Anthony Dowling and the finding of the De Burgo-O’Malley chalice in an attic in High Street, Tullamore in the 1890s. By Michael Byrne

The finding of the De Burgo-O’Malley Chalice in a house in High Street, Tullamore in 1896 was a significant event and the chalice now features in A History of Ireland in 100 Objects.[1] Other artifacts in the 100 series include the Clonmacnoise Crozier, Old Croghan Man and the Ballinderry Brooch.  Surprising omissions from the 100-book were The Shrine of St Manchan, The Book of Durrow and MacRegol’s Gospel. Never mind, these manuscripts were included in the British Library exhibition in 2018–19, and the wonderful new book The Shrine of St Manchan will make the locally held shrine known to a much wider public.[2]

How did the De Burgo-O’Malley chalice come to be found? Patrick Fanning has the best account of the local detail in an article he wrote in 1944 where he said:

Courtesy of the National Museum of Ireland

The De Burgho [sic] chalice was found in Tullamore in the nineties of the last century.  There is no one now who can tell how it came to Tullamore, or how long it lay in an old worm-eaten box with a set of vestments and an old missal.  God alone knows how they survived the rapine and destruction of the Penal times, or by what hunted priest or prelate they were used.  The old box was found in the rather spacious house at the corner of High Street and O’Moore Street, the owner and occupier of which at the time was a celebrated solicitor, Mr. Darcy Dowling, better known to fame in local parlance as “Torney Dowlin”.  The house is now occupied by Mr. Albert Roberts and portion of it is let in flats.  It was, for nearly half a century, the Presbyterian Manse.  After Mr. Dowling’s death. The eminent, and still virile legal firm of Hoey and Denning, took over and established their office where “Torney Dowlin” had so presided.  They subsequently moved to their present splendid offices in Bridge Street.  The Dowlings were related to the Galway Blakes, and it is presumed that the box and its contents came to Tullamore through, and from the Blakes.  At all events, D’Arcy Dowling or his son, Tony Dowling, who is still remembered by old natives of the town like Mr. John Lloyd, Mr. Hugh Digan, Mr. Patrick Power and Mr. Frank Reynolds, and others, gave the chalice to the late Father Hugh Behan, P.P., V.F. Father Behan, who died by the way very suddenly on 25th May, 1899, sent the chalice to Messrs. Smyth, the well-known Wicklow Street firm of church plate manufacturers, in March 1897.  They at once recognised it as a most valuable antique, and they replied, giving their expert opinion to Fr. Behan.  They expertly explained that any repairs or renovations would, in the circumstances, be merely harmful and they advised against such a course, they returned the chalice to Father Behan.  And he in turn promptly returned it to Mr. Dowling.  Sometime later an English nobleman-Lord Swaythling-bought it at Christie’s auction rooms in London for more than a thousand pounds.  It was subsequently bought for the National Museum, where, as already stated, it now reposes.[3]  

Fanning had much right but Henry S. Crawford[4] gives more credit to the National Museum in his account and in the process how Ireland lost the chalice for over twenty years until bought at auction in early May 1924 at the second Lord Swaythling’s auction of his father’s silversmith collection.

Samuel Montague, the first Lord Swaythling, d. 1911

Crawford on the De Burgo Chalice. – This, the earliest dated Irish chalice so far known, was found after the death of W. D. Dowling, a solicitor, of Tullamore, along with a set of vestments in an old chest in his possession, and it came into the hands of the Rev. Hugh Behan, P.P., Tullamore.  While in Dublin for repair in 1897 it was seen by Mr. T. H. Longfield, of the National Museum, who made drawings of it, and on his advice it was returned to Tullamore without the proposed repairs.  Mr. Dowling’s son sold the chalice at some time subsequently in London, and it was then bought by Sir Samuel Mongtague, afterwards Lord Swaythling. In 1907 Lord Swaythling lent it to the National Museum, Dublin, for a period six months.  At the Swaythling sale in May 1924, this chalice was bought for the National Museum, and at the same sale the Franciscans of Merchants’ Quay, Dublin, secured the O’Queely chalice, dated 1640.

