Memories of President Hillery Take Up Home in County Museum

Clare Champion, Friday, October 28, 2005

Jessica Quinn

An exhibition of objects from the Dr Patrick Hillery collection to be officially opened at Clare Museum, Ennis, next week has “national significance” according to museum curator John Rattigan. The collection comprises objects, documents and photographs donated by Mr and Mrs Hillery to Clare County Council over the past 15 years, including an Irish flag that was taken to the moon and photographs and film footage of the visit of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophia of Spain to Miltown Malbay.

The exhibition, titled From There to Here: the State Visits of the Hillery Presidency, will be officially opened by Bishop Willie Walsh on November 2nd at 5.30 p.m. at Clare Museum, and it will continue its run until February 2006. “I would like to say a thank you to the Hillery family for their foresight in having this collection of national significance in Clare. It was a very courageous decision not to have the collection in Dublin”, said John. And he said that the vote of confidence the Hillery family have given the Clare Museum could encourage others to donate collections to the museum. “This shows that we can guarantee a professional curatorial service and that given the time and resources we can host a great exhibition. We are also hopeful that this exhibition will travel as it is of national significance and already a number of curators have expressed an interest.” The earlier material donated by the family was housed in the local studies centre over the years, he explained. This early collection together with two further large collections, donated in 2000 and 2002, make up the major collection housed at Clare Museum.

It was decided that a selection of these items should be made available for public viewing and John and staff at the museum have worked diligently over the past few months to put From There to Here together. The exhibition is specifically focussed on objects, documents and photographs relating to State visits made to and from this country during the two-term Presidency of Dr Patrick Hillery between 1976 and 1990.

Objects of historical importance featured in the exhibition include: a set of rosary beads presented to the Hillery’s by Pope John Paul II when he visited Ireland in 1979; a set of hand-painted plates presented by the Emperor of Japan in 1983 and a paperweight containing the seal of the United States of America presented by US President Ronald Reagan on his State Visit here in June 1984 presented at a lunch hosted by the US President for President Hillery at the US Ambassadors residence in the Phoenix Park. Other highlights of the exhibition include surgical and pharmaceutical implements presented by President Chaim Hertzog of Israel on a State Visit to Ireland in 1985. These artefacts are 2,000 years old and were excavated by archaeologists in Jerusalem.

And the collection also features an Irish tricolour that was taken to the moon on board Apollo 15 in 1971 and another tricolour taken into orbit on the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1983. These two small flags were presented by astronauts on official visits to Ireland in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The exhibition features a host of photographs, including images from State Visits to Denmark, Germany, Japan, China and Italy.

Following an official visit to France for the bicentenary celebrations of the French Revolution in 1989, President Mitterand presented an official album of photographs to President Hillery. The album is veritable “who who” of world leaders from that time, said John. It includes a photograph of President Hillery chatting with US President George Bush and Indian Prime Minister Rajeev Gandhi. “Of particular interest to many in West Clare will be photographs and film footage of the visit of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophia of Spain to Miltown Malbay. In June 1986, the President and Mrs Hillery accompanied them on an informal visit to the town where they mixed and mingled with local people on the town’s streets. The children photographed on that day would have grown up now and it would be very interesting for them to look back on the photographs,” said John.

The exhibition has something for everyone, he insisted. “Dr. Hillery was a contemporary with many of the world leaders that people remember today and the collection has grown in importance over time”.

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