a virtual museum tour

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a virtual museum tour

Postby museumtom on Sun Jan 31, 2010 2:19 pm

I compiled this article for a newsletter a few years ago and just came across it again while clearing up my computer.
Its a virtual tour of St Mary's Famine and War Museum, Thurles. Sadly most of the items mentioned in it have found new homes at this stage.
I was listening to the radio the week after Princess Diana was killed. There was a guy being interviewed called George Willoughby and he was the curator of St Marys Famine Museum in Thurles. The Museum he said was housed in St Marys Church of Ireland Church. Most weeks the congregation would be lucky to amount to 12 people so the select committee agreed to let George have the front half of the church for a famine Museum. He explained that the Spencer (Princess Diana) line came from Thurles originally and that the last letter sent by Lady Di was to the Famine Museum. In front of the alter there is a commemerative slab listing Lady Dianas lineage back to the time of Lady Thurles. Anyway, I digress..then he said that he was going to open a ww1 section in the balcony. When I heard this my ears pricked up. I sent George a letter saying that I had some stuff that I could lend him to get him started. He jumped at the idea and the rest as they say is history. George must have been P.T.Barnum in another life. He likes the weird and the wonderful, the bizarre and the sick. I wanted to get something that would really start off the Museum with a kick and get lots of publicity so I put the word about that I wanted something bizarre. Black pig said that he knew about a bar of soap for sale by a dealer who had ended up with and he DID NOT want it. So I bought this for £50. This is not just any bar of soap this bar of soap was made from Holocost victims. On the soap are the letters. R.I.F supposedly to stand for REINER JUDISCHES FETT ( pure jewish Fat) or REICHSSTELLE FR INDUSTRIELLE FETT (Reich Center for Industrial Fat) The jury is still out on this one.Germans use the I and J as the one letter.Included in this deal was a newspaper article from a museum in the States about the soap and explaining that this guy put it for sale in the newspaper. He was lucky get get away with his skin. There were demonstrations outside his house and there was various attempts on his life. After the war the Jewish community buried boxes of this soap with full Religious rites. The National newspapers picked up the story from the Tipperary Star and we got great publicity. I Contacted the Jewish museum in Dublin who were amazed that such a thing was located and they wanted half of the soap but did not offer anything in return so I declined their kind offer. Then I bought some rifles, deactivated of course, starting with the SMLE and the No 4 lee Enfield, Kar98K,1904 Mauser,1855 2 band Enfield carbine, 98/31 Mosin nagant,1944 Mosin Nagant carbine, and got some smgs…Hotchkiss and DUX, A bren and a VZ37 HMG. We already had some Webley and Scott revolvers from the troubles and Dan Breens Colt Revolver. The revolver was used by one of his family to threaten a person about 20 years ago and it was confiscated. The Special branch de-activated it and gave it to us. The War Museum contains two collections, my own, and the effects of Captain William Pat Armstrong of the 10th Hussars. He was a local man whose family have been here since at least the 15th century. He was shot by a sniper in Arras in 1917.The Brodie helmet he was wearing was brought home complete with the entry and exit hole from the 8mm mauser round that ended his life. The cross that was erected was also brought home….which is unusual as there is only one other of these in Ireland and funnily enough it is in StMarys Cchurch in Cork. He left his uniforms and equipment some of them are quite beautiful. His war letters home to his mother are very interesting and contain lots of information as they were not censored. They contain many ‘ordinary’ passages like where he asks about his ducks and thganks his Father for the boots he got. He also describes many scrapes he had with the Germans and gives his impressions of the Brilliant French artillery. He also gives his wishes on what was to be done with his horses if he did not make it through the War. If there is enough interest in this sort of thing I will make the letters available in the next newsletter. Some other interesting items we have are a walkins stick with a silver top dated 1899….the stick itself is made from a mummified bulls penis. It is curved and we had intended to straighten it out but we could not manage to get a heifer up the stairs. While doing some building work on a local house a man found a secret hiding hole behind a fireplace and he found the Sam Browne belt and Webley revolver of William Loughnane, a local I.R.A. man who was shot in his bed by the ‘Tans. Naturally enough all that time has cracked the leather and the revolver is pretty rough but interesting for local historians as they can photograph until they are blue in the face. A relation of Capt Armstrongs a Captain Kemmis of Wicklow loaned us a Luftwaffe phospherous bomb that was dropped in wicklow in ww2. It had detonated and burned the earth around it and the family dug the remains and the earth and put it in a box as a conversation piece and we ended up with it
. A couple of varey Light pistols decorate the case containing the 1904 Portuguese Mauser from the Royal guard of King Carlos the 2nd of Portugal who donated one third of his monies to the commoners during a famine there in the early part of the century. Below that is the standard Kar98k carbine used by the gerrmans during ww2 and under that is the 98/31 Mosin Nagant long rifle. All rifles in the Museum have their correct bayonets fitted on display. The enfield rifles are fairly well covered with the 2 band carbine of the 1950s to the SMLE and the No4. Lots of insignia and shoulder titles i.e.RAMC….Royal Army medical Corps…..RGA….Royal Garrisson Artillery………ACC …….Agricultural Credit corporation.. In the Long case we have a complete set of 1938 webbing….and I mean complete. Lots of ammunition of all types and calibres, all de activated of course. Leaflets dropped on the Iraqis during Desert Storm by the Americans. These look like cartoons and are written in Iraqi. If the people they were dropped on could not read they could harldy be expected to understand by the cartoons. The cartoons are of fighter jets zooming around and Iraqi tanks with their cannon bent etc. Beside that is the Queen marys box and contents as well as the Queen Victoria box of 1901. On the front of this is the head of Victoria and the Kings crown……..still puzzles me that one because she was alive when it was presented. Sighting scope for a sherman tank lies above a barrel from a US of A Tank Buster Jet. The 30mm round of which is with one of the many ammo displays. Dug up helmets from ww1 and ww2 both French and German decorate some items from the Naval Base from Spike Island which we wont go into here or I could get arrested. A Complete set of 1908 webbing lies disassembled beside one of the many optical sights used by the Artillery. Bayonets….. boy!! have we got bayonets. The pride of which is one from the Larne rifle landings in 1914 when Carson decided to smuggle Mausers, Vetterli Vitalis and other rifles down the Kiel Canal. They include 1888Lee metford,1907 SMLE,No9 and No4 bayonets for the No4 rifle. French Gras,Mannlicher Berthier and Chassepot,F.N.,Snider enfield,1879 Artillery Sawback sword bayonet, 1905 Springfield,1904 Mauser, Butcher both sawback and without. 1944 Mosin Nagant carbine, 1953 Forum SMG, Clou Francais (The French nail, WW1),98/31 Mosin nagant socket bayonet, Brown Bess and other socket bayonets,SLR, I am sure I have left some out I hope you forgive me.
Standing in a corner is an ejector seat from a hawker hunter jet. There are cylinders in the back of this and we do not know what they are for. We aint going to pull any strings in case we have to repair the roof.
There are lots of helmets of all types around the tops of the display cases.

