Clare Champion, Friday, August 1, 2003
A little piece of history arrived in Ennis this week, writes Joe O’ Muircheartaigh.
You could say that Daniel O’Connell came to Ennis this week, or at least a part of his person came home to the town he loved so well. The town that set Ireland on the road to religious and political freedom. The part of his person is a coat – the coat he could well have worn in his famous duel with D’Esterre, or in Clare at one of those mass rallies when he urged all of Ireland to arise and take their place among the nations of the world. And the fact that the Liberator’s coat is on display in the County Museum is wholly appropriate. All because the museum lies in the shadow of the O’Connell Monument and on the site of the old home of the Liberator’s first cousin Charles O’Brien, where O’Connell stayed on his many visits to the Banner County.
The coat’s journey “home” has been a circuitous one as County Museum curator, John Rattigan reveals. “The coat currently on display at the museum bears a remarkable resemblance to the coat Daniel O’Connell can be seen wearing in illustrations from the 1840s”, he says. “The very early history of the coat is not recorded but it is known that a Professor Denis Gwynn presented the coat for exhibition at St Mary’s College, Middlesex in 1929 as part of the centenary celebrations of Catholic Emancipation. “At the outbreak of the Second World War the coat was placed in a strong room for safety at St Mary’s where it remained until after the war. When the coat was unearthed, College officials sought to find an appropriate Irish home for it and in 1948 the coat was donated to Cork Public Museum where it has remained until now. “It is perhaps appropriate therefore, that a coat worn by the Liberator has now returned to Clare Museum for temporary exhibition, making it a homecoming of sorts. It will be on loan to Clare Museum until the end of September”, added Mr Rattigan.
O’Connell was famously elected MP for Clare in 1828, when those among his enthusiastic army of supporters were Honest Tom Steele and The O’Gorman Mahon. Only a year later the British Parliament passed the Roman Catholic Relief Act, which granted Catholic Emancipation. He died on May 15, 1847 in Genoa while on his way to a pilgrimage in Rome. At his own request, his heart was buried in Rome and his body in Dublin. His coat wasn’t buried with him, hence it’s journey back to Ennis that has taken over 150 years.