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Landlord bags historic violin made from Winston Churchill’s cigar boxes…and it plays a fine Irish tune

Gerry O'Brien from the Churchill Arms and musician Brendan Mulkere with the violin. Photo - Malcolm McNally
Gerry O’Brien from the Churchill Arms and musician Brendan Mulkere with the violin. Picture: Malcolm McNally

THE IRISH landlord of a popular bar in west London has snagged a violin constructed from Winston Churchill’s cigar boxes at auction.

Gerry O’Brien, the manager of The Churchill Arms in Kensington, purchased the incredibly rare historical instrument to add to his already considerable haul of Churchillian memorabilia.

O’Brien has run the award-winning pub – famous for its Christmas tree displays and interior and exterior floral displays – for 32 years and has become well-known among the Irish community in London for the high standards of his establishment.

The Clare native made the £6,600 purchase – far exceeding its estimate of £500-£1,000 – at an Ingles & Hayday auction in Bond Street, London.

The rustic-style fiddle was made by former master saddler William Robinson in 1956 after its creation was requested by former British Prime Minister and Churchill successor Sir Anthony Eden’s wife Clarissa.

It was played by one of the most renowned violinists of all time, Sir Yehudi Menuhin, in a radio broadcast to the United States on April 4, 1958.

The historic instrument contains Churchill’s name and is branded “Made in Havana, Cuba”, and on its back, “Selección Privada, Fabrica Tabacos Don Joaquin, Habana”.

O’Brien has amassed an impressive personal collection of ‘Churchilliana’ in his time, much of which is on display around place at The Churchill Arms.

The 66-year-old also boasts of a large amount of mementos from his beloved Co. Clare GAA, a huge butterfly collection and dozens of delicate chamber pots which hang from the pub’s ceiling.

He has already had a glass case made by one of his regulars to protect the instrument, which now hangs in pride of place above the bar.

With November 30 marking what would have been Winston Churchill’s 142nd birthday, O’Brien was keen to get the violin out and give it a play for the legendary politician’s big day.

For that O’Brien drafted in prominent London fiddle player and fellow Clare native Brendan Mulkere – to bring the special instrument to life.

“When I saw that a fiddle made by wood from Churchill’s cigar boxes was up for sale I thought, well I’ll go to the auction for a laugh,” Gerry O’Brien told The Irish Post.

“So a couple of the regulars and myself headed off on the Tuesday and I registered to bid thinking I would just have a little go.

“Bear in mind the auction started at one o’clock and our lot wasn’t up until half past three, so we headed around the corner for a few pints of Guinness beforehand.

“I think that did it because I couldn’t stop putting my hand up when I got back.

“I eventually outbid the fellow I was bidding against and I’m glad I did it now. It’s a magnificent instrument and Brendan plays it beautifully.”

James J. Fox – the fifth generation Irish cigar-makers who were Winston Churchill’s official suppliers – were in attendance and even brought along the original, now discontinued boxes the violin was made from.

“It’s a wonderful piece of history,” says Gerry. “And there’s a lovely little Irish connection there too, so there we are!”

Here are just some of those who turned out to celebrate with Gerry at the Churchill Arms…

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