Belfast Telegraph

Troubles museum which boasts a pair of Gaddafi's shoes hopes for official status

Kevin Carson, the curator of the Roddy McCorley Society living history museum in Belfast, holds a pair of Colonel Gaddafi’s slippers
Kevin Carson, the curator of the Roddy McCorley Society living history museum in Belfast, holds a pair of Colonel Gaddafi’s slippers
The metal frame of an L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle (top) and a resin copy

By David Young, PA

A collection of Troubles-era artefacts that includes shoes reputedly owned by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is attempting to secure official museum status ahead of a major expansion.

Over the last five decades, the Roddy McCorley Society in west Belfast has amassed a large number of items related to the conflict and associated with the republican tradition.

It includes decorative shoes the Libyan dictator apparently gifted to IRA leader Joe Cahill during a visit to his North African regime to secure arms for the Provisionals.

Among the weaponry the IRA obtained from Gaddafi's Libya were tonnes of Semtex explosive used in some of the most notorious bomb attacks of the conflict.

Nine years on from Gaddafi's death, relatives of those killed continue to campaign for compensation from the current Libyan authorities.

As well as the dictator's shoes, the Troubles collection also includes a bed and blanket from Long Kesh/Maze prison and a badly damaged Army issue rifle a member of the public apparently found close to the site of the Narrow Water bombings that killed 18 soldiers in 1979.

The society has already secured Belfast City Council backing to transform the collection's present home, in three rooms above the Roddy McCorley Social Club on the Glen Road, into a purpose-built museum facility.

As part of the process it is hoping to achieve museum accreditation.

The society recently met with officials from National Museums NI to discuss its ambitions.

Society committee member Kevin Carson said the official status would enable it to loan and swap artefacts with other museums throughout Ireland. "We have travelled the length and breadth of Ireland to tie up with other groups, museums and collectors in the hope that in future we might exchange parts of our exhibitions, so stuff from Belfast could be on show in Cork, Mayo, Derry or Donegal, but we need to have proper museum status.

The Roddy McCorley Society was formed in 1972 to raise funds for the families of republican prisoners. The collection began with art crafted by those prisoners, such as Celtic crosses and leather wallets.

While telling the story of the Troubles through a republican prism, the collection also includes several loyalist items, donated by ex-prisoners from the other tradition who have visited as part of reconciliation initiatives.

Mr Carson said Gaddafi's shoes were "very valuable" and continued to generate significant interest among visitors. A TV crew from the Middle East visited during the summer to film Mr Carson recounting the story of the shoes.

"Joe Cahill had been in Libya on a number of occasions to meet Gaddafi and once they met in the desert after a long journey in the sun.

"On that occasion, Joe was presented with these slippers as a souvenir of the visit."

The director of National Museums NI, Kathryn Thomson, said: "The story of our recent past is one that is distributed through a network of museums, visitor attractions, and tours.

"Where relevant we are always willing to offer curatorial and other expert advice and support to community led initiatives.

"Within this context we welcomed the opportunity to visit the Roddy McCorley Museum recently and look forward to seeing their project develop."

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