Limerick woman hoping to return late father’s artefact collection to native origins

South African and Sudanese spears and harpoons make up part of the late Limerick man's collection. Photo: Isabella Walsh.

A LIMERICK woman is hoping that she can return artefacts collected by her late father to the countries they originated from.

Isabella Walsh, a sculptor and multidisciplinary artist, is looking to fulfil her late father Larry Walsh’s last wishes by returning artefacts he collected over a lifetime to their rightful homes.

Mr Walsh was the curator of the Limerick Museum for 30 years, but purchased the artefacts for his own personal collection himself.

The late Limerick man’s collection consists of spears, shields, and Aboriginal sticks, and come from mainly Australia, South Africa, Sudan, and South Sudan.

Speaking to the Limerick Post, Isabella said that her mission isn’t just the “right thing to do”, it was also her father’s final wish.

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“He really treasured the objects, the spears and shields and things like that, and when he was writing his final will, he put in it that he wanted them to be repatriated to their country of origin.”

South African knobkerries, aboriginal stick. Photo: Isabella Walsh.

“He believed very passionately that that was the right thing to do, so I was left with the job of trying to figure out what they are and where did they come from, because obviously you can’t just send them back to somewhere random,” Isabella explained.

Isabella’s first port of call was some online research, but when that didn’t yield any results, she was at a loss as to what to do.

It was only when an article popped up by chance about a man in the US who had gotten artefacts repatriated that the Limerick woman got on the path of being able to return her father’s collection in earnest.

“I saw an article online about someone in America that had been left these objects when his father passed away, he found an article about somebody else who had done the same thing, and they both reached out to this guy, Dr Christos Tsirogiannis, who is an expert in looted, trafficked antiquities. He has repatriated a lot of objects, not necessarily under these circumstances,” she said.

South Sudan leather shield. Photo: Isabella Walsh.

“Because he had helped two people who had reached out to him, I thought he might be able to help me as well, so I found his email address and I sent him just a brief email with a few pictures of the items and he got back to me very quickly and within a week he had identified where they came from.”

Dr Tsirogiannis, who is the head of a UNESCO working group on illicit antiquities, advised Isabella to get in touch with the nearest embassies of each country to arrange giving them back, with arrangements already made to return items to both the Australian and South African embassies, as well as another in London, which Isabella is hoping to visit in the new year.

Isabella believes that the artefacts came from an auction at Thornfield House in Ahane, which was once owned by Sir Richard Bourke, a British Army General and former governor of New South Wales in Australia.

Despite the artefacts possibly having quite a high monetary value, Isabella says that the money is of no interest to her, and that fulfilling her father’s last wishes is the most important thing to her.

Despite her father’s love of history and his collection, Isabella believes that her father would have thought of himself as a temporary custodian.

“I suppose we’re all temporary on this earth and he would have viewed himself as a temporary custodian of the items. He really loved them and he had a long degenerative condition so he had plenty of time to be thinking about what he wanted.”

“I’d imagine it was something that he did think of for a long time, that he wanted them to go back,” Isabella concluded.