Ancient Mace and Seal make their return to Athenry

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The return of Athenry’s medieval Mace and Seal to the town last week after an absence of 160 years is perhaps prophetic, in that Athenry with its booming population might once again conceive of having its own Corporation, now that Local Authorities, instead of being abolished, are to be given more powers.
It is hard to believe that Athenry was once more important, from a military and economic viewpoint, than Galway and had its very own Corporation.  So important was this body’s standing that its Mayor brandished the imposing Mace at each meeting and sealed all important documents with the town’s Insignia or seal.

Both are dated to the early fourteenth century, making the mace the oldest such ceremonial, object in Ireland. Last week’s ceremony , may not have been as grand as those seen in the town in medieval times but it was just as important as the Mace and Seal were handed over by their English keepers after their long exile abroad.

History tells us that when Athenry Corporation was abolished along with other local authorities around the country in the early nineteenth century, the Mace and Seal were, given to the outgoing Mayor, Edmund Blake as part payment for his services.  His daughter later sold them to a Dublin art dealer for £4,000 and they passed through many hands until they were recently discovered in the care of Mr. Anthony Blishen, who lives in Richmond, London. He and his wife attended the handing over ceremony in Athenry Square on Friday evening where over one hundred local people and invited guests turned out to watch the event. Professor Etienne Rynne gave an account of the colourful history and travels enjoyed by the Mace and Seal.  He thanked Tom Bermingham, the English man with strong ties to Athenry, who chased down the Blishen connection in London and was instrumental in securing the objects for Athenry.  He also thanked Minister Noel Treacy who, as former Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, helped make the Heritage Centre a reality in Athenry, and Minister Eamonn Ó’Cuiv for his continued support. With as little pomp and ceremony as possible, Mr. Blishen presented the Mace and Seal to Community Council Chairman, Gerry Burke, who then handed them over for safekeeping to the director of the Heritage Centre, Brian Walsh. The two brass objects, which are mounted on polished wooden handles, have now come home to rest there and can be viewed by the townspeople for the princely sum of £2.50 at the Heritage Centre.

It’s a pity they can’t be put to practical use… After all Athenry’s former Mayors used to swing the mace, which resembles a clenched fist, when they weren’t getting their own way at meetings, and no doubt, sealed many a poor man’s fate with the seal.

Visit Athenry Arts and Heritage Centre to view the Mace and Seal of Athenry.

First published in the Connacht Tribune on Friday, July 30, 1999.

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Written by Connacht Tribune

Published here 13 Feb 2021 and originally published 1999

Page 010 of Medieval Athenry

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