The Society of Irish Revolutionary History and Militaria is excited to introduce a new article format titled “Interview with a Collector.” In these articles, we will speak with collectors, who are passionate about Irish militaria and ephemera, to learn about some of their favorite items and some of the reasons why they collect. We are honored and privileged to interview Conchúir O’Duilacháin, a well-known collector of Irish militaria and ephemera, for our first “Interview with a Collector” article. Conchúir has worked hard in recent years to bring collectors together, and help others grow their collections.
Conchúir O’Duilacháin moved to Southeast Ohio in 2011. He was born and raised in Ireland and studied Science with Business in Northern Ireland. He then moved to the US to pursue a graduate degree, and received his PhD in chemistry from Brown University in 1998. Since then he has held various roles in the precious metals arena. In his free time, Conchúir scours the internet for items to add to his private collection of mostly Irish militaria and ephemera. Through this activity, he has developed friendships in the US, Ireland, and elsewhere. He is most grateful for his family, and the “love of his life,” Stephanie, who is most patient with his collecting passion.
SIRHM: How did you become interested in collecting Irish militaria and ephemera?
Conchúir O’Duilacháin: The spark has always been there. From my earliest memory, there were two framed prints hanging in the sitting room in Ireland. One – the Signing of the Proclamation, the other, the last Scene Inside the General Post Office (GPO). These just arrived yesterday, along with some other personal effects from my family home in Ireland. Little did I think the spark would ignite the flame that rages within to find, restore and share what some have called a “world class Irish Military History collection.”
Prints that inspired Conchúir as a boy and provided a spark for his collecting passion.
SIRHM: What was the first item that you obtained for your collection?
Conchúir O’Duilacháin: I maintain a database/catalogue of what, when, from whom, and how much I have paid for items in the collection. On November 15, 2009, I purchased two Emergency Period (1939-1946) medals. One awarded to the Local Defence Force (regional volunteer reserve), the other to the Defence Forces. These are possibly the least expensive entry into the collecting of Irish medals, however, along with 11 other variants, some of which are quite elusive and expensive, can drive one to distraction, if like me, one hopes to complete sets of anything.
Emergency Period Medal.
SIRHM: Tell us about a few of your favorite items in the collection and the stories behind them.
Conchúir O’Duilacháin: One has to be a family group of medals. On one side, Winifred Carney – a leading woman, who until recently, not much was known about her. I beg your readers to Google her and learn of her fascinating story. The other medals in the family group belonged to her husband, George McBride. Whilst being from totally opposite sides per say in Belfast at the time, socialism and love brought them together.
Winifred Carney’s Easter Rising and War of Independence Medals.
George McBride’s First World War Medals.
More recently, two medal groups were added to the collection. One belonging to Major General, W.H.M. Lowe – who demanded and accepted the unconditional surrender of the Irish during the Easter Rising, which centered in Dublin in 1916. The other medal group belonged to a former President of Ireland, once described as a “model president,” Sean T. O’Kelly, he himself taking part in the Easter Rising and subsequent, War of Independence.
Major General, W.H.M. Lowe’s Medals.
President Sean T O’Kelly’s Easter Rising and War of Independence medals.
Last but not least, I was honored to purchase a collection belonging to another O’Kelly family in Dublin. Included with the collection was a custom award to Eileen O’Kelly, engraved as follows – No. 12 District – St. John Ambulance Brigade (SJAB) – For Gallant Services Easter Week 1916. According to the archivist for the SJAB in Dublin, it was one of three that was created. More importantly, I got to connect with family members of the recipient and learn more about the lady.
St. John Ambulance Brigade medal awarded to Eileen O’Kelly “For Gallant Services Easter Week 1916.”
SIRHM: What would you say is the most odd or unique item in your collection?
Conchúir O’Duilacháin: When I asked my better half this question, the response was immediate – the Robert Emmet death mask. It’s actually a bronze cast of the original. This, in her mind, is the “oddest”. As far as unique goes, it’s hard to pick just one, but I will go with a tunic found in West Cork in Ireland. Based on material, construction, and fittings, it is almost certainly of the time period 1916-1923. Original wearer unknown, but I love it.
Bronze cast of Robert Emmet’s death mask.
Irish Volunteers/IRA tunic found in West Cork, Ireland.
SIRHM: What has motivated you to keep collecting for all these years?
