Monday 20 February 2017

Balancing Care with Access: Patrick Brennan’s Autograph Book

In a previous blog post, we told the story of how Clare Museum acquired Patrick Brennan’s Frongoch autograph book and its significance as a link between County Clare and the Easter Rising in 1916. The autograph book records the names, thoughts, hopes and political aspirations of fifty-four Frongoch internees from all over Ireland and is beautifully illustrated, but since its acquisition it has been mostly in storage and away from the public eye. It is probably no surprise then that as part of Clare’s contribution to mark the centenary of the Rising, the opportunity was taken to place this album of signatures in the long-term exhibition at Clare Museum.

However, early in the planning there was an awareness that, paradoxically, placing the autograph book on public display would actually restrict access in many ways as only two pages can be displayed to the viewer at any one time. The decision to display the item would also pose another problem which would become apparent over time: in order to make it available to researchers it would require the autograph book to be taken off exhibition for periods, while the handling of its delicate pages would place it at increased risk of damage and deterioration.

In order to overcome these restrictions to access while simultaneously protecting the artefact, it was decided early on to produce a book as a resource that would make available the original material the autograph book contains. With funding provided by the Clare 1916 Programme, Dr Tomás Mac Conmara, oral historian and an expert on Clare during the Irish War of Independence was commissioned to research and write the text of the publication.

Titled ‘An Interpretive Guide to Patrick Brennan’s Autograph Book’, Dr Mac Conmara provided biographical notes on each of the signatories and translations from Irish to English of their compositions. He also provided an analysis of both the compositions and of life in Frongoch as experienced by the internees.

In addition, because the Clare 1916 Programme provided the funding for the printing of the book, it became possible to provide the ‘Guide’ free of charge to the public. Dr Mac Conmara’s research and the funding received for publication has allowed the museum to provide:

- The widest possible access to the original document.
- An educational resource for adult learners, students, local historians and the general public
- Reduced risk of damage the original document through handling

In addition, the project allowed the museum and the Clare 1916 Programme to:
- Provide scholarly research for our objects as outlined in our Exhibition Policy
- Provide a significant souvenir for the people of Clare of the county’s contribution to the centenary commemorations.

Patrick Brennan’s Autograph Book is on display in the Riches of Clare exhibition at Clare Museum, where admission is free.
The Interpretive Guide was launched on 22nd December, 2016, to bookend the Clare’s commemorative programme. It is available to the public at Clare Museum.

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