The De Burgo chalice is of silver, fashioned in the Gothic style, tall and gracefully proportioned, and, like the best work of its time, it gilt.  The cup is plain, with straight, sharply-splayed sidelines, showing not the least outward curve at the rim.  The foot is octagonal and pyramidal in form, its lines, both horizontal and ascending, curving inwards from the eight points.  The stem, retaining the octagonal form, is broken a little above the middle by a slightly compressed globular knop, round which eight bosses are set lozengewise.  The faces of the bosses are enriched with translucent green and blue enamel; on one of them the under-lying engraved device consists of two rings interlaced in the Celtic manner.  Spiral flutings radiate from the stem above and below bosses. [5]

Fintan O’Toole on the De Burgo-O’Malley Chalice, 1494

As one would expect Fintan O’Toole looks at the political significance and symbolism

An inscription on this fine silver chalice, given to the Dominican abbey of Borrishoole, in Co Mayo, in 1494, bears the names of Thomas de Burgo and his wife, Gráinne Ní Mháille (Gráinne O’Malley). The first surname is that of a scion of one of the great Anglo-Norman warlord families in Ireland; the second is obviously Gaelic. (Gráinne was an ancestor of the famous Granuaile.) The chalice – Michael Kenny of the National Museum of Ireland suspects it was probably made in Galway – is a physical token of the integration of the former invaders into Gaelic aristocratic society. .

In this sense, the chalice symbolises the revival of the Gaelic aristocracy and the retreat of the Anglo-Norman colony. But the idea that Anglo-Norman Ireland was “Gaelicised” in the 15th century leaves out the fact that, almost from the beginning, when Strongbow married Aoife, many of the big Anglo-Norman families resulted from marriages to high-status Irish women. For example, Thomas fitz Maurice, ancestor of the powerful Desmond clan, had an Irish wife called Sadhbh. The colonial aristocracy was always partly Irish, and the process of making it “Hiberniores Hibernis ipsis” (more Irish than the Irish) was a long one. …

The chalice was found in this 1758 house, home of the Dowling family from the 1850s to 1904. The house, now for sale, is no. GV 29 High Street – i.e the number on the first printed valuation of 1854.

More on the Tullamore background of Dowling:

My own entry for the solicitor D’Arcy Dowling in Legal Offaly [6] recorded that :

DOWLING, WILLIAM D’ARCY, first son of John Dowling of Longford Castle, Co. Galway and Mary D’Arcy, educated at the Mansion House Academy, Highgate and admitted to King’s Inns in 1827. He had an office at Banagher in 1846 and at Barrack Street, Tullamore in 1856. By 1870 he had moved to High Street, Tullamore and was still there in 1881. He died in July 1885.[7] He was on the platform at a major rally in Tullamore in 1869 in support of a land bill providing for the ‘3Fs’.[8] At that time he seems to have had the main criminal business in the county and represented the accused men in the case of the attack on Mr P. J. O’Connor of Moorock Lodge, Ballycumber when O’Connor’s nose was cut off. He represented the Shiels, brother and sister from Daingean who were hanged at Tullamore in 1870.[9] His wife Elizabeth, who died in 1869, was a grandniece of the late dowager countess of Howth and a cousin to then earl.[10] The Midland Tribune reported his death in November 1885 noting that he had been born at Eyrecourt, County Galway and had qualified some fifty-two years earlier and that he had enjoyed a large practice in Westmeath and County Offaly. By his first wife who died in 1851[1854?] he had nine children. He married again at Banagher in 1852 and is said to have married a third time. His funeral to Durrow was immense. Captain L’Estrange on behalf of the local magistrates sympathised with colleagues and noted that Mr Dowling had been a man of considerable literary ability and with a thorough knowledge of several European languages. Dowling appears to have been in possession of the De Burgo O’Malley chalice, sold by his son, Anthony Walter Blake Dowling, after his father’s death.[11] George Hoey took over the practice in July 1885 and by 1887 the business had been subsumed into the new firm of Hoey & Denning but continued at the same address at West View, Tullamore. This is the large house looking west to the Presbyterian church in High Street.[12]

