From Banknotes to Sea Chests

Some Recent Acquisitions at the Riches of Clare Museum

Clare Association Yearbook, 2002

It has been a very successful year at the Riches of Clare Museum - the county museum for Clare. At our location at Arthur's Row, Ennis, several hundred artifacts have been donated to the museum collection during 2001.

Donations have come to us from many different sources and from people of all walks of life. They inform us of fascinating human stories associated with both the objects themselves and the people who once owned them. Although most of the donations were personal possessions or family heirlooms, some were found by accident or purchased at auction. Some artifacts link this county with world famous historical events, while others reflect ordinary life in times gone by, remembered by many Clare people. Regardless of their origins or their histories, all of the artifacts donated to the museum in 2001 share the common thread of reflecting the social, political, or economic history of Clare and are preserved now for the benefit of future generations. The following are just a small sample, and most of them can be viewed on our website at www.clarelibrary.ie.

As curator of the Riches of Clare Museum, I am conscious of the importance of human stories associated with an object which may have been in a family for many years, and how important it is to record these stories - it somehow makes the artifacts seem more "real" to us. A good example of this are the artifacts relating to a Clare nursing heroine that have been donated to the Riches of Clare by her niece Teresa Carter, of Ennis.

Born in Mountshannon in 1904, Teresa's aunt, Josephine Canny, travelled to Melbourne, Australia, to study nursing at the age of 19. When she graduated she enlisted in the Queen Alexandra Nursing Corps, eventually attaining the rank of Major. Following the outbreak of the Second World War she served in posts in several theatres of the war in both Africa and Europe and even successfully remonstrated with a Nazi Gestapo Officer at one point!

The extent of her travels as a wartime nurse are demonstrated by the number of campaign and service medals she received at the end of the war: the 1939-1945 Star, The Africa Star, The Italy Star, 1939-1945 Silver Medal. She was also noted for her exceptional service, and received the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Medal.

This extraordinary Clare woman even came to the attention of the King and in 1946 he awarded her the highest honour - a Gold Red Cross Medal (First Class) in acknowledgement, the only ever Irish holder of such a medal. In a letter King George said "I greatly regret that I am unable to give you personally the award which you have so well earned. I now send it to you with my congratulations and my best wishes for your future happiness". These medals - and the letter to her from King George - are now in the possession of the Riches of Clare.

Although most artifacts were personal possessions donated by Clare people, some were purchased with the museum in mind. One good example of this includes a series of three Ennis Banknotes presented to the museum by the Clarecastle based company Roche Ireland.

Purchased at Whyte's Auction House in Dublin, these "promise to pay" notes dated from the early 1800's and were the precursor to paper money and cheques. One of the notes, for a guinea, states that it is a payment in the name of Peter Blake, of Ennis Tan Yard, to Henery Mc Donnell (sic), and is witnessed by Thomas Kennedy. A second, this time for £1, was also witnessed by Thomas Kennedy, and is in poor condition, while the third is an undated £1 specimen note. They were donated to the museum in May by John Liddy, Managing Director at Roche, and the museum is extremely grateful for the generosity of the company.

During the year we have acquired objects that link Clare with major events in world history. Most people in Clare will know that in the autumn of 1588 several Spanish Armada vessels were wrecked off Clare's rocky coast as they tried in vain to return home to their ports in Spain and Portugal. The donation of a reputed Spanish Armada Sea Chest is a reminder of this county's link with this major historical event.

The Armada Chest was presented to the museum by Lady Averil Swenfen, who now resides in Thomastown, County Kilkenny. Lady Averil, who has lived in Spanish Point, Lisdoonvarna and Corofin in the past, says she believes that this sea chest was purchased in the Kilkee area by either her father or grandfather on one of their many family holidays to the resort and has been in family ever since.

We don't know from which galleon this rectangular iron box came, in fact we cannot prove that it came from a galleon at all, but traditionally it has been known as the "Armada Chest", which suggests it is a possible link that has come down to us over the centuries. It was undoubtedly the property of a distinguished person, perhaps an officer, and as it is made of iron, it is extremely heavy. It measures 27 inches in length by 14.5 inches in width by 15.5 inches in height. The interior is lined with pewter or tin sheets while both narrow sides have two double iron rings through which two iron carrying bars can be inserted. Inside the lid is a very sophisticated locking mechanism that is of much interest in itself. In need of conservation, it is probably the most intriguing acquisition of the year.

Some artifacts demonstrate how items that we consider rubbish and dispose of today, may be of importance to historians in the future. A fine example would be the three business receipts, dated 1946, from North Clare Creameries Dairy Disposal Co. Ltd., based in Ennistymon. These were found in 1984 by the now Heritage Officer for Galway, Jim Higgins, in a skip outside Galavan's Pub in Shop Street in the city, but now are part of the museum collection. Although in poor condition, they will provide future historians with some information on the economy of North Clare and, indeed, of the City of Galway too.

In many ways, we cannot know "who" we are as an individual or a society unless we know "where" we have come from. Indeed, it is worth remembering in this disposable culture that we live in, that the everyday objects that surround you as you read this article are the museum artifacts of tomorrow. They will be in the future the material reference points for the young of today in the rapidly changing world that we live in.

The function of any county museum is to collect, interpret, conserve, record and display what is known as the material culture (or to put it simply, man-made items) of a county to reflect its past society for present and future generations to enjoy. It cannot, however, succeed in building up a collection without the support of its citizens in donating or lending objects to such an institution.

I am pleased to say that the people of Clare have not been found wanting in this respect in 2001, and I wish to express my thanks.

I wonder what riches of clare will be presented in 2002?

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