The Family Sword

Time to show off something very interesting – my family sword! There’s a story to go with the sword, but as to the exact provenance of it – no one really knows. This is basically the result of my research, based on info gleaned from Google, what my father knows about it, and some help from swordforum.com.

In 1924, the Irish Army started using the first Irish Army Officer’s Pattern Swords, made by Wilkinsons in London. Here’s the 1920s basic hilt design, and the 1926 etching design used by Wilkinson (provided by Robert Wilkinson-Latham from swordforum.com, from this thread)

Hilt design on which the Irish Pattern Officer's Sword is based
Hilt design on which the Irish Pattern Officer’s Sword is based – note the badge is not exactly the same
irish Free State Etch
The etched Celtic pattern used by Wilkinsons Sword by 1926

In the 1920s and 1930s, Irish Army officers had to buy their own swords, and frequently had to give them back after they left the Army, so there are not many of them around.

From my dad: the sword was one of twelve that were made for the honour guard who served at Michael Collins’ funeral in 1922. According to the story, the original owner was one of the first officers of the Irish Free State, and he was a member of the guard. So this sword was one of the first swords made for the Irish Free State, and it was likely made in 1923-1924, before the 1926 version was made for the Army by Wilkinsons. These swords were made with black scabbards, instead of the usual brown, in honour of Michael Collins.

The stamp on the sword hilt says “H PROVED”, which would be consistent with the marks for Hawkes Military Outfitters in London. They got their blades from Wilkinsons.

The etched design is very, very slightly different on the sword than the one you see above. The 1926 design has also got the Wilkinsons mark, which wouldn’t have been placed on the swords initially (the British government put pressure on Wilkinsons not to, for political reasons, as the Irish Free State had just been established).

Anyway – the original owner lived in or near Buttevant in Cork, where one branch of my family is from. My father’s uncle, Cornelius O’ Connor, went into the Irish Army – best estimate is that this would have been in 1940 – and the man who originally carried the sword became his mentor, then gave it to him because he needed an officer’s sword at the time. Then when Cornelius died, he left the sword to my father, and it’s been my family’s sword ever since.

It’s in very good condition, considering its age. The leather is still flexible and tough, and I feel like I could strap it on and go fencing with it if I felt like it. It’s a little heavier than a 16th century Italian rapier, so I would put it at about 3.5lbs. It has no edge, but it’s got a very sharp point!

The blade is covered in grease to protect it. It has a few spots of rust, but otherwise looks pretty good. The leather is very worn – apparently the original owner also had a Sam Browne belt to go along with the sword frog, but it’s since been lost. The end of the scabbard is very worn and torn, unfortunately. There is also a sword knot that should hang from the hilt, but it’s come off the leather wrapping. Several swords of this kind have come up at auction, but they’re known to be pretty rare. This one is the only one I’ve ever seen that also has a black scabbard.

So there you have it. There’s no way to prove any of the story, so it remains an interesting anecdote at best, but the sword itself is a very interesting and well-preserved artifact of Irish history – one that I would be glad to carry into battle.

Major thanks to swordforum.com and the very knowledgeable people there who helped me.

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