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The signatures of Collins, Griffith and Markievicz are all in this book (but Eamon de Valera's is not)

Exactly 100 years on from the historic East Clare by-election, an incredibly rare autograph book has made its way back to Ennis.

Rare 1917 autograph book donated to Clare Museum Source: Clare Museum

ENNIS WOMAN KATHLEEN Griffin was just 18 years old when she campaigned for Eamon de Valera in the historic 1917 East Clare by-election.

Fresh out of jail following his arrest after the Easter Rising, de Valera was elected member of the House of Commons, beating the Home Rule Irish Parliamentary Party candidate Patrick Lynch in the process.

During the campaign, dozens of people passed through the Sinn Féin offices in Ennis, and Kathleen Griffin got a large number of them to sign her autograph book.

Now, a full 100 years later, that autograph book featuring the signatures of Michael Collins, Constance Markievicz and Arthur Griffith (but not Eamon de Valera) has just been put on display in the Clare Museum.

Long journey home

The manner in which the book came into the hands of Clare Museum was purely chance, according to museum curator John Rattigan.

Rare 1917 autograph book donated to Clare Museum Source: Clare Museum

He told TheJournal.ie that the autograph’s current owner, Marian Trevillion, was on the Camino de Santiago in north-west Spain when she met an Irishman and got chatting to him.

She mentioned her grandmother and the autograph book she had passed on. The man happened to be related to a curator at Kilmainham Jail Museum, and put Trevillion in touch with the curator.

Trevillion was clear that she wanted the book to return to the place that her mother and grandmother were born in.

From there, she was put in touch with the team at Clare Museum and now, just in time for the 100th anniversary of the East Clare by-election on 10 July 1917, it has returned home.

Illustrious company

As a young woman, Kathleen Griffin was heavily invested in the current Irish political situation.

“She was a member of Cumann na mBan,” Rattigan said, “and was involved in campaigning for Eamon de Valera in East Clare. We believe she was working in an election office.

She would be meeting people as they came in. It would explain how she got all these in there.

So, whose autograph is in the book?

Among them are Michael Collins, Laurence Ginnell, Constance Markievicz, Alice Milligan and Arthur Griffith.

Rare 1917 autograph book donated to Clare Museum Source: Clare Museum

All played a role in the Irish revival and some would go on to play a key role in the events that followed.

“To have all these names together is remarkable,” Rattigan said. “It is an extraordinary piece of history.”

Despite having enjoyed such illustrious company in 1917, Griffin played little role in the events following the by-election.

She married an ex-British soldier and settled in Ennis in the 1920s. She then moved to Liverpool with her grown-up children in the 1940s and remained there for the rest of her life.

Rattigan said: “Despite that she came back to Ireland regularly. She had a great emotional connection with the autograph book, and with Ennis in general. Marian had that honour passed on to her, and this admiration has held on.

Things have come full circle. I can actually see where she would have lived in the 1920s on Francis Street from my office window here. We’re really thrilled to be able to show this book to the people of Clare.

And what about Eamon?

Considering that Griffin is believed to have worked in Eamon de Valera’s campaign office, taking the signature of anyone who came and went, it may strike as a bit odd that the signature of the man himself is not in there.

The answer to this is that de Valera did indeed sign it, but that page was removed from the book sometime in the 1930s.

Rare 1917 autograph book donated to Clare Museum Source: Clare Museum

“This part only adds to the history behind this book,” Rattigan said.

The story passed on to Marian Trevillion by her grandmother was that the book, which was a source of pride and joy for the family, had been passed around among friends.

When a local priest was shown the book, he is said to have ripped out the page and kept Dev’s signature for himself as a souvenir.

Rattigan said: “At the time, de Valera would have had a high-profile as Taoiseach. His stock would have been much higher then than it is now.

As for why he kept it, or who he actually was, the trail runs cold, I’m afraid.

The autograph book is now on display at Clare Museum on O’Connell Street in Ennis.

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About the author:

Sean Murray

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