Entrance to Dublin Castle, Dublin, Republic of Ireland.
Hello, Good Evening and Welcome to Part Two of ‘Progression is Inlcusion’ blog post. This is a follow on blog post from Part One of my trip to Dublin with the NI & ROI Museum Professionals Network. As discussed in the first blog post I will discuss the workshop we attended in Dublin Castle more in depth. I shall also mention the trip to ‘The Little Museum of Dublin,’-which was one of my favourite parts of the whole weekend!
The workshop was held in Dublin Castle by Jenny Papassotiriou. Jenny is a really enthusiastic and passionate museum practitioner- her passion was infectious! The workshop was entitled ‘Attack on the Castle.’ Now you may think we had to pretend we were an invading force attacking the castle but this was not the premise of the workshop. The idea was to ‘attack’ what is wrong with the interpretation, design, curation etc of the rooms open to the public in the castle.
We were tasked by Jenny to find and record our findings under various headings. The headings included ‘Good in Bad’ (i.e. what is Good but is perceived as bad), ‘What can be improved?’ ‘What’s Good?’, ‘Ideas for Collaboration etc.’ The idea is that these suggestions could be used in the re-interpretation of Dublin Castle and that any ideas for collaboration could envisage links between Dublin Castle and other institutions. These institutions could be in Ireland (north or south), the UK or further afield.
Some attendee’s at the workshop.
We were then ‘let loose’ on the rooms open to the public in Dublin Castle. The main rooms are the state rooms used by the Viceroys of Ireland pre-partition Ireland and by the Republic of Ireland post-partition. The rooms are mainly Georgian/Early Victorian in design and décor. I found several things that needed vast improvement in the various rooms. Beneath are the issues I feel Dublin Castle should address:
- Lack of interpretation within the rooms.
- No information on the actual people who used the rooms, no personal effects of the people whom used the rooms, little or no history on the Viceroy’s of Ireland.
- The shear lack of furniture that was period appropriate. I did look closely at one ‘period’ chair and I questioned it’s authenticity- it didn’t appear to be 18th century!
- Lack of conservation on some items, some items were visually deteriorated.
- No way finding signs or information.
- If you didn’t know about Ireland’s history you would think that Ireland is still ruled by Britain. This is because the Easter Rising in 1916 is mentioned but not the Civil War or Partition of Ireland that followed. A foreign visitor could presume the Easter Rising happened and was oppressed and that Ireland only gained independence in the late 1990’s (this particular thought was spurred by the only picture of an Irish President being Mary McAleese!)
I feel that these issues could be easily address and I wrote my thoughts down to be shared with the group later. I recognize that funding is an issue but simple measures such as way finding signs, rotation of items in need of conservation, re-interpretation and storytelling in the rooms could be done at a low budget.
After we viewed the state rooms, in Dublin Castle we gathered again as a group to discuss our thoughts and findings. Jenny asked us to write down our thoughts on post-it notes and to stick them on various points in the room that had the titles of the aforementioned headings (‘Good in Bad,’ ‘Ideas for Collaboration,’ etc.) Below are some pictures of the outcome of the workshop:
Overall, everyone was agreeing that the lack of interpretation and historical information were two of the biggest factors contributing to Dublin Castle. The majority of people also felt that directional signs could be made better by simply making more signs and in a better quality. Also a lot of people, myself included, felt that ‘personal’ items from the 18th/19th Century could be readily bought and placed in the rooms to give a sense of people living in the spaces. Items such as clothing, shoes, a pack of cards, pen and paper, a tea set would give the rooms a more ‘personal’ feel.
As part of the links/borrow/lend/purchase aspect of the workshop I wrote that a ‘lend lease’ agreement could be agreed with palaces and historical houses to have a ‘painting exchanges.’ This would entail exchanging paintings from Dublin Castle for paintings for example from Kensington Palace. Ideally these paintings would have the same subject matter and a joint exhibition could be set up in both places. Another idea I had was to contact Kensington Palace who hold an archive of Queen Victoria’s items which could be readily made available for a major exhibition in the castle.
I really hope that Dublin Castle does improve the rooms open to the public. It is such an important historic place in both the UK’s and Ireland’s shared history. It tells the story of the city of Dublin itself from Viking times up to the 21st Century. It tells the story of Dublin’s people and their lives to. There is so much potential with the castle, I can’t wait to see it if it is re-interpreted!
On the second day of the trip, a small selection of the larger group visited ‘The Little Museum of Dublin,’ located near St. Stephen’s Green. This museum has a collection entirely donated and loaned from the public sphere. It tells the story of Dublin from 1900-2000 and the ever changing city. The museum is very open to touch and asking questions, as well as having extremely comfy seats (and sweeties!) to entice guests to sit, contemplate and stay longer. I really enjoyed this ‘open’ approach!
We joined a tour of the museum from a very lively and informative guide. After the tour we were joined by Sarah Costigan, Director of Development to hear our views on what we thought of the museum. It was great to have an informal chat surrounded by museum professionals about museums. I was able to express why I loved the Little Museum of Dublin. I’m a curious person by nature and I like to investigate things and the Little Museum of Dublin’s ethos fitted right in with that. Sarah asked us what our favourite object was. Mine was this push button metal children’s toy:
I felt that it reflected the ethos of the museum. It was simple in it’s approach but accessible and enjoyed by all. We were all like big kids pushing the button on the side of the toy to see the people spin around! A thoroughly brilliant museum and I shall definitely be back.
I had an excellent time in Dublin and it was great to meet people who have just been contacts on Facebook. It was fantastic to ‘geek out’ about museums, discuss collections, the pitfalls of being a museum professional and the never ending looking for a museum job amongst other topics. I felt I learnt a great deal on conservation, how to improve heritage sites and different approaches to museums. I would like to thank Mairead Quinn and Danielle Wilson Higgins of NI & ROI Museum Professional Network for organising a brilliant trip. I leave you know with the obligatory shot of the GPO in Dublin:
All photo’s (c) Rachel Sayers 2013 unless stated/linked.