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County Archives collection

Clare County Archives actively seeks to collect archives relating to community, church, sporting, social organisations as well as material relating to individuals or families of relevance to county Clare, with the aim of documenting as many aspects of the counties history and development for this and future generations as possible. Any person wishing to donate original material for permanent preservation and research should contact the archivist.

Local Authority Archives

The County Archives is custodian of a wide range of archival series and includes the records of a number of predecessor groups of the present local government system including the grand juries, poor law unions, rural district councils and boards of public health and assistance.

The archives service currently holds the archives of Clare County Council, Kilkee Town Commissioners and Kilrush Urban District Council. It contains board of guardian minute books for Ennis, Ennistymon, Kilrush, and Corofin unions and rural district council minute books for Corofin, Ennis, Ennistymon, Kildysart, Tulla and Scariff Rural District Councils.

Grand Juries

Clare County Archives contains a collection of forty-two volumes of grand jury presentments dating from 1784 to 1792, and 1870 to 1900. In addition, the archives holds letters and circulars to the grand jury, and a volume listing the names of judges, sheriffs and grand jury members for the Spring and Summer meetings in Clare from 1732 to 1882. This body of material is a valuable source for local history research.

Poor Law Unions

County Clare was originally divided into the four unions of Ennis, Kilrush, Ennistymon and Scariff. Four new unions were created in County Clare in 1850, including Tulla, Ballyvaughan, Kildysart and Corofin. Records survive for Corofin, Ennis, Ennistymon, Kilrush and a single minute book has survived for Scariff Union. Unfortunately, records for Ballyvaughan, Kildysart and Tulla unions were destroyed by fire during the War of Independence.

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Rural District Councils

The Archives holds a substantial collection of material relating to the Rural District Councils including expenditure books, minute books, financial minute books and general ledgers. The archives of these bodies illustrate the workings of democracy at a local level in the years following the establishment of local government.

Boards of Public Health and Assistance

A collection of Managers' Orders has been preserved in Clare County Archives. This body of material helps to inform researchers about the development of the new public welfare system.

Clare County Council

Clare County Archives contains a wealth of wide-ranging archival material which reflect the functions and activities of its different sections including: housing; roads; planning; environment; fire services; sanitary services; finance; corporate services and motor taxation. This body of material provides the researcher with a unique insight into the workings of local government and how it impacts on communities throughout the county.

Urban Authorities

A significant collection of material from both Kilkee Town Commissioners and Kilrush Urban District Council has been preserved by Clare County Archives and includes minute books, correspondence files and financial material.

Non-Local Authority Archives

Clare County Archives is also committed to collecting archival material of private origin thus enriching our knowledge of the history of the county.

McMahon Collection

The McMahon Archival Collection is one of the largest collections of primary source documents in Clare County Council's Archives' repository. The collection was donated to the National Archives in the 1970s through the Business Records Survey by Dermot McMahon of Sherry Fitzgerald McMahon, O'Connell Square in Ennis. The collection was subsequently reaccessioned by Clare County Council's Archives' Service in 2010.

Before its acquisition by the National Archives, the collection had been stored in the basement of offices in a three storey building in the centre of Ennis, where Michael McMahon (Dermot McMahon's grandfather) operated an auctioneering and estate agency business from the late 1800s.

The dominant landed families within the McMahon Archival Collection include the Burtons of Carrigaholt, Rovigo and Stamer families of Ennis & Carnelly, the Barclays of Ballyartney, near Labasheeda and the Burtons of Corofin. Additionally sixty other Clare family names, mainly the 19th and 20th century, have records within the McMahon Archival Collection. The estate records include; correspondence, deeds, leases, rental accounts listing; names of tenants, denominations of their holdings and amount of rents they paid; leases, grants, marriage settlements, wills; account registers and probate valuations. It gives a fascinating insight to local history, genealology, land acquisition and social history in the 18th, 19th and 20th century and is an invaluable resource of primary source material. Additionally the collection contains documents relating to the East Clare Election of 1917, due to the fact that Michael McMahon was also Clerk to the Presiding Officer at Ennis Courthouse during the East Clare Election of 1917.

