Recovery of Diocesan Museum Artefacts
Letter from Bishop Colm
Recovery of Museum Artefacts
Words from Fr. Healy ADM
Christmas Day - 2009
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Saturday, 6th February, 2010

On the morning of Christmas Day last, a fire at St Mel’s destroyed the interior of the cathedral along with most of its furnishings and fittings. One of the casualties was the contents of the Diocesan Museum, located at the rear of the cathedral. Assembled in the 1930s and 40s by the late Fr Michael Kearney, President of St Mel’s College, the collection was moved to the cathedral in 1974.

The collection included almost 500 items and ranked among the finest ecclesiastical museums in the country, containing a varied collection of ecclesiastical material as well as objects of archaeological, historical and ethnographical interest. It included a number of objects of national importance, including the ninth-century Crozier of St Mel, patron of the diocese, which was found at Ardagh, Co. Longford in the nineteenth century. Of equal importance was the Shrine of St Caillinn of Fenagh, Co. Leitrim – a book shrine dated to 1536 and associated with Brian O’Rourke, lord of Breifne – along with the twelfth-century Clog na Rígh – ‘bell of the kings’ – also associated with St Caillinn. Of particular local interest were a number of ceremonial keys and trowels used in commemorating the foundations of the cathedral and other parish churches in the diocese.

It seemed at first that the entire contents of the museum had perished in the fire. I am therefore pleased to be able to announce that – thanks to the efforts of a team from the National Museum of Ireland who have been working at the site for the last few weeks – a significant number of objects have survived and have been recovered. All have suffered fire damage and it is not yet clear how they will appear after conservation. Among the objects recovered are the Shrine of St Caillinn which is largely intact and a portion of the Crozier of St Mel. The discovery of the latter is particularly poignant today – the feast day of our patron saint. Among the other objects found were an early iron hand-bell from Wheery, Co. Offaly and a thirteenth-century crozier made at Limoges in France. Regrettably, the collection of vestments, penal crosses, altar vessels of pewter and silver and works in paper were lost.

In all over 200 objects have been recovered and these have now been removed to a stable environment at the National Museum of Ireland for safekeeping and their condition is currently being assessed. The Museum is working closely with the diocese to develop a conservation strategy for the objects recovered.

I would like to take this opportunity to extend my heartfelt thanks to the Director of the Museum, Dr Pat Wallace, and his staff for their prompt offer of assistance and for all their work to date in the recovery of the material.

+ Colm O’Reilly
Bishop of Ardagh & Clonmacnois