AN OLD GALWAY SILVERSMITH
By ROBERT DAY, F.S.A.
Some thirty years ago I met with a silver chalice in Dublin having marks upon it which were unpublished, and, so far as I was able to ascertain, unknown.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