Our Lady's Hospital

The archives of Our Lady's Hospital Ennis was acquired in 2002 under a joint project with the Health Service Executive. The hospital records are a microcosm for the social and economic conditions pertaining in Ennis and in County Clare and for this reason the archives are a valuable part of the county's history. This is a large collection covering 108 linear feet. It took over a year to fully process the collection and the material is now available to the public. Closure periods have been agreed with the Health Service Executive to protect the privacy of individuals.

Roger Casement Papers

The papers of Irish nationalist, Roger Casement, were transferred to the archives from Clare County Library's Local Studies Centre in October 2003. The Roger Casement Papers were originally donated to Clare County Council in 1969 by the late Ignatius M. Houlihan, Solicitor.

The collection contains mainly correspondence as well as receipts, essays, leaflets and newspaper cuttings. Of particular interest, however, are the letters, which provide us with a glimpse of the Irish-German background to the Easter Rising and Ireland's claim to political independence. The letters date from Casement's arrival in Germany in 1914 to the very month he leaves Germany in 1916 on the U-19 submarine bound for Ireland, providing a rare insight into Casement's state of mind during one of the most exciting periods in Irish history.

Griffith Family Papers

The papers document the lives of the family of Rev. Julius Henry Griffith, who served as Rector of Drumcliffe Union (Killaloe) from 1884. The family lived in the Rectory at 1 Bindon Street in Ennis, County Clare. The papers include correspondence, birth and marriage certificates, financial material, photographs and press cuttings, and include a family member's eye-witness account of one of naval history's greatest tragedies, the sinking of the battleship H.M.S. Victoria in the Lebanon on 22 June 1893 with the loss of hundreds of lives.

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Inchiquin Collection

The Inchiquin Collection relates to the Dromoland branch of the O'Brien's, an ancient Clare family. As well as being descendants of Brian Boroimhe, the Dromoland branch of the O'Brien family can also claim descent from the ancient royal families of both England and Scotland, and have family connections with the present royal family of Britain. The Collection consists of deeds relating to property for the most part, including leases, resettlements of estates, appointments of attorney, receipts, disentailing deeds and marriage settlements. The documents span over a century, dating from 1854 to 1954, and reflect the land transactions of several members of the O'Brien family.

Thomas J. Westropp Manuscript

Thomas Johnson Westropp was a notable antiquary who wrote extensively on the history of a number of counties in Ireland including Clare during the nineteenth century. Clare County Archives holds one of Westropp's field notebooks that dates from 1881 and contains information on the genealogy and heraldry of the Westropp family. With its extensively researched family trees, the notebook refers to different branches of the family, noting information on arms, crests and mottoes, and also containing extracts from documents relating to the family name, and referring to inscriptions on seals and tombs. In addition, it records legends of the Stamers, Clare Castle, Quin Abbey, death of Colonel George Stamer, and arms of the families that intermarried with the Westropps, and miscellaneous epitaphs. The volume is illustrated throughout with ink sketches of crests, inscriptions on tombs and seals, building plans of Kilpeacon Church, county Limerick, and Mellifont Abbey, County Louth, detailed views of Clare Castle, Killoo Church near Clarecastle, and Ennis Abbey.

Oral History Project

Clare County Archive's Oral History Project has been on-going since 2002. The aim of the project is to establish a sound archive to collect recordings of all aspects of living and working in County Clare. This will create a repository of memory which will bridge gaps in the documented archive and offer a richness which cannot be as powerfully evoked through the written word. Through a continuous process of recording, changes in speaking patterns and local accents over time will be recorded. Individuals who would otherwise never use an archive service will be drawn to it.

Initially, the project focused on two major areas, a women's history project and an oral history of Our Lady's Hospital. The project was expanded in 2004 to include local authority staff and councillors, local business people, trades people, politicians, musicians, sports people, members of the traveling community and other subject areas. Both phases of the project have been funded by the Heritage Council and Clare County Council.

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Art O'Donnell Manuscript

Art O'Donnell (1890-1973), formerly Commandant, West Clare Brigade (1921) and Paymaster for Clare County Council (1919-21).

The manuscript was written during his internment in Frognach, North Wales and principally contains poems and ballads of Irish and Clare provenance and a most interesting sketch entitled ‘my beloved cell'. Approximately 1,800 Irish rebels were interred in Frognach, ‘the University of Revolution' between June and December 1916 following the Rising. Prisoners included men such as Michael Collins, Richard Mulcahy and Michael Brennan.

