Auctioneer, Michael Farrelly.

Twitch of finger, touch of nose; the buzz of the auction room

A nod, a wink, a touch to the ear, a kinked finger, a just-about-perceptible tip of the head.

As he delivers what is known in the trade as ‘the auctioneers’ chant’, Michael Farrelly is constantly scanning the faces in front of him watching for subtle tics or twitches, for in the world of serious selling, that’s often how buyers indicate interest.

“It is absolutely how it is done,” he says in response to the query as to whether the claims that auctioneering is a business that hinges on looks and gestures are fact or fiction.

“When you are doing, say, a particular mart every week of the year, you get to know the people around the ring because they tend to be the same people,” Michael explains.

Eye contact is crucial and Michael will know the gestures regular bidders use. While some will bid openly, raising their hands, others are so discreet that most onlookers would probably not even be aware that they were in the game.

“The only way to train for that is firstly to clerk for an experienced auctioneer,” says Michael. During that time, the aspiring auctioneer learns how to deal with the vendor and how to deal with the purchasers who are bidding from the ring.

“And it’s all about fairness and having control. I don’t like that word ‘control’, but you must control your ring and make sure that business is done fairly.”

Michael revels in the excitement – no matter whether he’s selling young livestock, new houses or antiques.

“There’s a huge buzz about it. I suppose it’s probably the same buzz as an artist gets from going on stage or singing to a crowd – I’d imagine it’s the same thing. There is a buzz about it and an excitement about it and no two days are the same,” he says.

What often fascinates outsiders when they watch livestock auctioneers conducting a sale is the rapid-fire chatter of the auctioneer. Like all skills, it requires training and practice.

“We were farmers at home – and still are – and what I used to do when I’d be out on the tractor in the field, spreading the fertiliser or cultivating the field, was I’d rehearse what we call ‘the auctioneer’s chant’.

“You have to get a rhythm; you have to have a variation in tone. You can’t just have a monotone that will put people asleep. You have to keep people’s attention. You have to throw in the odd little remark or the odd witticism or something so as to just to keep people interested.”

Michael went in at the deep end when he first began auctioneering in the 1980s, selling livestock at cattle marts.

“One of the marts I worked in was Trim, belonging to TE Potterton Ltd.

“[The late] Elliott Potterton was the main man there at that time, and he approached me in 1990 and asked me if I would have an interest in property. And I said: ‘Elliott, to be honest, I don’t know enough about it’. And he said, ‘Well, don’t worry about that: I’ll teach you.”

That persuaded Michael to join Pottertons, and while he was still selling livestock in the firm’s marts at Delvin and Trim, he was spending the rest of the week in the office and he also attended college as a mature student and obtained his qualifications in the property industry.

Around the year 2000, Michael left Pottertons and became one half of a new firm in Navan, Harlin and Farrelly, which later became a Sherry FitzGerald franchise.

Ten years ago, Michael moved in to private work, while at the same time expanding his auctioning activities: “I do antique auctions, horse auctions, I did machinery auctions, and I was doing livestock auctions, and travelling around the country doing some private property work – valuations and purchases and sales for people.”

At a charity auction in Ringtown a couple of months ago, Aidan Davitt asked Michael if he would run the firm’s Kinnegad office, and the deal was struck.

Outside of the world of work, Michael is passionate about hurling, having played at club level with Lough Lene Gaels and at underage for Westmeath. He is also a lifetime member of Mullingar RFC.

He now lives outside Clonmellon, in his father’s home place, and supports Brownstown and St Paul’s.

“My grandfather was involved in the founding of Brownstown and the first games were played in our field,” says Michael, explaining that his grandfather moved to the area from Kilskyre in Meath in 1920 and brought hurling with him.

“I used to hear stories of neighbours gathering to watch him making hurleys and when they asked him what he was making he said ‘I’ll have ye beating the ankles off each other in no time!” he laughs.


Sherry FitzGerald Davitt and Davitt expand to Kinnegad