A gun said to have been carried by Arthur Griffith in the early days of the Civil War has been rediscovered after being hidden in an attic for decades, it has been claimed.
The elderly son of a garda sergeant privately offered the .38 revolver to a museum after revealing how a ward sister at St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, gave the weapon to his father on August 12 1922.
The officer was on guard by the Sinn Féin founder’s deathbed and first secretly kept the handgun in a Garda station and then hid it in a box in the attic of his house.
The nickel-plated revolver was made by Massachusetts gunsmiths Harrington and Richardson and is believed to have been smuggled into Ireland from Liverpool with a cache of Thompson machine guns in 1921.
Savina Donohoe, curator of the Cavan County Museum in Ballyjamesduff, has accepted the gun as a donation.
“How many things are in attics, how much of our history is in the attics of homes? There are as many stories in attics as in museums and this is a symbol of why we must not lose stories, the history,” she said.
While there is no documentary evidence to prove the weapon was carried by Griffith, museum officials and a local historian have accepted the story as told privately by the sergeant’s son, now aged 83.
Ms Donohoe added: “Before I met the family I was a little unsure but in meeting them and listening to the gentleman’s story, a man in his 80s, it was so touching and inspiring. There’s no reason to believe anything other.”
The handgun came into production in 1905 – the same year Griffith established Sinn Fein.
Known as a top break, it was modelled on renowned Smith & Wesson designs and chambered to use the famous manufacturer’s .38 bullets.
It is also small enough to be easily concealed in a jacket pocket.
Historian Dermot McMonagle arranged for Cavan museum to examine the gun after being told the story when he gave a lecture in June on the rise of Sinn Féin in Cavan in the early 1920s.
“It seems the sergeant felt a sense of duty and respect to Griffith, especially as he was vilified after signing the Treaty,” he said.
“The family weren’t able to say why the father kept the gun all those years but there was a feeling it was out of a sense of reverence.”
The gun was presented to the museum in a box marked with a date of 1952, the year the sergeant retired. It held his own personal issue Webley and the Harrington and Richardson for decades.
It is not known if either was ever fired.
Griffith died 10 days before Michael Collins was assassinated.
He was regarded as being opposed to political violence before the 1916 Rising but was an ardent supporter of military action to crush opposition to the Treaty in early 1922.
A death threat was made against him publicly by anti-Treaty factions in Sligo when he set out to campaign for the Free State.
The handgun Collins was carrying when he was shot dead in Co Cork sold at auction several years ago for €72,000.
As with the Griffith weapon there was no documentary evidence it was the army commander’s but an affidavit was signed by a member of the family who kept it for decades, and given to the buyer.