BY PROFESSOR ETIENNE RYNNE
SOURCE: THE ATHENRY JOURNAL, VOL. 2, NO. 2, 1996
2nd September, 1993
To: H.C.A. Blishen, Esq., M.B.E.,
Isle of Wight,
Dear Mr Blishen,
I am writing to you not only in the hope that this letter will reach you at the above address, but also in the hope that if it does you will appreciate my reasons.
About thirty years ago, when I was at the time an archaeologist on the staff of the National Museum of Ireland, I had to good fortune to be allotted the job of recording the Athenry mace and seal which were at that time in your possession and which you had kindly lent to the Museum for photography and otherwise fully recording. In 1967 I left the Museum to take up a post here in University College, Galway, and since 1968 I have been a resident in Athenry, some fifteen miles east of Galway city. I never forgot my coincidental handling several years earlier of the mace and seal and, indeed, often proudly boasted that I was undoubtedly the only person now living in Athenry who had ever had that privilege!
I have over the years lectured often in the town and elsewhere about Athenry’s past, making particular reference to its outstanding medieval monuments – I even have asked questions about Athenry in some of our exam papers (I enclose this summer’s B.A. paper with the relevant questions highlighted). The town’s interesting history, too, always had to be considered, including its Corporation with its unique mace and fine seal. True, most already were obviously aware of its ancient monuments and some knew of the mace and seal, but did not know that they still existed. Anyhow, my interest in medieval Athenry eventually caught fire among the townspeople and resulted, inter alia, in the setting up of the Athenry Archaeological and Historical Society which holds several lectures and outings each year and which has also published some post-cards and a small illustrated brochure (copies of these enclosed). Athenry in consequence has begun to come alive to its heritage, and within the last few years several special events have taken place here, e.g. celebrating the 750th anniversary of the foundation of the Dominican Priory, the holding of a Reunion of almost 50 Berminghams from France, a Poetry weekend commemorating Padraic Fallon and the erection of a beautiful cut-steel monument in his honour, and the annual Lady Day Festival which in August, this year, incorporated a marvellous “Medieval Faire” complete with jousting, etc., all organised by the local inhabitants and most successfully too.
Such has the reawakening of Athenry’s pride in its past that the Office of Public Works has restored the roof and the interior floors of the castle, which they intend officially opening next Spring as a sort of Heritage Centre informing locals and visitors alike of the history, antiquities and attractions of Athenry and the surrounding area.
And this is why I am writing to you. It has often been suggested to me that I should contact you with a view to asking if perhaps you might consider giving or lending the mace and seal to the town. I invariably hummed and hawed about doing such a thing – as a former museum person I could not visualise such precious objects being securely exhibited in the local school or library. But now, with the Castle restored, and it a National Monument in State care, I feel that such would not only be desirable but maybe even possible, and I have finally agreed to try to contact you regarding the matter.
Of course, I have also an unimportant and totally irrelevant reason for approaching you about the mace and seal right now! It is that I have had a hard summer am hoping to take a week’s holiday later this month or early in October and, with my wife, Aideen, travel over to visit the Isle of Wight. Not only have many friends who have been there given good accounts of it, but it’s a place which I always wanted to visit (my father spent the first few years of his life in Sydenham, Southampton, and often spoke of it). My hope, furthermore, would be not only of getting the opportunity to again see what is now “my town’s” medieval insignia but also to visit the Yacht Club over there – I am not a sailing fan, but I inherited from my grandmother a Jack B. Yeats’ oil painting which she always claimed was of “The Reading Room in the Yacht Club at Cowes”, and I hope someday to be able to check that out. Quite apart from these reasons, however, as an archaeologist I want to visit Carisbrook Castle and other ancient and medieval sites over there.
I am hoping, therefore, that I might hear from you soon, informing me whether I presume to all on you when we visit the island. I would very much welcome the opportunity, quite irrespective of your intentions vis-vis the future of the mace and seal, of finding out more from you about how they came into your possession (via the Blakeny family?), and also of finding out more about Athenry’s past from you – I’m relatively weak on the more recent history!
The above letter was sent three years ago in an attempt to locate the Athenry mace and seal. Unfortunately Mr. Blishen was no longer resident at the address used and it was returned unopened. It is intended to publish a detailed description and comment on the mace and seal in the next number of the journal. Etienne Rynne