The business roots of John O’Reilly (1886-1952), founder of O’Reilly’s Auction Rooms, go back to 1903 – when he apprenticed at a Dublin pawnbroking office. By 1914, he had opened his own office in Dundalk; business continued to grow through both the Easter Rising and World War I, and nine years later he opened a Dublin branch. In 1936, O’Reilly became President of the Irish Pawnbroker’s Association. In 1948, the same year that The Irish Free State officially became the Republic, O’Reilly’s Auction Rooms was officially formed; its first home was on Winetavern Street. In that time, there were 4-5 auctions per week, with everything from household goods to jewellery and silverware for sale. In 1952, 115 bicycles went under the hammer – at an average price of £7!
Upon John O’Reilly’s death, his daughter Kathleen Jordan took over the firm. She was an incredible businesswoman, especially considering her status as a married woman – there certainly wouldn’t have been many in her position at that time! She navigated the auction rooms through many changes, including a big move of premises: Dublin Corporation wanted ownership of the original Winetavern Street building, to make way for the Civic Offices, and so under her guidance the Auction Rooms were moved to Merchants Quay.
At the start of her tenure, there would have been one, sometimes two auctions per day, and upon this move, business began to expand further. Her son Michael Jordan joined the team; they added private and house property to their sales. In 1981, Jordan commented that “ we made front page headlines when we sold a semi-detached house in Rathgar for €125,000” – a huge sum at the time. She also described further headlines with what she believed to be the first Coin Auction in the country, in 1969: “I remember with wry amusement the deluge of letters we received from all over the country for weeks after the press announced ‘Penny sells for £13’”. In tandem with an increased national affluence, Jordan’s time at the auction saw everyday items replaced by cameras, jewellery and silver, as the public’s awareness of the value to be had at auction increased.
Her son Michael, the third generation of the family, then took over; under his stewardship, significant sporting, silver and jewellery sales took place – and the office moved, twice. Firstly, to Upper Exchange Street, then to its current location in Dublin’s Antique Quarter, on Francis Street. Once called ‘The King of Bling’ by The Sunday Times, Michael Jordan steered O’Reilly’s from weekly ‘jewellery and oddments sales” to monthly high-quality art, silver and fine jewellery auctions. His focus and dedication has brought the auction rooms to where they are now and he can still be found on the rostrum, bringing down the all-important gavel on everything from six-carat solitaire diamonds to Art Deco bracelets and Victorian muff chains. Today, O’Reilly’s is run by Martin Bernon, who joined the firm in 2000. His team includes a series of very experienced specialists; O’Reilly’s now has four gemmologists, a watch expert, a fine art and silver consultant and numismatist on staff, on hand to appraise and advise those who wish to buy – or sell.