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Call to National Museum for return of priceless antiquities 29.08.11

by Linda McGrory

AN INISHOWEN history group has launched a campaign for the repatriation of a priceless collection of antiquities held in storage at the National Museum of Ireland.
The Harry Swan Collection contains some 3,500 valuable objects including Etruscan and Classical Greek vases, Chinese ivory figurines, Irish antiquities, silver, glass, time-pieces, ceramics, military weapons, coins and medals.
Harry Percival Swan, a well known author, historian and collector from Buncrana, left the collection in his will to the Royal Irish Academy (RIA). Some 2,500 items were presented to the National Museum of Ireland in May 1971, the year after his death. A further 1,000 artefacts including a valuable collection of Greek and Etruscan vases, were bequeathed upon the death of Mr Swan's widow in the early 1980s.
The majority of the eclectic collection is held in storage in Dublin although a quantity of the items including silver and glass can be seen in displays including the 'What's in Store' exhibition at Collins Barracks.
Dr Adrian Grant of the West Inishowen History and Heritage group says Buncrana now wants the collection back.
He said the antiquities were only donated to the RIA because of the lack of a suitable local venue to house them and Mr Swan's dying wish that his collection, gathered over a life-time of world travel, be kept together.
Dr Grant said such an historically important collection should not be hidden away but displayed for the enjoyment of the general public, students and tourists.
"Just before he died, Harry Swan made it clear that the collection should be placed in Buncrana or at least in Co Donegal and the RIA were in agreement with that," said Dr Grant.
"The fact that he expressed his wish and the RIA were willing to accommodate that wish shows that it should have been placed in Buncrana at the time but even more so now when we need as much tourism as we can get." He said his group was mindful of the current economic climate but said all efforts should be made to have the collection returned.
Head of Collections at the National Museum of Ireland, Raghnall Ó Floinn, said some of the Swan Collection was housed in various “curatorial departments” or incorporated into other displays.
"The remainder is housed in the museum’s various reserve collections, available for examination by appointment and is kept under the supervision of curatorial and conservation staff," said Mr Ó Floinn. He said the museum was always open to providing material for local exhibition.
"As regards displaying the material in Buncrana, the museum is always open to providing material for exhibition locally subject to the necessary environmental and security conditions and curatorial expertise available.
"Indeed, selections from the collection have from time to time been displayed in the Donegal County Museum in Letterkenny and I understand that a selection of military material is currently on display there," he added.
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