and some forms; and informed me that one Gregory French and Robert Skerrett, two Popish priests, usually officiated therein. And another Popish chapel, in the same street, in a warehouse belonging to Anthony Bodkin, merchant, with some forms; and that one Patrick Bermingham, titular warden, and some other priests or friars, whose names I could not learn, officiate therein; and which said warehouse was converted into a chapel five or six years ago. And that one Patrick Skerrett, a registered Popish priest, a very old man, officiates and says Mass (as they heard) in his chambers in Skinners street; and that one Patrick Hoobane, an old registered priest, officiates and says Mass in the parish of Rahoon, in the west suburbs of Galway. And that one Gregory French is said to officiate in the house of Widow Skerrett, lately deceased, in Lombard-street, near the lower barrack," &c.

Here, therefore, we have convincing proof that the chalice came from Galway, and it only rests with us to work out the clue and discover where the chalice was made, and if the anchor town-mark, as used in 1732 or thereabouts, was the mark or stamp that authenticated the silver plate manufactured by the Goldsmiths' Guild in that ancient and historic city.

Source: Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland - 1882


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