A visit to our past through our Museum

Photo:Turlough House - now part of the Museum

Turlough House - now part of the Museum

Photo: Averil Staunton

Photo:The newly constructed section of the Museum

The newly constructed section of the Museum

Photo: Averil Staunton

Photo:One of the glasshouses at Turlough Park House

One of the glasshouses at Turlough Park House

Photo: Averil Staunton

Extracts from article by Áine Ryan in the Irish Times

By Averil Staunton

A visit to our local community garden recently, prompted me to republish an interesting article by Áine Ryan which appeared in the Irish Times to-day 20th August about the National Museum of Country Life, in Turlough Park which discusses the many exhibits and reflects on a once indigenous way of life. Historical Ballinrobe is networked with the Museum through its website http://www.ouririshheritage.org/.

It is so true that in our post Celtic-tiger Ireland many people are reverting to simple crafts such as knitting, with old patterns passed down through generations, making copies of soft toys that our grandmothers might have made for us, listening and now recording oral histories from our families that would be lost (except for new technologies), raising chickens and ducks, making butter and soda bread and a host of other crafts which appear to have been laid aside over the past 40 years or so.  Yet others are making jewellery,  lace or recycling clothes, as is obvious, from the number of shops catering for this market that have opened in Ballinrobe.

The past becomes palpable

Aine Ryan says that it is “uplifting, even poignant, that every time she visits the past becomes palpable. It is as if some of the exhibits breathe and pulsate with familiar rhythms: whether that is the swish of the scythe, the click of the knitting needle or the splash of the oar.

It is as if one can touch the world of the Irish peasant whose work practices for simple survival were part of a seasonal mosaic that reaches deeply into the furrows of our history."

Opened in 2001

She reflected on observations made by the then minister for arts, heritage and the Gaeltacht, Síle de Valera, at the museum’s official opening in 2001. Noting that the museum was “no sanitised theme park”, she said “as far as possible it is a true reflection of the common people of Ireland”. She went on to say that many of the implements on display would have been used up to 50 years ago, within the living memory of people.

The minister was wrong. Even in 2001 some of the implements on display – the scythe, the sléan, the churn, the loom – were still being used in remote pockets in the west of Ireland. And I do not mean by the new organic farmers who, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, had fled the industrialised greyness of Berlin or Bonn, Manchester or Birmingham, in search of rustic idylls in west Cork and Connemara.

Ancient practices

The ancient practices of sowing and reaping, footing and stacking, weaving and knitting, churning and baking were continued by native farmers right into this century, on small holdings from Erris to Achill, Burtonport to Bantry, Inishturk to Tory.

And, of course, the wonderful irony now is that the collapse of the Celtic Tiger has led to a return to many of these

Only museum outside Dublin

The only national museum outside the capital city, the Museum of Country Life owes its genesis in Co Mayo to “a visionary move” by Mayo County Council, which bought the derelict stately house and 36 acres in 1991, and then invested £3 million in its renovation.

Originally the site of a medieval de Burgo castle, Turlough House was built in 1865 and owned by the Fitzgerald family of Waterford. It was designed by the celebrated Victorian architects, Woodward and Deane, who also designed the National Museum in Kildare Street.

Its tree-lined avenue weaves and winds towards manicured gardens and rolling green terraces. Despite their 19th-century formality, the terraces soften the grey, Gothic facade of the house. They lead to the still waters of the turlough, and its subterranean secrets, while also perfectly framing the extension – a modern four-storeyed, curved stone-clad gallery, designed by Office of Public Works architects.

The two buildings merge the cosseted and pompous world of master and mistress with the simple life of the farmer and fisherman, thatcher and cooper, carpenter and cobbler, blacksmith and baker.

Folk-ways from 1850-1950

In the museum, an epic drama unfolds about the folkways of a century – 1850 to 1950 – that hurtled a rural society out of the medieval world of landlordism and colonialism, ascendancy autocracy and land agitation. Originally, the Turlough Park estate stretched over 8,500 acres, with hundreds of servants and tenants eking out subservient lives in its many nooks and crannies.

Aine goes on to say that “it is important to acknowledge that this evocative collection relied on a positive and active relationship between the National Museum and the Irish Folklore Commission, established in 1935. The important work of the commission was invaluable because its members not only recorded stories and folklore, they also acquired a considerable number of objects underpinning this way of life, that now contribute to the collection”.

The National Museum of Country Life offers a microscopic lens into the minutiae of this world and is only a short drive from Ballinrobe.  It hosts many useful courses and exhibitions throughout the year and a visit will take many people down memory lane.  This is a wonderful free facility that will engross one for many hours.

Notes:  Knitting Classes: Adults Knitting group meet each Friday @ Tacú from 2pm- 4pm, Ballinrobe from Sept. Beginners welcome!


This full article by Áine Ryan first appeared in the Irish Times Monday 20th August 2012

This page was added by Averil Staunton on 20/08/2012.