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
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
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
Dr Adrian Grant of the West Inishowen History and
Heritage group says Buncrana now wants the
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
"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
"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.