Further probing confirmed that W.D. Dowling was at least twelve years dead when the chalice was found. In the same year of 1885 George Hoey, a young solicitor, who had been to school at Tullabeg, purchased the Dowling practice and was joined in 1887 by solictior James A. Denning. They continued to work from ‘West View’ until they moved to the ground floor of the former Distillery House in Bridge Street about 1903.

After the purchase of the De Burgo-O’Malley and O’Quealy chalices at the Swaythling auction there was some comment in the press and on 12 May 1924 Mrs. Gertrude Delany (née Dowling) wrote from 3 Belgrave Square, N., Monkstown, as follows:-

With reference to your statement in the London Letter in the Irish Independent one might infer that the De Burgo chalice belonged to the Franciscan Order, but such is not the case.  This chalice was within my own recollection in the possession of my father, the late Wm. Darcy Dowling of Tullamore, and his father before him, and it is family tradition that it has been so handed down for many generations, and originally came to our family through inter-marriage with a scion of the Clanricard family.  The chalice was sold in 1902 or 1903 by my brother, or his agent, to Lord Swaythling.

So the finder of the chalice under the bed was Anthony W. Dowling, a bachelor, aged 39, in 1901 and who occupied the upper floors of West View for almost twenty years after his father’s death. His occupation was stated to be Poor Rate Collector. He was also an auctioneer for a while in the late 1890s (see the poster below).The only other occupant in the house was his servant Ellen Scully, aged 30. Dowling was in need of funds and hence the sale of the family heirloom. He had a bankruptcy case against him in 1904 and this possibly also necessitated the sale of West View in High Street which was acquired for a manse for the Presbyterian minister, Revd Mr John Humphreys, who lived there until his retirement in the 1930s. Anthony W. Dowling moved to the United States in 1904 and was living in Beverly in 1911. He married one Jean Reid who had arrived in the United States from Scotland in 1909.

It appears that old D’Arcy Dowling married three times and that his first wife was Charlotte Martin whose parents were Andrew Persse Martin and Charlotte Burke who had entered into a marriage agreement in 1807 and who had provided a trust settlement of £2000. Andrew Persse Martin (1775–1854) owned the estate of Eagle Hill in Loughrea, County Galway and Charlotte Martin was the daughter of James Burke, Esq., of Danesfield in Moycullen, County Galway.[13]

A good source for the Dowling background was the article by Martin J Blake published in 1907.[14] Blake has W.D. Dowling still alive and that Anthony was born of the second marriage. Blake places the solicitor as the son of John Dowling and Mary who lived at Longford Castle, Co. Galway. These parents died in the late 1840s and were buried at Tiernenascra cemetery in County Galway. W.D. D. married Charlotte Martin in 1833 and she died in 1851 (others say 1854). W.D. married secondly at Banagher in 1852? and his second wife died in 1865 [1869] leaving an only son Anthony who may have been born about 1862 (based on his age in the 1901 census). W.D. is said to have married a third time. It was Anthony who brought the chalice to the Tullamore parish priest Fr Hugh Behan in 1896.

Image from the Ballindoolin archive, OPW-Maynooth University Archive and Research Centre.

Why did Fr Behan not seek to buy the chalice?  The most likely reason is the need for Dowling to have it properly valued. Also, Behan started fundraising for a new church in Tullamore in 1898. Only his death in 1899 diverted him from that course. The new church was finished in 1906 at a cost of £25,000.

