Ephemera to direct our future: Introduction to the Peter Moloney Collection
by Allan LEONARD
10 April 2018
Peter Moloney, who collected Troubles-related ephemera for over 50 years, presented a personal lecture on how it began, why he decided to donate it all to the Tower Museum, and how he’ll keep on collecting.
The negotiation to transfer his collection took over three years. The 48,500 items will form a significant new part of the larger Speeches, Strikes and Struggles (SSS) project at the Tower Museum, funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund. Half of the collection consists of photographs of murals, political banners, drums, parades and people.
Emma McGarrity (Learning and Engagement Officer, SSS) described Moloney as “an archivist’s dream”, with everything catalogued, cross-referenced, boxed and sorted in advance. The books and journals will be loaned to LibrariesNI (as a reference collection) and the artefacts will be shared with the Museum of Free Derry, through a partnership arrangement.
Moloney began his talk with the origin of his collection. The youngest child in a large family, he was encouraged to sing. He did so, but also began collecting folk song ephemera at the same time. He sang a rendition of “The Battle of the Bogside”, by Joe Mulheron.
One of his early non-music collectibles was a UVF pin. Moloney told us his story of being followed by a man in a black leather jacket and ended up in a shop with loyalist paraphernalia. The mystery man followed. The shop proprietor, and older man, quickly surmised the situation and began a one-sided conversation with Moloney: “How you doing, Sammy? I haven’t seen you in years. How’s your mother Sadie doing?” A hastened purchase was made and Moloney never forgot the good favour. Yet when he returned three or four years later, the shop was shut; perhaps this saviour had died.
Moloney’s first visit to Dublin was in 1966, at 15 years of age. He showed us a postcard commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. By his account, this was part of establishing his Irish identity, as a young person living in London.
He explained that this was the start of his collecting in earnest, as it was difficult at the time to source much visual material, particularly in England, of the civil rights movement in the North of Ireland. He supplemented his lecturing with whatever he could find as well as photographs that he began taking.
Speaking of photography, there was a meta-moment when Moloney held up a large photo of himself on top of a rooftop in Derry at the time of unrest in 1968. He didn’t know about the image for years; he bought a set of postcards (where you only see the first and last items in the stack), and only came across his image many years later when cataloguing its contents.
The next item shared was a poster of Bobby Sands, one found in England that probably never made it over to Ireland. A student of architecture, Moloney found it interesting how an image or product can evolve and transition in form and function. For example, this poster could become the basis for a mural, which is distributed as a photograph, which gets transformed into a badge.
Ireland in the Heart of Europe (Postcard 103) was an example of work by artists that Moloney included in his collection.
He befriended an artist would created hand-illustrated envelopes for first-day-of-issue stamps, who generously gave him a full set of the Ireland peace-themed ones.
And more photographs. There are 6,500 images of loyalist banners. His record is attending six 12th July parades on the same day.
Humourously, one image is a Photoshop creation of a “Happy Birthday Peter” mural.
Indeed, Moloney suggested that as part of the healing process, we need to be able to laugh at ourselves, to have fun.
He thought of keeping for himself a leather book cover made in prison for his mother. But, he said, “Once I catalogued it, its fate was sealed — it was going to Derry.” Moloney further explained that had he started to keep back particular items, “nothing would have made it to the Tower Museum”.
Moloney was further encouraged by his interaction with the peacebuilding organisation, Healing through Remembering (HtR), which undertook an audit of several private collections and had a rolling exhibition, Everyday Objects.
This had a deep effect on him, where he saw the value in giving more people an opportunity to examine the past and help direct the future, through the reflection of ordinary (and not so ordinary) items.
One example was a bus ticket receipt, the ones issued with a confident telephone number on the reverse, to report suspicious items or behaviour: “There must have been millions of these printed. You’d buy one for your journey and then throw it away when used. But you look at it now and think, ‘Surely that didn’t happen.’”
More recently, Moloney described how a photograph he took of a collarette “jammed with badges” has been enlarged so that visitors can have their picture taken, as if they are donning the collarette. Moloney expressed his gratitude to the man who permitted him to take the original photograph.
Indeed, Moloney found it fitting to start and finish his presentation with two men who helped him in life and with his collection.
When asked by an audience member what he will do now, he replied that he’s still collecting: “I have space in my cupboards again!”
Moloney thanked all those who put him up with accommodation, who drove him around for his photo taking, who collected items on his behalf. He especially thanked his family.
A full exhibition of the Peter Moloney Collection at Tower Museum is planned for October 2018.