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A visit to the Jackie Clarke Collection

It’s always a great pleasure to visit the Jackie Clarke Collection in Ballina and browse the rare and valuable artifacts, including books, maps, newspapers, and other historical memorabilia, that is a treasure trove of Irish history, stretching back over 400 years.

Among the showcase items exhibited is an original 1916 Proclamation of Independence poster, and a French National Army Cockade from 1798, worn by Wolfe Tone at his trial.

The Jackie Clarke Collection, Ballina, Co Mayo, is the most important private collection of Irish history material in public ownership, comprising over 100,000 items spanning 400 years. It includes artifacts associated with Theobald Wolfe Tone; letters from Michael Collins, Douglas Hyde, Michael Davitt and O’Donovan Rossa. It also contains rare books, proclamations, posters, political cartoons, pamphlets, handbills, works by Sir John Lavery, maps, hunger strike material and personal items from Leaders of the 1916 Rising.
The Jackie Clarke Collection in Ballina contains some rare and valuable artifacts, including books, maps, newspapers, and other historical memorabilia, that is a treasure trove of Irish history, stretching back over 400 years. Photo: Courtesy Jackie Clarke Collection

The Collection also includes letters from Michael Collins, Douglas Hyde, Michael Davitt and O’Donovan Rossa, works by Sir John Lavery, beautiful maps, and personal items from leaders of the 1916 Rising.

The collection, which started as a schoolboy’s love of Irish history in a scrapbook in the 1940s, is today one of the most important private collections of Irish history material open to the public.

Jackie Clarke (1927-2000) was a fishmonger and family man in Ballina who dedicated his spare time to collecting the letters of Irish political figures, rare books, posters, and an impressive collection of maps dating back 400 years.

Rare Books Newspapers and Maps

Over the decades, he traveled Ireland and abroad to purchase important Irish historical documents that had been unearthed from basements and attics.

He attended antiquarian and secondhand book sales where he purchased valuable books and maps that can now be seen, studied, and, above all, appreciated in interactive touchscreen displays in the Ballina exhibition.

Even those with only a casual interest in history will be fascinated to see the Collection’s earliest book, dating from 1642, and an edition of Oxford Gazette newspaper from 1665 recording how the King of England fled London to escape the plague.

 The walled heritage garden adjoining Jackie Clarke Collection in Ballina has been beautifully restored to offer a quiet place where visitors can relax. Photo: Anthony Hickey
The Victorian walled-garden, adjoining Jackie Clarke Collection in Ballina, has been beautifully restored to offer a quiet place where visitors can relax. Photo: Anthony Hickey

The Collection can be viewed over three floors in the impressive, red-bricked former Provincial Bank building on Pearse Street, Ballina, that was designed by the Victorian architect, Thomas Manly Deane, and restored by Mayo County Council who purchased it in 2008.

The Jackie Clarke Collection tour opens with a short video about Jackie Clarke’s life and his exceptional skill for finding rare and unique material such as a letter from Wolfe Tone to the French Minister of War.

The artifacts are displayed in a way that allows people to have the same intimate access to them that Jackie himself had. This is done through the use of very high-quality interactive touch-screens and open storage devices set in a welcoming and relaxed setting.

The Jackie Clarke Collection is housed in the three-storey, red-bricked former Provincial Bank building on Pearse Street, Ballina, Co Mayo, that was designed by the Victorian architect, Thomas Manly Deane, and restored by Mayo County Council who purchased it in 2008. Photo: Courtesy Jackie Clarke Collection
The Jackie Clarke Collection is housed in the three-storey, red-bricked former Provincial Bank building on Pearse Street, Ballina, Co Mayo, that was designed by the Victorian architect, Thomas Manly Deane, and restored by Mayo County Council who purchased it in 2008. Photo: Courtesy Jackie Clarke Collection

It’s appropriate that the former bank vault houses one of the Collection’s most important items – one of the few renaming original 1916 Proclamation posters that takes on even greater significance in the context of the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Of local interest is a Pen and ink drawing of Ballina circa 1820 by Thomas Mulvanny, a member of Royal Irish Academy. The drawing originally belonged to Arthur Knox of Belleek Manor.

My time to the Jackie Clarke Collection is never complete without a visit to the adjoining Victorian walled-garden that has been restored to its former glory and is an oasis in downtown Ballina.

The Jackie Clarke Collection opening hours are 10 am and 5 pm from Tuesday-Saturday and admission is free.

By Anthony Hickey

Follow writer and photographer, Anthony Hickey, as he travels around his native Co. Mayo, Ireland.