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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Jackson Collection

'A jewel in our midst'.

This is a copy of a message sent to me by Susie Warren on 20 January 2007 about an article Michael Purcell sent me back in the mid nineties.
What a saga it has been and I wonder if and when we will ever get to look at these archives while we are still alive. They are supposed to be in the hands of the local library I think!!

[Introduction only party transcribed due to bad copying] Here, MICHAEL PURCELL of Carlow County Heritage Society outlines the history of the Jackson Collection and explained why a visiting archivist should think the future bleak.

Jackson Collection - a jewel in our midst.

The fascinating story behind the Jackson Collection stretches back almost 150 years to when Miss Frances Jackson willed to the people of Carlow an eclectic collection of miscellaneous material. The collection was compiled by Robert Jackson, a brother of Frances, who was a quartermaster in the Carlow military barracks.

Carlow in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was a busy garrison town, the centre of judicial and military activity for the county. A lot of the administration for the region was implemented from the military barracks.

Completed collection

Robert would have had access to much of the "wheeling and dealing" records of the day. He owned or leased considerable property on both sides of the Barrow – his interests here and in the collection were continued by his brothers William and Adam who, in their sister’s words, "preserved and completed the collection."

Following the death of the Jackson brothers, their sister, Frances, inherited the brothers’ possessions. Frances died on June 15, 1859, and by her last will and testament of June 13, 1859, disposed of the "Jackson Collection" as follows:

"I give and bequeath to Robert Clayton Browne, Esquire: Thomas Jameson, Esquire, and the Incumbents of the parishes of Killeshin and Carlow, the museum belonging to my late brother, Adam Jackson, Esquire, with all the ancient books and manuscripts belonging there-to: also the House of Commons Journals, Almanac's, Army Lists, etc. as books of reference, in trust for the public whenever a suitable room shall be obtained for it."

Incidentally, among the people named in the will was her daughter, Mary, to whom she left "the sum of £10 to be distributed among the poor she is in habit of assisting." I wonder if there are any descendants of Mary around today?

Among the items of historical significance in the collection were the keys of Carlow Castle, Carlow Distillery and the Orange Lodge (the Orange order was very strong in Co. Carlow in 1798) as well as cannon, muskets, pistols, swords, coins, medals, urns, signets and elk’s head, found in a quarry in Killeshin. But much of the unique value of the Jackson Collection, and what most concerns us in the Carlow County Heritage Society, is the archive of manuscript material to which I will refer later.

The collection was removed form the family mansion at Graigue (which devisees had occasion to surrender to the landlord) and was placed in the lecture room of the Mechanics’ Institute in Burrin Street, Carlow, where the members of the public generally, with certain restrictions, might have free access to the library and museum.

In an article published in The Nationalist of August 19, 1971, by Pádraig Ó Snodaigh, he continues, "a sub-committee of the Carlow Mechanics’ Institute was set up to arrange and classify the contents but beyond a partly completed catalogue of printed books and pamphlets little was done to properly classify the collection."

When the Mechanics Institute moved to a smaller premises in 1869 they found they could no longer display or conserve either the museum material of the archival collection. The Jackson Collection reverted to the principal trustee Robert Clayton Browne, the 1870 pamphlet states, "in whose custody at Brownes Hill the collection will find a safe and appreciative guardianship."

Browne subsequently stored the material in Sion Cottage on his estate and there it remained, almost forgotten, until 1892 when historian and journalist Michael Brophy was allowed access to the collection.

Complete sets

His observations were published in The Nationalist of that year on June 11 and August 13 under the title, "The Proposed Carlow Museum – Random Glances at the Jackson Antiquities." Michael also wrote an account in his journal (now in the possession of Carlow County Heritage Society). In it he stated:

I was brought into a large room packed with ancient documents from floor to ceiling and perused many of the chronicles. Therein I was brought back to the Carlow of 1686 my maps, census and tolls for the period.

I noted complete sets for, The Carlow Morning Post, The Carlow Sentinel, Carlow Standard and complete volumes of Finns Leinster Journal, Le powere / Eustace papers, Musgrave Report, Cox papers. The Documentation consisted of Grand Jury Records commencing 1670, Cess lists, tolls, petitions, declarations, deeds, memorials, indictments, letters, rewards, records of Carlow assizes, paper currency and bound debates of the Irish Parliament. There were also boxes of old jewellery, coins, badges and a box of quartz collected in Graigue. A large bound volume contained tracings and rubbings of antiquities in Carlow and Killeshin collected by Do. Donovan in 1839. A label attached to two small pieces of red cloth proclaimed "These are the cuffs of the yeoman jacket that I Samuel Jackson wore when I fought the famous battle of Carlow, 25th May, 1798, where we shot, burnt, and destroyed 800 rascally rebels in about two hours which are now buried in Graigue. God Save the King."

