01 Oct 2022

Portarlington treasure trove collection comes into public ownership of the people of Laois

Extensive Mathews Portarlington archive acquired by Laois County Council

Portarlington treasure trove collection comes into public ownership

The Ronnie Mathews Collection presntation. John Mulholland, CEO, Bernie Foran Laois County Librarian, Cllr Catherine Fitzgerald, Cathaoirleach , Tim Matthews, Catherine Casey, Laois Heritage Officer

The archive collection of Portarlington historian Ronnie Mathews has been acquired by Laois County Council for the people of the county.

Mr Mathews, a well-known historian and author of several books on Portarlington, had collected documents, maps and artefacts relating to the town over his whole life, and the collection also includes some items collected by his father Jack Mathews Snr and Grandfather George Mathews.

The Mathews family ran a bakery in Portarlington for many years, and the collection includes ledgers and account books from that business, which will shed a fascinating light on many aspects of life in Portarlington in the past.

Among the interesting artefacts are a series of glass negative photograph slides showing all aspects of Irish life dating from around 1910, a cannon ball reputed to be from the site of Lea Castle outside Portarlington, and a hand painted chess board with the crest of the Dawson family of Emo Court. The documents include a map of Patrick Street dated 1889 and a large collection of postcards by Wynne of Portarlington, also showing Maryborough Mountmellick, Monasterevin and more.

More below picture of the late Ronnie Matthews

 Cllr Catherine Fitzgerald, Cathaoirleach of Laois County Council welcomed the acquisition.

“Laois County Council is so grateful to the Mathews family for their dedication to collecting and keeping safe this wonderful archive which tells us so much about life in Laois and in Portarlington in particular, in days gone by. It will be a wonderful resource for researchers and a great way to honour the memory of Ronnie Mathews”.

Tim Mathews, Ronnie’s son, had the honour of presenting the collection to Laois County Council.

“My dad had been collecting and researching for over 50 years, and it was a dream of his to establish a museum in Portarlington. He loved the town and all that came with it, like his Grandad George who made the 1920s movie films , and his father Jack snr, who had a museum on the main street in 1966 to commemorate 100 years of family business in the town. On behalf of the family we are honoured to have Ronnie remembered in this way and thank everyone involved in making this happen,” she said.

More below picture of Cllr Catherine Fitzgerald Cathaoirleach of Laois County Council pictured with a chessboard painted in oils by Lord Arlington from Emo Estate, presented to Laois County Council as part of the Ronnie Mathews Collection.

The material will now be carefully archived and catalogued by the Laois County Library Service, and arrangements made for any necessary conservation.

Bernie Foran, County Librarian for Laois is looking forward to cataloguing the collection.

“We are delighted to be acquiring this very valuable collection of archival material and artefacts for the people of Laois. Funding has been made available through the Creative Ireland Programme for essential archiving and cataloguing work, as we prepare the material to be made available for research and for future display.

"The theme of the Creative Ireland programme in Laois is “Sense of Place” and we aim to create a county in which culture and creativity are recognised as integral to life with opportunities for everyone in the county to become involved in creativity and culture. The Ronnie Mathews Collection is a perfect example of how cultural material can assist in developing and understanding our sense of place,” she said.

The Council says the acquisition of the Ronnie Mathews Collection follows the announcement of funding through the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund for conservation and regeneration of the historic Market Square in Portarlington, with plans for the conservation and reuse of the Market House in the square, which has been leased by Laois County Council

Chief Executive of Laois County Council John Mulholland said the collection has value to the entire county.

“The heritage of Portarlington and its historic Market House and Market Square are vital parts of the story of the town. This collection will assist us in telling and interpreting the story of Portarlington and I greatly welcome the acquisition of the Ronnie Mathews Collection, which has a countywide and indeed national significance,” he said.

Portarlington-based county councillor Aidan Mullins. was also pleased with the move. He looked forward to it being put on public display as the Ronnie and the Matthews family have wished.

"Great news this week with confirmation that Laois County Council has acquired the archive of the late Ronnie Mathews. This extensive paper archive from the local historian and businessman relates to all aspects of the life and history of Portarlington during the last century and before. It was collected meticulously by Ronnie over his lifetime. 

"This is of enormous historical value to the town and the people of Laois. Funding from the Creative Ireland fund has been allocated to catalogue and conserve the material with a view to having some of it on public display.

"Tim Mathews, son of the late Ronnie, told me that his father hoped many years ago that the archive would be displayed publicly in the town, and his hope was that the Market House in the Square would be available for this purpose.

"His wishes can finally come true with the proposed regeneration and refurbishment of the Market House as a public space and I believe it will be an ideal location for the display of such an archive," he said. 

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