Book Picture The Silver and The Irish

We asked our daughter if she wanted anything from Ireland and her response took us by surprise. She said "Just bring me a little treasure back from Ireland!" This raised the bar so to speak as we had no definition for "a treasure" but we were game".

We had this in mind as we shopped and shopped trying to think what a treasure might be. Westport has a lovely street of shops and we browsed in one after the other but mostly they were filled with sports clothing for all the teams in Ireland or other touristy trinkets as a visual memory of the trip to Ireland. An antique shop was next and we were determined to spend some time looking at all that the past had to offer. We like antiques but knew there were certain limitations on what we could carry with us or transport back to America. We had previously successfully shipped some pottery and been happy with the results. We tried the Irish Postal system and had been miserably disappointed. We packed several boxes of dirty clothes, odds and ends with a piece of pottery in each box carefully wrapped in blankets. All of the pieces were broken. We really couldn’t figure it out either because there was no indication of any damage on the exterior of the boxes. Most of the time we lugged our precious cargo from place to place and then on home via carry-on. I remember once reaching Paris after a long train ride from Portugal with a number of great Portuguese pottery plates and bowls in our bags. We had sent most of our clothes home from France to make room for the pieces. The hike from the Metro station to our Hotel St Louie on the Ile St Louis nearly did me in. Patricia had hurt her arm and there I was trying to manage both of our bags with the heavy pottery and help her as well. I just barely made it. The room was just big enough for the bed and our bags but I was just happy to set them down. The lesson learned was no matter how precious this treasure was it had to be small and light enough for us to carry it home.

The antique store was small with not much in it except some jewelry and some knick knacks and we were about to leave because the sales lady was on the cell phone when I spotted an old Irish book - something for which I am always on the lookout. When I looked up from the book moments later the women was chatting with Patricia and I heard those lovely words, "Can I help you in any way". I am always thinking up new answers to that question. My latest is "Yes you can. There is a whole in my sock and it needs mending - do you think you could help me with that?" I previously liked, "Well, the lawn does need mowing". I can only chuckle at these things internally for so long before I need a new answer. Most of the time I don't actually say anything but I am smiling at my thoughts. Occasionally if I think the person is capable of getting my little joke I'll venture a comment for a little laugh or even a smile. On this occasion I thought better of offering up a stranger a piece of humor without an appetizer. In this case I stated that we were looking for a small treasure. She looked at me blankly and I added "my daughter asked us to bring her back a small treasure from Ireland when we asked if there was anything she wanted from Ireland".

She looked at us intently and said "I think I may have just the treasure you are looking for." With that she reached over the small curtain that ran across the front window and retrieved an object. Turning around and holding in the palm of her hand she said, "Do you know what this is?" We ventured that is was a small cup made of a silver colored metal. It is not just a silver colored metal, it is silver, Irish silver. It is a baby's loving cup. A gift to a new born baby and a rich little one at that. You don't see much of this kind of item around anymore and this is probably from the turn of the century around 1900 or earlier."

"It is pretty banged up", I offered.

"In the antique business we say that adds character. Besides you know that some small baby grew up with this cup. Each dent represents some event. This came form an estate sale of an old English landlord's house. This is something that was definitely treasured by someone for it was still with that old house. Besides something made of Irish silver is a rare thing."

We were definitely intrigued but rather than buy on impulse we told her we would think about it. It was not inexpensive. She asked how long we were in the area and when we replied just a few days she said she would put it aside for us. That left us with a nice feeling as we headed back out on the street looking for a little lunch. Lunch was simply a few doors down the street and it was more than enough as we headed back to the Olde Railway Hotel in Westport where we were staying. That evening the conversation returned to the loving cup. Was that the treasure that would please our daughter? It was Irish Silver but what did we know about Irish Silver? We remembered the Cardin Terry collection displayed in Cork. The comments in that exhibition implied that Carden was an extraordinary silversmith from the 18th century. The only other Irish silver experience we had was a ring we purchased in Kenmare, Co. Kerry. We'd read an article about a young silversmith who was doing incredible work. We were determined to visit his studios to seek out a small token of his work. We found his place of business and spent a lot of time considering the various offerings. Patricia picked a sculpted ring of several ounces, unlike any ring she possessed. It is big and heavy but on her finger it looks terrific. We liked it and we also found a necklace with a Celtic knot of some complexity which we have seen copied since but at the time it was new and fresh. Those were two purchases that we still cherish. One reason we were excited by having something made by a silversmith is that we were looking for something in Cork and we were told that most of the items you found were coming in from China. From that moment on we looked on almost all items to see where they were made and in many cases it was China. We decided to sleep on it and decide at breakfast.

It was a bright morning and it felt like even nature was inviting us up the street to the antique shop. The lady reached behind her counter and produced the loving cup telling us she knew we would be back for it because it truly was a unique piece. Secure in our suit case we were headed up the coast to Ramelton, County Donegal. While there we took a trip out to Dunfanaghy, where an acquaintance of ours had an antique shop. It had a combination of new and old goods. One room was filled with paintings some of which were pretty good. We hadn't really come to talk about silver but then we saw some silverware in one of the locked cases. We asked if any of it was Irish silver. She said yes a few pieces but they are expensive and hard to find because real Irish silver is a rare thing. After some more chatting we wound up purchasing a few spoons for a goodly sum. We thought of the little loving cup and asked her if she would like to take a look at it for us. We brought it in from the car. She held lovingly in her hands and said "It is a little treasure - it is. With those words we knew our mission was complete. Of course she wanted to know where we found it and the conversation took off again. She is a person that I think we would like as a friend if we saw her on a regular basis. Even seeing her as infrequently as we had, she seemed to always enjoy our company.

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