Ireland: A Contrast in Museums

Liz and I visited two museums in Ireland; there are so many more that I’d love to go back and explore and learn from in the future. But I’ve been thinking about the two we went to and how they represent two sides of Irish history.

Dublin Castle courtyard

 Dublin Castle
Dublin Castle is a complex of buildings in the center of Dublin. There are medieval parts to it, but most of it was built in the eighteenth and nineteenth century and like most of Dublin, has a Georgian architectural feel to it. 
It was the center of British government control over Ireland for centuries until 1922, when Ireland won its independence from Britain. Now, there are still Irish government offices within Dublin Castle. Liz and I went to see Dublin Castle on our free time and did a self-guided tour through the State Apartments, which used to be the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland’s reception rooms back when that was a thing. 
St. Patrick’s Hall

St. Patrick’s Hall in Dublin Castle used to be a ballroom and it’s beautiful. This one guy decided to lay on the very plush carpet to get a better look at the painted ceilings.

A few years ago, on the very first state visit between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, then-President of Ireland Mary McAleese hosted Queen Elizabeth II in that room.

Ceiling of St. Patrick’s Hall

Also, St. Patrick’s Hall is the room where the President of Ireland is inaugurated every seven years.

There are a lot of portraits of lords and British kings and very fancy interiors. I felt a bit like I’d popped back in time to one of those period dramas I like.

There’s even a throne room!

The Kerry Bog Museum
A few days later, on a stop on our tour of the Ring of Kerry, outside the Red Fox Inn where we had a bracing Irish coffee at 10:30 in the morning, our tour guide mentioned there was a small outdoor museum called the Kerry Bog Village right next to the inn and maybe we’d want to take a look.

The Bog Museum is a representation of what a typical rural Irish farming village would’ve looked like during the Great Hunger of 1845 to 1852.

There are different thatched, whitewashed cottages–all one-roomed and very tight. We went into the Laborer’s Cottage and it’s dark and small. Our ancestors in County Mayo probably would have lived in a cottage that was very similar. I knew that intellectually, but to actually be in a space like that?

Other cottages were meant to represent small shops or a stable or a priest’s house. There was a small field of potatoes in the middle of the village, the staple crop of the Irish poor.

There was a ruined cottage in the middle, too, which the sign said was Bridget O’Shea’s Cottage. During the Famine, Bridget lost her husband, was hungry, couldn’t pay her rent, and was evicted by her landlord. She ended up in the workhouse.

My family didn’t leave Ireland until sixty years after the Famine. Liz and I are here, so clearly they survived to perpetuate the family, but I don’t know specifics of what my ancestors may have experienced in those times. They may have been thrown out of their house, unable to pay the rent. They may have lost family members, I don’t know.

I know I get my obsession with stories and with history from the Irish side of the family–my dad is the person who taught me to read and also the guy who very patiently explained various salient points of history to me as a kid. As this trip was my first time in Ireland–my first time in Europe–coming into contact with places that have seen some of that painful Irish history I’ve heard about my whole life blew my mind a bit.

2 thoughts on “Ireland: A Contrast in Museums

  1. The State Apartments aren't *that* big, so taking it in at our own pace worked out well. They also had an exhibit on fashions of the 18th century–what people who came to Dublin Castle during the Irish Season would've worn, which was really interesting.


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