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Turbulent Irish History lies at the forefront of our Country House Collection at Townley Hall

October 5, 2022

Our annual Country House Collection is a much-anticipated sale, featuring fine period furniture, paintings, and other rarities. The venue itself, Townley Hall is steeped in history both through its design and strategic location. It is a quite fitting backdrop for both the silver model of the Battle of the Boyne obelisk and the King William III off the coast of Ireland painting attributed to William van der Hagen.

 

King William III set sail for Ireland with the English fleet in the second week of June 1690, arriving off Carrickfergus on June 14Here he landed before proceeding toBelfast where he took command of his army and marched towards Drogheda. On the30 June he faced the combined French and Irish armies of King James II acrossthe River Boyne, where the battle and subsequent rout of the Jacobite army tookplace the following day. William himself was slightly wounded in the battle,which was the keystone event in securing the Protestant ascendancy for manyyears to come. It also effectively marked the end of King James's hopes ofre-establishing himself on the English throne. After proceeding to Dublin wherehe entered the city in triumph, William advanced against Limerick, but failedto convert his siege there into capitulation. He returned from County Cork inJuly after less than two months of campaigning with his throne effectively safefrom further opposition.

 

The present painting, which dates from about 1730, is best judged as a ‘fancy’ picture to the extent that it does not rely on an eye-witness account by the artist. Nor indeed was topographical accuracy what viewers of such works demanded. What the painting does is symbolically celebrate the victory of the House of Orange over the Stuart kings in Ireland.

 

In 1728, William Van der Hagen was employed to paint a series of six Irish views for Robert Baillie which were to be reproduced in tapestry. All of the subjects were to be taken from King William's campaign in 1690, but in the event only two were completed, The Defence of Derry and The Battle of the Boyne. These are still preserved in what was the chamber of the Irish House of Lords, now the Bank of Ireland on College Green. However, he did paint a series of such pictures for other patrons, including King William Landing at Carrickfergus (Ulster Museum), and numerous other topographical and fancy landscapes are recorded in historic Irish collections.

 

In the present painting, the richly gilded Royal Yacht in the foreground is flying the pennant which from1660 indicated that the ship was under independent, rather than fleet, command. Here it is in the personal service of the monarch. The large first-rate on the right-hand side of the composition is flying on its mainmast the Royal Standard of William III which was in use between 1689 and 1702, whilst the fore flies the Admiralty and Lord High Admiral's flag, with its motif of a gold anchor and rope. At the stern is the senior ensign of the Royal Navy (in use from 1625 to1707) and the stern mast flies the ‘jack’ of the Royal Navy which was in service from the same dates. All this indicates the presence on board of the king himself and the commander of his navy, the Lord High Admiral.

An alternative recording of similar history is the silver model of the obelisk erected on an outcrop of rock just across the river from Oldbridge in 1736, almost 50years after the battle that took place nearby. The base was twenty feet square, and it was one hundred and fifty feet high and was a landmark in the landscape until blown up in the 20th Century.

This model is a valuable record of its appearance and of the inscriptions in the recessed panels. Of course, the triumphalism expressed of “Our Deliverance” and securing “Our Laws and Religion” ensured its ultimate destruction. Those who did this failed to realise that the battle for Irish Independence had been won and the obelisk was a measure of what had to be overcome.

Both the naval historical picture and silver model chronicle stair na héireann (Irish History) steeped in turbulent events, that links us to our past and the present. A reminder of the battle that culled a bona fide, unrivalled Celtic ascendancy in Ireland of several thousand years.

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