No more was heard of the Jackson Collection until custody of the material was transferred to the Urban District Council. There are few clear facts to be discerned about what happened thereafter.

Many items and documents were, to quote Pádraig Ó Snodaigh, "liberated," indeed some of the items, ie muskets, were later offered for sale, more recently some of the manuscript material is reported as being peddled about in the hope of finding a buyer.

In 1948 officers of the National Museum examined and listed the, by then, much depleted, collection of museum material. This material went on to form the nucleus of our present day County Museum, administered by the Old Carlow Society. As to the fate of the documentation, after 1892 little can be verified. We now know that portion of it was stored under Carlow Courthouse.

Vandalism in the form of official negligence saw to it that much of that portion was lost. Some of it was ordered to be dumped to make rooms available for election boxes. Selected documents, mainly relating to 1798, were removed and fell into private possession where they remain. As they are the property of the people of Carlow as a whole, should not and cannot be the subject of commercial transaction. Flooding under the Courthose then completed the havoc that had marked the resting place of this significant segment of the Jackson Collection.

Magnificent archive

It was significant we know because even today a cursory examination of what remains bears testimony to what was lost. However, despite the ill-fated guardianship of the local authority much remains. It appears that a large section of the manuscript material had been placed in private custody and it is this that forms the core of what is now recognised as the most unique collection of archival material in Ireland.

In the words of a County Carlow Heritage Archive Proposal, ‘the discovery of the magnificent archive or eighteenth and nineteenth century Grand Jury records for Co. Carlow is an event of unprecedented magnitude in the archival history of the county. This archive is unique, no other county, north or south of the border has even a skeletal collection of comparable documents. The magnitude, completeness and quality of the "Jackson Collection" is unrivalled.’

In 1987, a deputation from Carlow County Heritage Society led by Pádraig Ó Snodaigh, Prof. T.P. O’Neill, Sister Maura Duggan and Dr. Kevin Whelan supported by Prof. Donal McCartney, Maurice Manning, TD;

M.J. Nolan, TD and Prof. L.M. Cullen met with the Co Manager to seek the appointment of a qualified archivist to ensure that this collection could be properly catalogued and stored so as to ensure its security and accessibility. In the words of the Archive Proposal, the gauntlet has been thrown down. Will Carlow Co. Council pick it up?

I believe that if Carlow Co. Council provided a heritage centre, it would also act as the basis for a county archive, other collections would surely accrete around this magnetic core. Already in our possession are the Beresford estate (Beresford) papers, the Edward Duggan collection which includes the complete set of Carlow Gas Works minute books 1847-1953, Carlow Workhouse Records, Frank Slater papers, Michael Brophy papers and many smaller but no less important manuscript collections.

Other county families have expressed willingness to deposit copies of documents in their possession to a county archive.

Co Carlow is well represented at national level covering the historical community and these well-placed individuals have again indicated their willingness to exert leverage to channel materials in the direction of a count archive. Another source of additional material would be the completed work of Co Carlow Heritage Society: their valuable work on genealogical indexing would be a major financial asset. The booming roots market has to be catered for in this kind of way and the experience of other counties has proved that tangible employment can result from servicing genealogical enquiries.

An additional spinoff is that tourists are attracted to the town and many stay over an extensive period in conducting their research. The presence of a well appointed, properly functioning archive, having use of the best sets of documents in the country, would be a major boost to the tourism industry of Co. Carlow and could be advantageously used in promotional material. The unique nature of the Grand Jury material gives Carlow an unprecedented advantage over other counties.

Unfortunately to date nothing has been done. More recent approaches to Carlow Co. Council to provide accommodation for a heritage centre to house the collection, as well as provide a genealogical service, have not met with any success.

I wish to acknowledge the help I received from De. Kevin Whelan, Oonagh Warke and Pádraig Ó Snodaigh in preparing this paper.

Michael Purcell




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© 2001 County Carlow IGPTM