Page 2 - The Kerry News 2019
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KERRY NEWS CHRISTMAS 2019
Hands of History
Killarney man James Flynn restores
Killarney Ware in an age old tradition recreating fine masterpieces
    James with a Killarney Ware Games Table
Following retirement James took up restoration of many things including cars, rocking horses, sofas, tables etc but it was honing the Killarney furniture that interested him the most.
There is much Killarney Ware for sale on line these days and provenance is important to ensure that it is real Killarney Ware and not copied and passed off as antique.
Good Killarney original tables can fetch over €50,000 in UK auction houses while more modest jewellery boxes can fetch a few hundred euro depending on the engravings.
When he joined two wires together in The Black Valley in 1976 ESB electrician James Flynn was part of history becoming the link between past and present as light shone brightly from spartan cottages in the hills from Molls Gap, to Lough Brinn and The Gap of Dunloe for the first time as the final rural electrification project was finalised in Ireland when he joined hands that day.
Now 45 years later, retired and passionate about antiques, James is once again the historic conduit to an old Kerry trade.
With time on his hands following retirement he became passionate about antiques and developed a penchant for Killarney Ware, otherwise known as Killarney Furniture. Much sought after by collectors James likes nothing more than painstakingly inter-twining slivers of Arbutus with Yew and Sycamore and renovating beautiful Killarney furniture made famous as far back as 1840.
Born in Killorglin, he met his wife Maisie (nee Galvin) at school and they married in 1972 raising two boys (Trevor
married in Cork and Ronan in Killarney). Shooting and fishing were his pastimes but the ‘bug of the bog’ caught hold and his passion for antiques was ignited after a stroll into an auction in Killarney.
“I had just retired as supervisor from the ESB and was wandering around passing by the the Three Lakes Hotel (now Killarney Plaza) to see a Lynes & Lynes auction when I was captivated by this beautiful wooden box with ornate carvings of Killarney’s most famous places. Studying the intricacies of carvings I
“So I bought another small jewellery box and set about restoring the engravings. It is slow, tedious, laborious and painstaking as I would spend endless hours carving, chiselling, etching, waxing and painting to reveal all the master craftsman’s fine detail, manufactured over 100 years ago... but so rewarding when its complete. I sit back and admire the gloss or matte finish as the carved holly lines meander through the yew and arbutus, I just take a deep breath, absorb its beauty and then start on another project..I always have to be restoring something...” said James.
James would love to see an exhibition of Killarney Ware on short or permanent display in Killarney. Why not a museum? He wonders. The buildings at nos 4 & 8 Main StreetKillarneywereahiveof activity with 5 manufacturers and 3 retailers employing very skilled local people. Last year a pen, handcrafted by James, was presented to Prince Charles & Camilla to commemorate their historic visit to Killarney, another tangible link to our historic past.
Photos: Don MacMonagle
immediately appreciated the fine furnishing but it was more than I could afford at the time... so I agonisingly spent a couple of hundred quid and it graces the living room sideboard ever since”
James restored his first lantern at home in Killorglin as a young fellow in the 60’s and picked up restoration tips from his painter dad Patrick. He needed spare cash as his ESB pay was £2 and sixpence a week and digs in Tralee were £3 so he had to earn a few bob on the side to survive.
Killarney Ware is made up primarily of Arbutus, (found by Killarney’s Lakes Shore), Yew, Holly, Sycamore and Bog Oak. A workshop was originally set up in the Gap of Dunloe by James French in 1883 and laterally the Kiernan family who took it over in 1925.
There were up to 50 master craftsmen in Killarney honing their skills on Main Street and you could hear the carvers at work as horse drawn carriages arrived to collect finished furniture. There were many names associated with manufacturing Killarney Ware including Coakley, Egan, O’Connor in 8 Main Street, which is now the famous Reidy’s Bar, and also in New Street Killarney. The Kiernan family ran the Arbutus Cottage and when the famous roadside cottage at the Serpent Lake was destroyed by fire in 1952 the last link to the trade was gone.
Killarney furniture was so popular with tourists that as business flourished following Queen Victoria’s visit in 1861 that many copycats began trading in similar wood. But nothing compared to the ornate Killarney tables, Davenport writing desks, and marquetry bookstands. The engravings depicted familiar Killarney Buildings, such as Muckross Abbey, Ross Castle and Glena Cottage with embossed Irish emblems, shamrock, round towers, wolfhounds and harps and of course the famous, once abundant and now extremely rare Killarney fern. Furniture was being manufactured in Killarney even before the railway arrived in 1853 but these were seminal times and
not long after the famine under the Browne and Herbert families Killarney was a ‘happening’ place, prosperity with new hotels like The Victoria and Muckross Hotel flourished following Queen Victoria’s much publicised holiday.
 “I learnt restoration skills from my father signwriting B&B signs for the Ring of Kerry, painting the rooms in The Dunloe Castle Hotel, Three Lakes Hotel or the Aghadoe Flats” said James.
The tourists loved them for the art and the quality of the workmanship and bought card cases, snuff boxes and chessboards, to take home, while the larger more ambitious pieces of furniture such as tables, cabinets, bureaux and davenports were shipped back to grace the English and Americans stately mansions.
ESB colleagues Dan Cronin and Eamonn Leslie wire up a house in The Black Valley 1976. Photo: Donal MacMonagle
 Whats next on James’s wish list?
“I am on the lookout for original Killarney Ware chess pieces. I saw them on sale once for €3,000 for the set and even though I could make them in my shed I would dearly like to have an original set for a beautiful games table I bought a long time ago and has a special corner in my living room in Killarney. His friend and equally a Killarney Ware enthusiast Pat O’Connor of Killarney Antiques in Lissivigeen has several pieces of the ware on display and for sale. Ah well, now they know my Christmas wish, maybe Santa could work his ‘Yew- tide’ magic”?
   The Kiernan Family in Arbutus Cottage in the 1880’s on left and the current run down cottage as it is today in The Gap of Dunloe.
laughs James.




































































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