Book Review: “Collected Memories: From The Collection Of Conchúir Ó Dúlacháin, Volume 1”

Collected Memories by Conor A. Dullaghan, Ph.D. seeks to connect the history of the Irish Revolution and the early years of the Irish Free State Defense Forces with the objects and artifacts of the period.  Dullaghan is the custodian of one of the largest private collections of Irish militaria in the United States, much of which is focused on the Irish Revolutionary period and subsequent early years of the Free State Defense Forces.  He has exhibited pieces of his collection throughout the United States and Ireland during the decade of centenaries and created the “Early Irish Militaria – 1916-1946” Facebook group, which at the time of writing this review has 9502 members.  The Facebook group is particularly active and a valuable resource for anyone who collects, or is interested in collecting, Irish militaria and other objects related to the period.

In Collected Memories, Dullaghan uses the items in his collection to tell the stories of key figures and lesser known people who played roles in the Irish Revolution.  Before diving into the stories behind the objects that Dullaghan has collected, he takes a moment to offer some advice for current and future collectors on best practices to follow when collecting Irish militaria.  He even offers to answer questions other collectors may have regarding their own items.  Within the first few pages, it is clear to see that Dullaghan is passionate about collecting Irish militaria and wants to share that passion with others.

Dullaghan goes on to discuss objects related to well-known figures from the Irish Revolution, including Winifred Carney and her husband George McBride, General William H.M. Lowe, and Sean T O’Kelly, the second President of Ireland.  He recounts stories behind medals awarded to Robert Malone and Peadar Macken, who are known to some degree among historians of the Irish Revolution but may be less known among the general public.  He also chronicles a collection of documents that were removed from Liberty Hall in the wake of the Easter Rising by Second Lieutenant D.K. Cooper of the South Staffordshire Regiment.  While Cooper is a relative unknown, his name and his collection will likely gain prominence among the historical community as Dullaghan continues to discuss and share it.  The information provided in this book alone is already a valuable contribution to this aspect of the historical discussion of the Easter Rising.

The final chapter in Dullaghan’s book details numerous individuals who he describes as lesser known figures from the Irish Revolution.  There are numerous examples of medals, badges, and documents related to these people, along with what details and stories that Dullaghan knows about them.  He mentions up front in this chapter that there is still much he doesn’t know about many of the people discussed within, and he issues a call to readers to bring forward any information that they may have about them to continue to grow their history.  There are enough interesting and intriguing figures presented that should Dullaghan ever learn full details for them, we could only hope that he would issue a revised second edition.

There is one story that particularly stands out and is in relation to the 1916 medal awarded to Henry Joseph Williams.  Williams served in multiple locations throughout Dublin during the 1916 Rising, managed to evade capture and arrest, and had no other known service with the revolutionary movement after the Rising.  Dullaghan states that this was the first 1916 medal he ever acquired and as such, it was very special to him.  However, the story that follows shows that Dullaghan is truly passionate not just about collecting militaria, but also making connections with other people (particularly familial descendants of those who served).  Dullaghan describes making contact and establishing a relationship with Henry Williams’ grandson.  During a trip back to Ireland in April of 2019, he was able to transfer Williams’ medal back to the family.  He includes a photo of Williams’ great grandson Willow holding the medal to commemorate its return home.  Many people collect for wealth, status, or profit, but it is clear when hearing Dullaghan tell a story like this that he collects for this love of history and the people connected to that history.

Throughout Collected Memories, we see that Dullaghan is passionate about Irish history, collecting Irish militaria, sharing the associated stories to the public domain, and sharing his knowledge and love of collecting with others.  The book features high quality photographs of all objects and documents that are discussed and is thus a valuable resource for other collectors as well as historians.  Museums use objects to teach patrons about history.  Likewise, Dullaghan’s book acts as a guide to a small piece of his own personal collection by teaching readers about the Irish Revolution while keeping the history engaging, interesting, and fun.  We’re beginning to see a shift in history where the object itself now has a place of prominence outside the museum.  With digital and written platforms allowing us to share information easily, objects and their stories are now able to be viewed and discussed across the world.  Dullaghan has provided a valuable contribution to the discussion of these objects and their place in the teaching of Irish history.  We can only hope that he continues to contribute additional volumes of work to tell us more of the stories behind the objects, documents, and photographs in his collection.