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Collections Spotlight – Irish Civil Defence Uniform

Every few weeks we shine a light on a different object from the Galway City Museum collection that you may not have seen before. This week we have an Irish Civil Defence uniform from the 1950s / 60s.  This uniform belonged to the donor’s dad, Seán Stafford, who was originally from Kilkenny but had lived in Galway from 1948 up until his recent death. Seán joined the Civil Defence in the late 1950s or early 1960s.  From 1950 to 1988 he was a teacher in the Galway Technical School, Fr Griffin Road but was best known for his involvement in Irish language and theatre circles in Galway. He was involved in the Taibhdhearc theatre, first as an actor and later as a stage director and also served as chairman for many years.

Seán was heavily involved with Feis Ceoil an Iarthair from the mid-1950s to its final competition in 1975 serving as its General Secretary for the last 15 years of its existence. In this role, he was asked to organise the Irish dancing exhibition for President John F Kennedy in June 1963 in Eyre Square on the occasion of Kennedy’s first visit to Ireland. He also spent his summers in the 1950s and 60s teaching at Irish language camps in Connemara and in Co. Meath. At home in Galway, Seán and his wife Máire Stafford (née Fitzpatrick) set up a children’s club called Club na nÓg based in Arás na Gael in Dominick Street. Both were awarded Honorary Master of Arts degrees in 2004 in recognition of their work in the promotion of the arts, theatre and the Irish language.

Civil Defence Ireland was established in 1951 in response to nuclear threats surrounding the atomic bomb.  It was envisaged as a community based self-help organisation that could provide protection for the civilian population during times of war. A primary role of the Civil Defence after its initial setup was to help refugees escaping violence in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

In the mid-1970s the main focus of the organisation started to shift with the establishment of a warden service. Volunteers were equipped and trained to monitor radiation levels that may occur in the event of a nuclear disaster. In the aftermath of the Chernobyl Disaster in 1986, civil defence volunteers assessed the consequences of this disaster for Ireland.

By the start of the 1990s, with the threat of nuclear war and conflict receding, the organisation again began to change focus. A greater emphasis has since been placed on the role of civil defence to provide support within their communities in particular during major events and emergencies. During the 2000s and 2010s civil defence played a major role in providing assistance during severe weather events such as storms and flooding.

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