Art O'Donnell was sworn into the I.R.B. in 1908 by his first cousin Con Colbert (executed 1916), who was visiting the O'Donnell home in Tullycrine. (W.S 1322, Bureau of Military History, Witness statement). Art attended meetings of the I.R.B frequently in Dublin while attending St. Patrick's College and in 1913 was responsible for distributing anti enlisting leaflets all over West Clare on the brink of the outbreak of World War 1. In 1914 Art was teaching in Low Island school in Kilydysert, Co. Clare, when at the same time he formed a small local circle with Sean Mac Namara “Jacko Mack”, Martin Griffin and Frank Mc Mahon which concentrated on recruiting locally for the Irish Volunteers.

In 1916, a meeting of the newly formed Clare County Board of Irish Volunteers took place in the Board Room at Ennis Workhouse where the master of the workhouse Frank Barrett ‘was detained' until the meeting had finished:

BG/En/86 (Ennis Board of Guardian Minutes)
Master's Report, 29th Jan, 1916
‘…that whilst engaged in the provisions store at about 3:15pm on the 29th ultimo, he received a message from the hall porter that a large body of men had entered the board room. He immediately proceeded to the Boardroom, the door of which he found on arrival locked on the inside. He knocked, and on giving his name, was admitted, when the door was immediately relocked. He asked those present by whose authority they came there and took possession of the room. They replied they had the unanminous consent of the Board of Guardians to come there to hold a meeting. He next inquired their business and was informed that it was to hold a meeting of the County Board of the Irish Volunteers. He explained to them that the Board of Guardians had no authority to grant the use of the Boardroom for such purposes as was shown by the letters of the Local Government Board heard at the last meeting of the Guardians, he explained the contents of this letter protested against their holding a meeting, and asked them to leave. He was told they would not leave until they had transacted their business and furthermore he was ordered to sit down as he would not be allowed to leave until they thought fit. Under the circumstances, held up as he was, he could do no more until the meeting concluded when he made a report to Head Constable Hourahan who was in the yard inside the outer gate.'

On Saturday, 22nd April Art O'Donnell in attendance at the Fianna Hall in Limerick with several others such as Michael Brennan, Comdt. Colivet and Sean O'Dea learned of Casements arrest and the consequential loss of the arms transmission. This lead to suspension of operations until GHQ in Dublin issued word for further action. The volunteers in Clare were one of the first to reorganise after the Easter Rising and were heavily surveyed during this period. On the 29th April, 1916 Art O'Donnell was arrested and spend a week in Limerick Gaol and then sent to Richmond Barracks in Dublin along with many other volunteers from around the country such as Michael and Padraig Brennan, Austin Stack and Sean O'Dea before being sent to Frognach, North Wales where he remained until late July, 1916.

Upon his release he recommenced duties to train, organise meetings and activities in Clare and detect and ensure the safety of arms and ammunition still existing which could be amassed.

In January 1917 Clare was divided into a number of Battalions where a commandant was appointed to each area. Art O'Donnell was one of these appointed Commandants together with Micheal Brennan, Sean Mc Namara, Bertie Hunt, Michael Quinn, Seamus Connelly, Eamon Fennell and Michael Moloney.

On 11th July, 1917 with De Valera's landslide at the East Clare electionm, celebrations ensued through the format of public drilling by the volunteers and ultimately arrests were made and trials by District Court Martial followed. Art O' Donnell was sentenced to two years hard labour commuted to one in Mountjoy Gaol, Dublin. It was here on the 20th September that the famous ‘Thomas Ashe hunger strike' took place. Force feeding was commenced upon the prisoners and on the 25th September, Thomas Ashe (President of the Supreme Council of the IRB) died as a consequence of this force feeding. This had an enormous effect on the volunteer movement and growth throughout Ireland.

In December 1917 O'Donnell was moved to Dundalk Gaol where he was temporarily released under the ‘Cat and Mouse Act' and returned home to Clare and resumed activities until his re-arrest in March 1918. O'Donnell remained in Belfast Gaol until the end of World War I and was released with Michael Brennan on 24th December, 1918.He returned to Clare and resumed training, activities and strengthening communications with other brigades in the surrounding areas. He was again arrested during an incident with the R.I.C in 1919 but was released one month later on medical grounds. In an attempt to re-establish order in the county due to agitation on the land question, O'Donnell was responsible for the establishment of the first circuit criminal court in Clonina House, Cree where he was appointment registrar. This system was adopted and sanction for use throughout the country by Minister for Justice, Dail Eireann, Austin Stack.

