It was a passion for the “living history” of the area he has lived all of his 75 years which saw Pat Kelly launch a museum right in his own back yard.
Pat’s ‘Shed’ is, as he aptly describes it a “treasure trove of memorabilia” collected from the border area, every artefact telling a story of the lives lived, and history made, over the last century and more.
"I’ve always had a real interest in history, and collecting things. This area, where I’ve spent all my life, is hugely fascinating, and I think we really don’t appreciate the ‘living history’ of the border, and all that we have seen and witnessed,” says Pat.
He has a unique perspective having lived through the very worst of ‘The Troubles’ in the north, and seeing first hand the impact it has on the border area.
“I’ve tried to capture the story on both sides here really. I have military, customs and garda uniforms, but old RUC dress uniforms as well, and one of the most recent donations I got was a very old sash from the Orange Order, it must be over a hundred years old, in perfect condition still in a presentation box.”
The oldest part of his vast collection includes some of the weaponry, the tools of conflict, some of which long pre-dates the the troubles.
"My father was a builder, and they were doing a job at Dundalk Rugby Club years ago when they saw a metal piece sticking out of the ground. It was a very, very old rifle, it is from the 1800’s. The wooden part had fallen off, but we got it restored, and I’m proud to have it on display here.”
Pat’s reputation as a collector has, he admits, led to some very unusual donations.
"I have a full face gas mask, it was given by a chap from Ukraine. It would have been issued around the time of the Chernobyl disaster. It was never used, but I think it’s a very good illustration of that era, frightening to think of.”
Some of the fascination of the many, many items he has on display, are the stories behind them, says Pat, as he unwraps a WW11 American B-17 bomber jacket in almost pristine condition.
"It’s why programmes like Antiques Roadshow are so popular isn’t it? You immediately picture when and where this jacket might have been worn, what that person wearing it went through.”
One of Pat’s proudest moments was seeing his collection comes to life in the ‘Border Communities Against Brexit’ protests, events which made local national and international headlines over the last few years.
"All of the uniforms and signs you saw all came from here. The old Customs uniform with the long dress coat made a great impression. People of my age would remember them at the border, but a lot of the younger generation don’t known what you’re talking about!”
It’s one of the reasons, he admits, that he continues to keep the museum open, and with the lifting of Covid restrictions, hopes to welcome visitors again.
"Every single piece in this shed has a story to tell, not only about conflicts, but of the way we lived our lives in years gone by.”
A huge collection of mobile phones, right from the big bricks that came out first, and the 1980s era ‘car phones to the push ring dial phones that are now a trendy collectors item.
"I’ve an old set of baby weighing scale from the Louth Hospital over there, it looks like a woven basket” he adds, saying that it is a reminder of a time when Dundalk people had access to a maternity unit just minutes from their home.
In addition, there is a signal lamp, used by the guards at CIE, which is still working, alongside the multiple-numbered Burroughs calculator that was formerly used in St Patrick's Cathedral in Dundalk to count the collections at weekends.
With hundreds of old newspapers, photographs, audio clips, Pat’s Shed is a multi-media tribute to events of the last 100 years, with the technology that anyone over the age of 30 might vaguely remember.
"I’ve an old style tape recorder there, where you put the cassette in. It’s in good order too and still working. There’s a jukebox too, donated to me by the late Peter Quigley that was used in a musical 'Always Patsy Clyne' in Dublin.”
A huge collection of cameras capture an era when we actually held photographs in our hands, says Pat. "We’ve all got used to taking pictures on our phones. But we never do anything with them. It’s not going to be the same when it comes to showing photographs to the next generation, it’s all digital now I suppose.”
The shed was a “special place” for him during the last two years, he says, when life slowed down and visitors weren’t calling.
“I loved to come out here and sit among so much history, I never get tired of it, and I’m, always on the look out for something different. I’ll welcome any donations people might have.”
His fascination wasn’t always appreciated by everyone in the family, he laughs. “ Years ago I was building up so much stuff in the house, it was all sitting on top of cupboards. My wife didn’t like the clutter lying around! So she told me to put it all on display, and there might be a bit of interest.”
Now, the collection is so vast , Pat says, that he is almost running out of room.
"There’s so much to see here, so many stories to be told. I’m hoping people will start coming back out to us now that life is getting back to normal.”
How exactly he’ll capture the ‘living history’ of the Covid pandemic… you’ll have to pay a visit to find out!
Pat Kelly's Shed is open to the public and free of charge. Contact him before visiting at 042 9334270; 087 2534760.