This is part two of a series on Cork Silver. If you want to read Part 1 click here.
Republican silver is unique to Cork and William Egan and Sons where this collection of silver was produced. Egans had been in business since the 1820’s and had produced many fine examples of hand wrought silver which still adorn churches and houses around the country.
It overcame periods of turbulence in Irish history such as the War of Independence and the burning of Cork city (including Egan’s premises on Patrick Street) and the Irish Civil War. It is this period which led to the creation of what is now referred to as Republican silver.
In 1921 a treaty was signed between Ireland and Britain which brought an end to the War of Independence (1919-21) and established the Irish Free State. This resulted in a Civil War (1922-23) between those who accepted the treaty and the consequent partition of the island and those who rejected the treaty, demanding an all-island Republic.
During the period July- September 1922 the city of Cork was in the hands of anti-treaty forces. The roads and rail system to the city were closed down making it impossible for Egans to send their work to Dublin for hallmarking. In order for them to continue producing silverware the manager of the business Mr. Barry Egan had three special punches made to stamp their work. These stamps consisted of a two masted sailing ship facing left, a single castellated tower (usually stamped twice at either side of the ship) and the third punch was a version of Egan’s makers mark W.E in a oblong. These stamps were used instead of an official hallmark from the Irish Assay office. The idea to produce their own stamps is said to have come from Oliver St John Gogarty. He was a writer and surgeon and also the inspiration for the character Buck Mulligan in Joyce’s Ulysses (for all of you who might have read it). He suggested that Egan’s should create a special category of silver which could be produced under the current conditions.
Between 60 to 80 pieces of silver was stamped with these punches, making them extremely sought after by silver collectors. Once Egans were able to send their work to Dublin for hallmarking these punches were destroyed. These pieces are collectors items not only because of their scares numbers, but also because they remain as a unique memory of a particular episode in Ireland’s turbulent history.
Images from J. Bowen Book, Cork Silver and Gold: Four Centuries of Craftsmanship