At this time all the county council and district councils were Sinn Fein elected candidates and to prevent the seizure of funds by the British authorities it was decided that the collection of rates be given to the trustees directly where the funds would be released according to the council's needs. This was done through the Paymaster. Art O'Donnell was the appointed paymaster in August 1920. He was arrested in November and sent to Cork Jail and then onto Ballykinlar Camp where such men as Sean Lemass and Dr. Tom O'Higgins were also being interned.

In December 1921 the Anglo Irish Treaty was signed and O'Donnell was finally released from prison.

The manuscript was kindly donated by Art O'Donnell's son, Hugh, to Clare County Archives to ensure its care and preservation.

Art O'Donnell's witness statement taken by The Bureau of Military History which documents his own activities in West Clare from 1908-21 is available for consultation in the Local Studies Library.

Macnamara Photographic Collection 

The Macnamara Photographic Collection is a collection of glass plate negatives dating from the 1890s to the early 1920s, which were amassed in a collection by Dr. George Unthank Macnamara (1849-1919), was accessioned by Clare County Archives in 2010.

Thanks to the project being jointly funded by the Heritage Council and Clare County Council, these plates were conserved by a professional photographic conservator and subsequently digitised to ensure the permanent preservation of the collection. These images can now be viewed on Clare County Library website.

George Unthank was the son of Dr. Michael Macnamara and his wife Elizabeth Macnamara (nee Unthank) of Baunkyle, Corofin. Dr. George Unthank Macnamara, as his father before him, served as a medical doctor in the Corofin district. George Unthank was also known to have worked closely with his friend Thomas Johnson Westropp, a highly regarded antiquary who wrote extensively on the history of a number of counties in Ireland, including Clare, during the nineteenth century.

George himself became a member of the Royal Society of Antiquaries in 1894 and was elected Fellow and Vice-President of the Royal Society of Antiquities in 1917. In 1894, George is renowned to have had the previously disappeared Tau Cross recovered and reinstated into its original socket, at his own personal expense.

George Unthank practised photography with his friend TJ Westropp and thus assembled a large collection of glass plate negatives, which, by kind permission of Mr. and Mrs. George Macnamara, Baunkyle House and the Macnamara family, were digitised in a preservation project by Clare County Archives.

The collection contains a wide variation of images containing social, archaeological and historical witness to the late 19th and early 20th century Clare but indeed also to Burma where George's brothers Lieutenant Colonel John William Unthank and Lieutenant Robert Joseph served in the Indian and Bengal Medical Services from the years 1879-1908.

Family portraits including the Macnamara family and other local families form part of the collection as well as important sites and monuments throughout County Clare.

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Vandeleur Photographic Collection 

The Vandeleur Photographic Collection contains over 300 images of different members of the Vandeleur family, their relatives and friends. The photographs date from 1857 to 1871, the post-famine years when West Clare was struggling to recover from the devastation of crop failure, evictions and starvation. No traces of the hardship endured by local people can be found in these images as the subjects pose formally for their portraits. The men are often captured in military attire and the women sport the most up-to-date fashions, some are even in fancy dress. The settings are luxurious and very much removed from the poverty that was gripping the county at the time.

The photographs themselves are all black and white although a small number have been tinted with colour. Further colour is added to the album through the use of beautifully sketched borders and the use of stamps (both private and official) on some of the pages. Each page of the photographic album contains specific annotations. The volume is indexed and provides the name and date of many images.

The Vandeleur Photographic Collection is of great historical importance in both local and national contexts. It reveals much about both the public and private lives of one of County Clare's most influential aristocratic families in the years after the famine. It provides us with a broader glimpse into Irish life in the mid to late 19th century. In effect, these photographs, which capture daily activities of the wider Vandeleur family, allows one to gain a unique insight into a period of history which is rarely seen and which is critical in coming to an understanding of the development of modern Ireland today.

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Content Last Updated/Reviewed: 23/05/16