A blue USA issue landmine from the Vietnam conflict stands beside a grenade from Gallipoli in a case topped with all kinds of resperators. In the case are many plaques to the SAS from ww2 including a Fairbairn Sykes presentation knife valued at £1000.4 Lazy dogs stand on their fins. These are solid steel missiles about 1 and a half inches lond and were thrown from helicopters in Vietnam through foliage…..silent and deadly. P.E.4 and detonator (Inert of course) and all types of weapon cleaning kits are there.
Next we have a dislay of various artillery shells and bombs. We then move to my absolute favourite display case..the dug ups. As you know when a soldier finds a rifle on the battlefield he is supposed to remove the bolt and throw it away so it is useless to the enemy. It is an offence in France to sell(a) live ammo and (b) a dug up rifle with a magazine so I was delighted when I acquired an SMLE from Gommecourt on the Somme. It was perfect for july1st 1916. The Bayonet was still fixed,the rifle was cocked and the safety was on. There were 9 rounds in the magazine and one in the breech…..how do we know? we got it x-rayed by the local dentist and it did not need a filling!!! The 98 mauser looks sad without its wood and bolt but it still has the NCOs bayonet fixed and rotted. The Mannlicher berthier is the same but has no bayonet. Who does not know the Mills Bomb? Designed in 1915 it was the top of technology for the time. It was so popular that they made 73 million of them before the end of ww1.Two types are displayed the Mk2 and the rifle grenade …both dug up. The 1915 discus hand grenade used by German front line troops looked like a turtle and it sits beside its brother the fearful grenatenwerfer. Shrapnel splinters over a foot long, 3 inches wide and half an inch thick was a common thing to ww1 soldiers ad they line the bottom of the case. In the second section of this case are artifacts found during the renovation of the graveyards out front. The was an unknown calisre five shot revolver, a percussion boot gun and a 1892 Martini Metford carbine in .303 calibre and all in terrible condition, rusted pitted and hidden in a graveyard, What story they could tell if they could only speak!!!
People often ask what is the position on collecting de-activated guns. Well here at the museum we are tolerated because we have CCTV all over the place and the security is tight. We have an agreement with the local Superintendant that any weapons brought in from anywhere are first shown to the gardai to satisfy them that all paperwork the weapons are valid and acceptable. You should have seen their eyes when we presented the VZ37 MMG on a tripod for their inspection!!!!!their faces were priceless. Anyway I digress, If you decide to collect de-activated weapons you must first have the permission from the local Superintendant. He will only give you a permit if you satisfy him that you are not a nutter or criminal etc and have a damn good reason for collecting them. He will want to know where you are going to keep it, hanging it on the wall over the fire is not acceptable, in the boot of the car or in the shed at the bottom of the garden is also verboten!! You will be expected to produce a certificate of de-activation from a proof house. This cert usually comes with the weapon if you buy from mail order from the UK. The best thing to do is GET PERMISSION FIRST!!!
Tom Burnell
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Full Name: Tom Burnell
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