MONASTEREVIN man Fergal Browne is among the featured contributors in the new National Treasures book, the latest instalment of a project which documents Ireland’s history in the last 100 years through ordinary objects.
The book includes his collection of Blue Hussar model soldiers, one of very few sets made of Irish military units following the country’s independence. Having previously submitted the set to the project – alongside a document signed by former taoiseach WT Cosgrave and a Cork farm auction poster from 1951 – he brought the Blue Hussars to a National Treasure road show in Cork.
“There was a huge crowd of people at the road show with a variety of different objects,” Fergal explained. “I was chatting to one man who had brought up a crucifix made entirely of cartridge cases. His uncle had made it in an internment camp in Cork Gaol during the Civil War.”
An accountant by profession, Fergal has always been interested in history – particularly military history and the foundation of the state – and came across the set in a curiosity shop in Yorkshire while living in England in 2008. The Blue Hussars served as Ireland’s presidential escort between 1932 and 1948, when they were disbanded.
“The set was unusual in that I’d never seen models of the Blue Hussars before and I’m aware that early sets of Irish military units are very rare,” he said. “There is a clip on YouTube of Douglas Hyde’s inauguration which contains some great footage of them on parade at the Phoenix Park and outside Áras an Uachtaráin.”
Since the book came out, Fergal heard from a friend of his, now retired from the Irish Army, that the regimental sergeant major (RSM) of the first regiment to which he was appointed in 1966 had been a former Blue Hussar.
“It’s a pity they were disbanded,” he added.
Fergal’s Blue Hussars featured alongside a number of fascinating items in the book, including Sonia O’Sullivan’s Olympic running shoes and a War of Independence grenade, and have been included in the exhibition at the Museum of Country Life in Mayo. The project also includes a website, road show events and a TV series.
“The segment in which I was filmed wasn’t used in the TV show in the end,” explained Fergal, “so it was a nice bonus when the hussars set was used in the book!”