19th March

The Fabairseidh Thistle

for Joseph Bonnar

‘And how did you come by it?’

‘It was my grandmother’s. I inherited it when she died. She was born in Scotland but fled when she was nineteen, at the time of the revolution. Her father was a lawyer. They escaped with absolutely nothing, just the clothes on their backs. Oh, and a small trunk packed with jewellery.’

‘And do you know where they lived?’

‘Yes, Edinburgh. In the old Georgian quarter.’

‘Which of course was terribly damaged in the revolution. Well, that all fits perfectly with this beautiful item, because the Georgian quarter was the redoubt of the old moneyed class – the aristocrats and oligarchs and, crucially, the legal establishment. And so what we have here is a rare survivor from that age, and we know exactly its provenance not only because of your story but because it’s in its original box with the jeweller’s name and address printed on the silk interior. An address, sadly, that no longer exists.

‘Do you recognise the central motif ? The purple top rather gives it away, doesn’t it? Yes, it’s a thistle. In pre-revolutionary Scotland it was customary for people to give each other thistles. In the countryside they plucked real thistles, in the housing estates they exchanged cheap plastic ones, and in high society they traded incredibly ornate variations on the thistle theme, such as this.’

‘So was the thistle some sort of love token?’

‘No, it represented antagonism and deep loathing. But a piece like this was designed with, as it were, a postmodern knowingness, and would have been given as an expensive joke. “Darling, I detest you,” that kind of idea. It’s 24-carat gold, and the diamonds are charming, but it’s the exquisite enamelling that is really impressive. And the little mark on the back? Well, that denotes a name we’re all familiar with, doesn’t it? There was quite a fashion among the upper classes for using Gaelic orthography even though none of them could speak the language. It’s a lovely thing, and rather poignant in the light of your family’s history. As to value, well, I can see this easily fetching €150,000 at auction. Thank you so much for letting us see it.’

Reader: Matthew Zajac
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harmonium: Kit Downes
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