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The 1955 Historical Exhibition

Ardmore Memory and Story - Events and Changes

6. The 1955 Historical Exhibition
An Historical Exhibition was held at the College, Ardmore in Pattern Week 1955. It was organised by the local guild of the Irish Countrywomen's Association. The exhibition was a great success and an account of it was published in 'Ár Leabhar Féin', 'Our Book', the I.C.A.'s official Year Book (1956). This article is based mainly on that account.

It all began away back in January, with the appearance of the newly published "Romantic Slievenamon" (Romantic Slievenamon in history, folklore and song, a Tipperary Anthology edited by James Maher, 1954). We followed Mr Maher in and out through the centuries with Finn, Diarmuid and Gráinne, with Lady Iveagh and the Butlers of Kilcash, with Kickham at Knocknagow, with the Fenian men of Slievenamon and with the flying columns of this century. It was enthralling, but then we began to think of all the lore of Árd Mhór Deagláin that was being forgotton and ignored. "Ah well, what could busy housewives like us do anyway," we said; but all the same we could not shake off the persistent nagging idea. An t'Athair O Muirthille, Cumann Íosa, was written to for advice, and back came a long, enthusiastic letter, suggesting a historical exhibition as the best way for stimulating interest in local history. Included were directions for running one, ranging from insurance to such details as cellophane and sellotape, and also enclosed was a catalogue of the Archaeological and Historical Exhibition held at Tullamore, during An Tostal, 1954. At the next committee meeting, we gasped as we read of Bronze Age javelin heads and crannog boats and ancient woodcarvings. We had never heard of any stray axe heads or javelin heads around Ardmore; indeed, the question was, was anything al all available?

Feeling very doubtful about the whole project ourselves, we introduced the subject at the next Guild meeting. It was received rather uncertainly, but at least it was not rejected and we did hear of five or six possible exhibits. Then came the Annual General Meeting of the I.C.A. in Dublin at the end of March, and a few of us found ourselves between meetings, pouring our troubles into the ears of Mr Sean O'Súilleabháin of the Folklore Commission: we had a sympathetic hearing too at the premises of Fógra Fáilte on Pembroke Road, and then there was Mr Lucas of the National Museum who, with his advice and invaluable pamphlet on the Folk Culture Department of the Museum, gave us the definite direction we needed and put us, so to speak, on the right road at last. Shortly afterwards, we opened our campaign in explanatory letters to the local papers. There could be no turning back now.

The next few months we kept pestering all our acquaintances and had the whole parish turning out their lofts and outhouses for such things as settle beds and roasting spits and butter prints and hooded cloaks. Pattern week in late July, was arranged as the ideal time for the exhibition, in spite of the forbidding fact that four or five of our small Guild would be quite unable to help us, this being their busy summer season. There were sessions with Mr Fergus MacMurcadha, our County Librarian, who was most kind and helpful in choosing books for us. The Old I.R.A. (3rd Batt., West Waterford Brigade) sponsored a complete section of exhibits relating to the '98 period and the War of Independence.

Exhibits came from far and near, one of the butter prints from Belgooly near Kinsale; the hand-woven sheets loaned by the late Bridgie Kenneally of Lissarow and the baby's shoes of 1807 from Mrs Quain; a copper plated strainer for poteen making from Ballyglavin; the 200 year old chalice from the Curran family Ballylangadon; An Bíobla Naomhtha by Dr Wm. Bedell from the late Justin Condon, Youghal; the account of the first Feis in Munster held in Ardmore in 1899 from the late Thomas Mulcahy B.E. who with Abbot O'Faolain of Mount Melleray had worked hard in its preparation.

From Rock House came a plank with the name Jeune Austerlitz - a ketch lost in Ardmore Bay in 1895. The late Tommie Lincoln, Cappoquin loaned a very interesting set of exhibits from the War of Independence period; one of these was the photograph of Terence McSwiney, with Fr. Bonaventure O. Cap, who came to see the exhibition.

One whole section was loaned by the late Comdt. Pax Whelan 3rd Bat. Old I.R.A., West Waterford Brigade, and he and his son Donal (then a student) came to Ardmore and personally arranged all the items in Section 111. He also loaned articles 148 to 154. We were most appreciative of his interest and enthusiasm. This section was a very important and striking part of the exhibition, which caused a great stir of interest in Ardmore and its environs during that memorable week.

How shall we tell of the anxious weeks preceding the exhibition - the problems of transport, of tickets, of trestles, of preparing a catalogue of items many of which had not yet appeared in spite of the most urgent exhortations. There are the moments of deep despair when it seems as if the venture is to end in disgrace; the exasperating moments when the rolls of sellotape all disappear as if by magic; the scissors vanish, the bundles of captions have evidently taken wings, and then the wonderful moments when at last out of chaos has come order. The five-foot tall photograph of the Round Tower (loaned by Fógra Fáilte) looks magnificent opposite the doorway; the array of pewter is most attractive, the old hand-woven sheets and towels have been arranged to our satisfaction, the books, photographs and maps are all in order, and the ladies (figures borrowed from the drapers) in their hooded cloaks smile down, quite unperturbed by the array of pikes and guns so near them.

The event was held in the new building, built in 1935 as an adjunct to Coláiste Deaglán to provide accommodation for its summer students. It is now the Round Tower Hotel and Prof. Pender's and Mr Mulcahy's speeches were made in the old Georgian building, now demolished.

Seamus Pender, Professor of History at University College Cork and no stranger to Coláiste Deaglán, officially opened the Exhibition and also gave a very interesting opening talk. Mr Michael Mulcahy B.E. of the Military History Society of Ireland gave a most comprehensive lecture on Ardmore and its Monuments matching the historical interest aroused by the whole ethos of the week. Mr Maher, having been told of the frenzy of activities for which he had been largely responsible, came from Mullinahone to see what it was all about. Father Bonaventure discovered that he was among the exhibits, and sure enough there was his photograph with Terence MacSwiney.

The Leader had a notice saying "The Historical Exhibition under the auspices of Ardmore I.C.A. Guild at St. Declan's College, which opens on Pattern Sunday at 3 p.m. will continue during the following week", and then on August 6th 1955, we read "A sidelight of the Ireland of the past and a sketch of the ancient see of Ardmore were given in the unique Local History Exhibition, the first of its kind to be held in Ireland, which was under the auspices of the Ardmore I.C.A. Guild who are indeed to be highly complimented on their very successful enterprize. Amongst the speakers taking part were Professor Séan Pender and Mr M. Mulcahy B.E.

The exhibition organised by the Guild was also a financial success. That, of course, was rather important and it certainly indicated a lively interest in local history. We were scheduled to close on the fourth day, but by popular request extended it over the following weekend as well.

The closing paragraph of the article in Ár Leabhar Féin might be quoted here. "We hope that we have helped to foster and strengthen the natural pride we ought all to have in our native place. It is not altogether that we think it superior to all other places, but it is here our roots are; here we were born and reared and our people before us for long generations back, and please God, our people after us, in the generations to come!"

Author: Siobhan Lincoln

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