Irish military helmet could spark battle

A centuries-old Irish military helmet ‘worthy of a museum’ has been found on a shelf in a London home. 

Antiques experts from Hansons London were stunned to spot a rare, late 18th century Tarletonpattern helmet made for the Kinnelea & Kerricurrihy Cavalry’. It was tucked away among other hats on a shelf at a property in Twickenham, Richmond upon Thames. 

It’s set for auction this weekend on October 28 at Hansons London with a guide price of £300-£500. However it could fly higher as the auction experts suspect there may not be another one like it in the world.  

The flamboyant headwear with side plume, gilt trim, leopard skin band and shaggy black bearskin crest caught the eye of Chris Kirkham, associate director and antiques expert at Hansons London. He spotted it at the Twickenham property while collecting items consigned to auction.  

He said: “I noticed the leopard banding and unusual style of the hat and immediately realised it was 18th century and significant due to the Irish cavalry connection. 

“It’s such a rare survivor, perhaps the only one of its kind in the world. It’s even more surprising that it’s remained in the same family since the 1780s. Its a museum piece really. There can be very few, if any, identical examples still in existence. The owner was unaware of its historical significance. It was an ancestral heirloom.” 

The helmet is named after British general and Liverpool Whig politician Sir Banastre Tarleton (1754-1833). He volunteered to fight in the American War of Independence at the age of 21 in 1775. During the conflict he made the Tarleton helmet popular. In fact, English portrait artist Sir Joshua Reynolds painted Tarleton wearing a Tarleton helmet. 

Portrait of Banastre Tarleton by Joshua Reynolds
Portrait of Banastre Tarleton by Joshua Reynolds, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Chris said: “The hat was worn by all ranks in the British Legion, an elite British provincial regiment led by Tarleton which was established during the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). Royal Horse Artillery troops wore the helmet until the end of the Napoleonic Wars. It was also the headgear of choice for light dragoon regiments from about 1796 to 1812.”