Rody Keighery in conversation with Michael Parsons of The Irish Times
Rody Keighery is an antiques auctioneer in Waterford. His family business, RJ Keighery Auctioneers, holds regular auctions of art, antiques and collectibles in Waterford city and also runs an antiques shop. His wife Anne also works in the business. They specialise in house clearances and sell anything from 9- bar gates to vintage motor cars. During the past 30 years, they have sold the contents of large country houses, hotels, restaurants, convents, and bars. They hold eight to 10 major auctions every year and these are now broadcast online via their website cityauctionrooms.com
What’s your background?
My late father Patrick Keighery was a former hotelier in Co Clare and came to Co Waterford in 1950. He settled in Kilmacthomas and set up a general provisions business that included a furniture shop and a pub and Co Waterford’s first supermarket under the VG brand. There was also a live-in hairdresser. A man could take his mother in to have her hair done and could have a few drinks while he was waiting. It was like a shopping centre in the days before that concept was invented.
In the 1960s, my father bought a large stone-front building on William Street in Waterford city and set up a retail furniture and antiques business there.
For a while, he ran the shops in both locations but eventually closed the Kilmacthomas outlet to concentrate on the city. I attended primary school with the Mercy Sisters nuns in Kilmacthomas and then was a boarder in De La Salle College in Waterford.
I have the unique distinction of having played soccer with – and against – Arsenal FC. In the 1970s the team was invited to the village to play against Kilmacthomas FC at the local Alaska Ground. The opportunity came about because a local man, who used to work with porridge-maker Flahavan’s, had emigrated to London and become the accountant for some of the Irish lads who played with Arsenal.
He was home on holiday and having in drink in the pub and we asked him if he could arrange the visit. Arsenal came over to Waterford in 1975 and we put the team up in the Tower Hotel.
I played for the Kilmacthomas side against them in 1975. The following year they came back again. Their team was a man short and asked me to fill in and so, in 1976, I had the distinction of playing for Arsenal – alongside Liam Brady, Frank Stapleton and Dave O’Leary – against my own hometown team. Arsenal beat Kilmacthomas 4-3.
How did you get into the business?
Even during my school years, I worked with my father and was known to turn a penny at any opportunity. My father was a big believer in practical “on the go” experience and I served my apprenticeship under his supervision. I went on many trips to London with him and also did various courses. I took over the business in the city and started selling by auction in the 1980s.
In 1992, I built one of the largest purpose-built auction rooms in the country. It has 5,000 sq ft of space. It’s the only auction house in Ireland you can also reach by boat as we’re on the river bank.
In 2001, my wife and I were doing a house clearance and discovered some exceptional jewellery. We took it to London to have it assessed and valued. It later sold at auction in Waterford for over €100,000 – even more than the experts in London had thought it was worth. The lady who had owned the house was deceased and had no family. She left her estate to an animal welfare charity which got a pleasant surprise. I believe she had lived in England for many years and had been a seamstress, and her husband a chauffeur, for the queen! So, you never known what will turn up – or where.
What advice would you give collectors/investors?
Antique – or so-called– brown furniture is good value now. It’s out of fashion but, you know, the wheel goes round. Antique Waterford Crystal is very collectable and scarce. But Waterford glass from the 1950s and 1960s is also very popular with collectors and is really well-made.
We sell it at auction and also in our antiques shop. We often get collectors – especially American visitors – looking to replace a missing or broken piece in a suite of glass – from ranges like “Lismore” or ‘Tramore”.
What do you personally collect and why?
Walking sticks. I have a collection of around 80. I especially like those with heads carved in the shape of animals – in wood or ivory. In my youth I used to collect antique brass-mounted writing boxes – or slopes – and my father made me repair them but I sold off my collection to fund various holidays.
What would you buy if money were no object?
I’d love to buy a collection of life-size ancient Roman marble sculptures of figures and have a large hall in which to display them.
What’s your favourite work of art and why?
The Hay Wain by John Constable – which I saw in the National Gallery in London.
It’s a very famous English painting – dating from 1821 – which depicts a rural scene on the river Stour between the counties of Suffolk and Essex. It’s the classic rural image and it appeals to the country boy in me.