Explore Your Archive is a joint campaign delivered by The National Archives and the Archives and Records Association across the UK and Ireland. It aims to showcase the unique potential of archives to excite people, bring communities together, and tell amazing stories. We’re blogging all week to show off Mary Gillham’s archive…

Dr Catherine Duigan, Steering Group member and proudly Irish

Today, one of the project’s Steering Group, Dr Catherine Duigan started to write about Mary’s many visits to Ireland but got distracted by Mary’s first car on its first trip out – to Catherine’s homeland, Ireland.

Everybody remembers their first car with affection and that glorious sense of freedom. My first car was a Renault 5 called “Liberty” which allowed me to collect zooplankton samples from lakes throughout Ireland, from Donegal to Kerry. It was fun to discover that Mary Gillham’s first car also gave her the freedom to explore Ireland. We could have exchanged tales of adventure.

In her book This Island Life (date), Mary wrote:

“I had recently returned from my wanderings in the Southern Hemisphere, to settle in South Wales and had become the proud owner of my first car. A lover of winding lanes rather than screeching highways, I decided to try her out in the Emerald Isles. It was a little unnerving seeing her swung aboard the Irish ferry by crane at Fishguard, three chocks fixed around each wheel, also backing her down the ramp from the railway wagon on which she had achieved her first short passage in Rosslare, but the miles to come were delightful.”

Examination of the Irish photographs revealed the little car was a blue Hillman Minx, with the registration number 6613PL. On its first outing this brave car made it all the way to Slea Head on the end of the Dingle Peninsula.


Working on instinct I then set Annie, our marvellous volunteer, the challenge of finding out if Mary gave her car a name. Annie loves being surrounded by Mary’s diaries and books and having the time to read them, especially the accounts from her native New Zealand.

She hit pay dirt on pages 62-63 of This Island Life:

“Penelope (my car) turned west, across the head of Roaringwater Bay to Balledehob and Mizzen Head, she enjoying the uncluttered roads, me the fabulous scenery.”

 Read more wonderful blog posts by Catherine HERE!


The Mary Gillham Archive Project is funded by HLF and managed by SEWBReC

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