Blake mentions the Dominican foundation at Burrisahoole in County Mayo as the likely location of the chalice until the eighteenth century and that it came into possession of Charlotte Martin ‘a scion of the Clanricard family’. Buckley in his Some Irish Altar Plate recites much of this and it would appear that Anthony Dowling had sold the chalice by 1900 to Sir Samuel Montagu, later Lord Swaythling, the wealthy Jewish banker and Liberal MP for fifteen years. The latter also bought the ‘O’Queally’ chalice.[15] This was also sold in 1924 by the second Lord Swaythling and is included in O’Toole’s 100 Objects.

Unlike the Geashill Cauldron and the St Manchan’s Shrine the De Burgo-O’Malley chalice has no Offaly association save that it sat in a box under a bed in the Dowling residence in Tullamore  for perhaps sixty-five years. Fr Behan would surely have bought it had it had local resonance. Like the Geashill cauldron and the eleventh figure on the St Manchan shrine both are now safe and so too is the chalice. We will always need responsible collectors who sell or donate back to state and local collections. Despite an illustrious legal career D’Arcy Dowling is now associated with the chalice and that was an heirloom from his first wife’s side of the family. It was his son Anthony by the second marriage who sold it to the Jewish banker.

Yvonne Farrell, architect on her visit to Tullamore in 2019 to launch a history of Tullamore app called for publication of the story of the find.

[1] Fintan O’Toole (ed).  A History of Ireland in 100 Objects (Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, 2013).

[2] Claire Breay and Joanna Story (eds), Anglo-Saxon kingdoms: art, word, war (British Library, 2018), pp 108–11, 210–11; Griffin Murray and Kevin O’Dwyer, St Manchan’s shrine (Silver River Studios, 2022).

[3] Patrick Fanning in Midland Tribune, 19 Aug. 1944. The article was published in the year after the publication of Buckley’s Altar Plate (see below).

[4] Kelly, Dorothy, “Henry Saxton Crawford: quintessential antiquary”, in: Ní Chatháin, Próinséas, Siobhán FitzPatrick, and Howard B. Clarke (eds), Pathfinders to the past: the antiquarian road to Irish historical writing, 1640-1960, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2012. 144–160.

[5] JRSAI, vol. 15: (1925), pp  68–70. The National Museum catalogue description: The De Burgo-O’Malley Chalice: probably, Galway, c.1494; no marks; silver-gilt. Splayed, straight-sided bowl on an octagonal stem with chased ornament; eight projections of square section issuing from the writhen knop, the forefacet of each decorated with translucent enamel; incurved, octagonal foot engraved with the Sacred Monogram and inscribed in Gothic lettering ‘THOMAS DE BURGO ET GRANIUA NÍ MALLE ME FIERI FECERU’T ANNO DO’NI MCCCCLXXXXIV’ (Thomas de Burgo and Grainne O’Malley had me made AD 1494). Little is known about the early history of this beautifully proportioned chalice, but it is thought to have been commissioned by Thomas de Burgo and his wife Grainne (possibly a grandaunt of the famous Grace O’Malley) for a new Dominican monastery at Burrishoole, Co. Mayo. 20.32cm (8in) high. Figure 5 – The De Burgo-O’Malley Chalice

[6] Michael Byrne, Legal Offaly (Offaly History, Tullamore, 2008)

[7] Midland Tribune, 23 July 1885; 22 Oct. 1885.

[8] King’s County Chronicle, 1 December 1869.

[9] King’s County Chronicle, 5 Jan. 1870 and 6 April 1870.

[10] King’s County Chronicle, 8 December 1869.

[11] Martin J. Blake, ‘A De Burgo silver chalice, A. D. 1494’ in Journal of the Galway Archaeological Society, vol. v (1907), p. 241.

[12] Registry of Deeds, memorials 2 March 1842, 1842:11:278; 11 April 1850, 1850:6:104

[13] Ireland Chancery Reports, vol. 6

[14] Martin J. Blake, ‘A De Burgo silver chalice, A.D. 1894: with notes on the family of Bourke of Turlough, County Mayo,’ Jn of the Galway Archaeological Society, 5 (1907), 240-45.

[15] J.J. Buckley, Some Irish Altar Plate (Dublin, 1943).