Museum is a Real Treasure chest

Irish Examiner, Tuesday, July 10, 2001

Gordon Deegan is fascinated by the exhibits currently on display in Ennis.

New donations to one of the county's prime visitor attractions allow history lovers to immerse themselves in stories of Clares' inventors, sporting exploits and political past.

A visitor's trip back in time through Clare history at the county's new museum has been made that little bit more interesting over the past number of days with the new exhibits donated to the museum.

Last October, amid much fanfare, the £3.6m project was formally opened by Arts and Heritage Minister Síle de Valera and has attracted great crowds since.

Since the opening visitors have been able to immerse themselves in the world of Liscannor inventor John Philip Holland, the ruthless determination of Maura Rua O'Brien, the countys own emigration story and the great saga of Clares hurling triumphs during the 1990s.

Located in the former Sisters of Mercy building, the museum forms part of a growing tourist infrastructue in Ennis where Glór, the Irish Music Centre, is to open in October of this year. The museum is based on two floors where Clare's history is dealt with on a thematic basis. Now, to augment the already large number of exhibits on show, the museum has announced the arrival of new treasures that will be put on public display.

The first is a sea chest with links to the Spanish Armada. The "Armada Chest", as it is known, was presented to the museum by Lady Averil Swenfen, Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny, and it is thought to have been purchased by her father or grandfather, probably in Kilkee. The chest is a rectangular iron box and is held together with forged iron horizontal bands. The interior is lined with tin or pewter sheets while both narrow sides contain double iron rings through which two iron carrying bars can be pushed. With all of this metal the box is very heavy, weighing about six stone. Under the lid of the chest is a very sophisticated five-bar deadlock. About 20 armada vessels were wrecked off the coast of Ireland in the autumn of 1588 due to bad weather and poor maps, following their ill-fated attempt to invade England. Three of them were wrecked off the coast of Clare. The museum curator, John Rattigan, is delighted with this acquisition. "Although we can't prove that the chest came from an Armada ship, its probable origins in Kilkee and the fact that it has been known for many years as the Armada Chest suggest possible links and make it a very interesting object", he said.

Also donated recently was a collection of about 800 documents from the M F Tierney bicycle shop in Ennis, one of the oldest businesses in the town. Dating from the 1930s and 1940s the collection contains documents related to the business and also local authority correspondence. There are also documents relating to local Civil War Republicans that demonstrate their move into mainstream political life.

Mr. Rattigan said, "This is a very extensive collection that will take some months to fully catalogue. However, it gives us an insight into the social history of Ennis, which is made more interesting from the perspective of this Celtic Tiger economy".

The recent acquisitions follow generous donations by the likes of Kilnaboy broadcaster P J Curtis, who contributed a pike dating from 1798 to the exhibition. The museum has also benefited from a large amount of material provided by the nearby de Valera museum. Some of the exhibits include the banner from the east Clare by-election in 1918 (which Dev Won) and signalling equipment that was sent to the east Clare IRA from Michael Collins.

Stacy Corrigan, who comes from upstate New York but has Clare ancestors, was overcome by her visit to the museum. "It is really overwhelming, the county's history is really amazing. The museum is a great facility but then it has great raw material to work with", she said.

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