A 19th century arbutus Killarneyware chess set, €3600 (£2990), and board, €850 (£706), at Sheppard’s.

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Even Queen Victoria stopped by the town of Killarney in 1861 which by then had become known for the manufacture of wooden souvenirs.

She was presented with a davenport and cabinet, now to be found in the Museum of Ireland.

Other mementoes made in the region at that time included trinket boxes, writing slopes, egg cups and games boxes.

They were crafted from colourful indigenous woods such as bog-oak, holly, yew and sycamore but the wood of arbutus unedo is the one associated with Killarneyware.

This shrub, more commonly known as the strawberry tree due to the shape of its fruits, originated from the Mediterranean but flourished in the mild damp climate of this area of Ireland.

The decorative work on the souvenirs and the furniture was often elaborately inlaid with local scenes and fauna.

Their high level of ornamentation means they have been out of favour with modern decor trends but the well-preserved pieces that do remain – not so many given the relatively short-lived manufacturing run of 1845-80 – represent a design movement indigenous to Ireland.

Ornate set

A notably ornate Killarneyware arbutus chess set and board came up for sale at Sheppard’s (31.16% buyer’s premium inc VAT) in Durrow, Co Laois, on March 1.

A set of the same design features in the book Master Pieces by Gareth Williams in which the author explains that both sides of a Killarneyware set were turned from the same piece of wood, one side being polished darker than the other.

With the passage of time the patina of the lighter side tends to darken, making it more difficult to distinguish one army from the other. That did not deter bidders here who competed for the set until the hammer fell at €3600 (£2990) against an estimate of €1000-2000. The 51 x 51cm (20 x 20in) board, sold separately as the next lot, went for €850 (£706), guided at €800-1200.

The board folds and, as is typical of Killarneyware, on the interior is a backgammon board – this one was decorated with views of two of the local area’s landmarks, Ross Castle and Muckross Abbey.

Other Killarneyware features views of Muckross House, though that venue suffered an unfortunate fate as a result of Victoria’s visit.

Her trip might have put Killarney firmly on the tourist map and helped the boom in souvenir sales but it cost her host Henry Herbert dear. He was the one saddled with the exorbitant cost of hosting the royal family and had to sell his home – Muckross House – to the state soon after.