Those who were lucky enough to have visited the Pat Chambers historical find, on display at the Michael Davitt Museum in Straide for an all-too-short week in July, were treated to a unique insight into local history.
To recap, for those who may have missed the story first revealed in this paper some months ago, the Chambers find was a cache of documents from 1922 which had lain undiscovered, sealed in a jar and hidden in the wall of an abandoned shed on Pat Chambers’ land at Furnace, Newport. The collection had been placed there by his predecessors, Tom and Mary Mulchrone, who had played a staunch role in the national struggle and who were all too well aware that the discovery by the authorities of incriminating Republican documents would have serious repercussions. The collection included receipts and accounts of Newport Sinn Fein, lists of members, invoices, a diary and letters between Tom Mulchrone and his brother John in Cleveland , who was deeply involved in fund raising in America for the IRA.
For several months, the documents have been carefully restored under the care of the staff of the Davitt Museum, and were finally put on display for one week, attracting hundreds of viewers to what was, by any standard, an exceptional collection. Given that they had lain for a century in the wall of an abandoned shed, itself roofless for fifty of those years, the documents were remarkably well preserved, the handwriting still clearly legible, thanks to the expertise of John Reid of the Museum, and were excellently showcased by the Museum itself.
It was a fitting recognition of the status of the Davitt Museum that it should play host to an exhibition so integral to the history of our own county. We live in a time of renewed interest and pride in our heritage, and there can be few figures who demand the respect and admiration of the people of Mayo than does Michael Davitt. But rather like the prophet who is more honoured outside his own land, we in Mayo have often failed to appreciate the global standing of Davitt and the esteem in which he is held across the world.
If that is the case, let it be said that Yvonne Corcoran Loftus, Curator, and her team at the Davitt Museum have gone a long way in bridging the gap between what we owe our most noble patriot and what we have – or have not – accorded him in the past. The Museum does full justice to its subject, especially with its comprehensive collection of artefacts of Davitt’s life – original documents, handwritten letters to his mother and children, Land Acts, posters, formal decorative addresses of welcome, postcards and the six books he wrote during his lifetime. We are reminded too of the many strands to his life’s work – co-founder of the Land League, but also MP, Patron of the GAA, patron of Glasgow Celtic, labour leader, international humanitarian and advocate of the oppressed.
Nobel Laureate and fellow Mayo man, Seán McBride, opened the first Davitt Museum in 1984. Thanks to the untiring work of a local committee, and against many obstacles, the goal of relocating to the restored pre-Penal Church, where Davitt was baptised, was achieved in 2000, and included the relaying of the original flagstone of several centuries earlier. That founding group was headed by Nancy Smyth, recently bereaved by the death of her husband TJ, and included Andrea Wills, Jimmy Maloney, Frank Reid, Nora McHale and Geraldine Hynes. They have a right to look back in satisfaction at what has been accomplished as a result of their dedication.