Conchúir O’Duilacháin: Motivation for true collectors comes easy. It is the thrill of the hunt. Always looking to fill gaps, upgrade pieces, and reach for the proverbial stars. I would, however, offer this piece of advice here, always strike a balance. Don’t let it consume too much time, effort, or money. I love the quote, “the most important things in life, are NOT things.”
SIRHM: You run a very successful Facebook group “Early Irish Militaria – Mostly 1916 Easter Rising, WWII Emergency Period,” with strict rules against political discussions. I feel like politics and militaria often blend and sometimes result in rather heated debates. How have you managed to keep politics out of the group and out of collecting and show fair representation to all sides involved in the Irish Revolution?
Conchúir O’Duilacháin: I think this has been and will continue to be a cornerstone of the group. There are many other outlets for political debate, the Facebook group that I started, is not one of them. With only two admins, with similar views on what is acceptable, Facebook does offer quite a bit of control to delete comments, up to and including, blocking users. I also believe limiting posts to older events, along with their corresponding anniversaries is another key to the group’s success.
SIRHM: What was your favorite part of the 2016 Easter Rising Centenary Commemorations and did you do anything personally to commemorate the centenary?
Conchúir O’Duilacháin: One of my favorite commemoration events was the re-printing of the proclamation 100 years on by three retired printers at the National Printing Museum in Dublin. While I was unable to attend, a good friend took some video and scored a signed pre-print, which along with the other copies I purchased, are proudly part of the collection. Stephanie and I actually combined family time in Ireland with participation in the government’s Centenary celebrations in Dublin. It was an amazing display, with full credit to those who took part in the organization, security, and parades themselves, along with all the other complimentary events.
Printers signing the 2016 reprint of the 1916 Proclamation.
SIRHM: Do you have a favorite item that was created as a Centenary commemoration piece?
Conchúir O’Duilacháin: I love the medal created by the Louth 1916 Relatives Committee. A medal was given to family members of participants. Being from Co. Louth myself, I have a soft spot for this particular Centenary item.
Louth 2016 Centenary Medal created by the Louth 1916 Relatives Committee.
SIRHM: How do you think that the “Decade of Centenaries” that Ireland is commemorating now is affecting the collectables market?
Conchúir O’Duilacháin: As far as collectibles go, there are many Centenary pieces being produced and sold. However, the overall collectible market will ebb and flow in sync with disposable incomes. The pinnacle of values coincided with the height of the Irish economy in 2006. Some, who collected with a view to selling during the Centenary for a profit, were sadly disappointed (unless they purchased or acquired the item(s) a long time ago, pre-2000). Simply put, a case of oversupply in 2006 that flooded a relatively small number of buyers. I do think there is a bit of an uptick at the moment.
SIRHM: If you could offer any advice to new collectors what would it be?
Conchúir O’Duilacháin: Patience, patience, patience. If only I understood that at the start. It’s key. A cliché for sure, but collecting is “a marathon, not a sprint.” I have a great friend, who has served in the Irish Defence Forces for more than 30 years and time and time again he drums that into me. Find good people, build relationships, study and research any item before buying. Start small and slowly. Don’t overspend; next month’s rent is far more important than any medal, badge, or piece of history (almost ;-)).
SIRHM: Finally I don’t want to give too much away, but I am excited to announce that you’ve agreed to be our first guest author and you’re currently working on a standalone article for SIRHM that details a pretty exciting find that you’ve recently added to your collection. Could you give everyone a brief teaser of what they could expect to see from you on the site in the near future?
Conchúir O’Duilacháin: Well then, by way of outline, it involves paper that I am calling the Liberty Hall Ephemera collection. It is a fascinating archive, compiled by the father of a British officer that was placed in charge of the Liberty Hall site during the Easter Rising. Lieutenant D. K. Cooper gathered important handbills, as least two half proclamations, letterhead, etc. I will expand on the collection during the opportunity afforded to me by Mike Cannady of SIRHM.
Half Sheet Proclamation from the Liberty Hall Ephemera collection that Conchúir will be discussing in a future article.
Check out Conchúir’s excellent Facebook group “Early Irish Militaria – Mostly 1916 Easter Rising, WWII Emergency Period” at the link below.
Disclaimer: Credit for the image of the printers signing the 2016 reprint of the Proclamation goes to Martin Durcan. Credit for the image of the Louth 2016 Centenary Medal goes to Paddy Agnew. All other images featured in this article are property of the Conchúir O’Duilacháin private collection.