Vibrant town’s newest museum will display story of Clon’s most famous son
Clonakilty is a town with a rich historical, commercial and social history. It is also very well presented, rich in colour and full of culinary delights and has long been a haven for tourists.
Blue flag beaches, the West Cork Model Railway Village with its recreation of a West Cork in the 1940s, are all favourites with the visitors.
Now, a new museum is going to tell the story of Ireland’s struggle for independence from 1798 onwards. Housed in a sensitively restored Georgian house on Emmet Square, the Michael Collins House Museum will have its formal opening next Easter.
Clonakilty’s role in the history of that struggle features a litany of heroes such as Tadhg An Asna, of whom it was written “From Clonakilty’s oldest town, Came forth the minions of the crown, To glut their ire by hunting down, The fearless Tadhg an Asna”.
Today, a Tadhg an Asna statue stands proudly in the square and has survived several attempts to remove his croppy pike.
O’Donovan Rossa and of course, Michael Collins both figured largely in the town’s evolving history.
Born in 1890 near Woodfield, Clonakilty, Michael Collins lived at number 7, Emmet Square, with his sister Margaret, and her husband, Patrick O’Driscoll.
He attended the national school in Clonakilty. It was during this time that Collins began to work as a young reporter for The West Cork People Newspaper, run by Patrick O’Driscoll, and based in a spare room at number 7.
In 1906, Collins left Clonakilty for a job in a London Post Office, and the house continued to be used as a private residence up to 1981. Then, as happened to many historic homes at the time, it was transformed into offices. When that business moved out, number 7 was vacant for a number of years until the Clonakilty Town Council acquired it in 2012.
Now, careful restoration is well on the way to return the house to its former glory. The main body of the house has been renewed and the plan is to give the visitor an authentic view of what it was like in bygone times. The Michael Collins House Museum is a part of the on-going development of Emmet Square, and links the house and the imposing statue of Michael Collins situated just off the square.
“People here are hugely interested in where they live and in the past history of this town,” said Mayor John Loughnan, on the inauguration of Clonakilty’s new History and Heritage Group in 2012. And now, with the opening of the new museum, hundreds of years of turbulent history will be brought to life for visitors and locals alike.
Billy Houlihan was county architect for 37 years, and is one of the body of volunteers who, along with Cork County Council, are working on the project. He told me about the plans for the house.
Q. How far advanced with the scheme are you Billy?
We’d been hoping that this was going to happen for a long time and of course, it’s been a lot of work but now we’re getting near to completion.
It’s very exciting to see the house coming back to life. It’s a project that’s had great support from local families and we think it will be a great resource for schools too. It’s so important to bring history alive, have a sense of what it was like to be alive at that time, particularly for the young. And as an architect, I am all too well aware of how easy it is for this important heritage slip away.”
Q. It’s quite a large house isn’t it? How will it be laid out?
There will be many strands to the exhibition but they will feature Tadhg An Asna and the Battle of the Big Cross on the ground floor.
The second floor will feature O’Donovan Rossa and will also highlight the importance of the women of the time. Michael Collins’s bedroom, artefacts and historic documents will be on view. Downstairs we have recreated the office of The West Cork People Newspaper, complete with printing press so that will be a unique experience.”
Q. I believe that you are still in the process of collecting memorabilia for the museum?”
Yes, we are. We’re looking for donations of furniture relating to the early part of the twentieth century, 1900 – 1910. The former town Council of Clonakilty and Cork County Council have been acquiring artefacts and papers to be displayed at the museum.
The County Council have received the loan of a collection of papers from relatives of Michael Collins. So it is shaping up very well. Now we’d like to welcome pieces like lighting and lamp shades over mantle mirrors, ornaments for the mantelpiece, china and delph and hanging portraits or landscapes, old books or newspapers. People can donate items on a long-term basis.”
Q. Billy you were county architect for 34 years, and during that time, you designed the Model Village among many other things.
Yes, it’s the first of its kind in Ireland, and it’s still so popular. That’s living history too, when the West Cork Railway was so popular.
Clonakilty is about a lot more than restaurants and shops. Its people have a great spirit. It has a vibrant and exciting history and lots of great stories waiting to be brought to life. And we want to pass these stories on too.
Remembering Michael Collins in the house that he lived in is going to be a special experience. It’s not just a story of local interest either. The story of Michael Collins echoed around the world thanks to the Liam Neeson film and this will be a special destination for many visitors, with many more exhibits that are important to the history of the area.”
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