Cultural Institution

Heritage Focus: National Botanic Gardens, Dublin Ireland

Hello all!

I recently visited the Botanic Gardens to meet up with one of my fellow classmates who works there.  I’ve included a brief interview below to give everyone a quick look at what an amazing place it is and all that it has to offer.IMG_3950

Basic Overview:

Located just outside of Dublin City Centre in Glasnevin, Ireland, The National Botanic Gardens was founded in 1795 by the Royal Dublin Society.  It is currently operated by the Office of Public Works and welcomes thousands of visitors every year.  Find out more about it here.


What is your favorite thing about working here?

Every time I think “That must be it,” there’s always something new.”  Everything moves from growth to decline.  New plants bloom or emerge daily and there is constantly a different one to learn about.


Interesting Fact?

The Botanic Gardens is home to the Turner Curvilinear Glass range, an iconic Victorian glasshouse designed by Dubliner Richard Turner. It was constructed out of curved glass and wrought iron from 1843-1869.  This magnificent structure was restored for the 1995 bi-centenary and is a completely faithful reconstruction of the original.  Turner was also responsible for designing the Palm Houses at Kew Gardens and Belfast Botanic Gardens, but both of these have been ‘restored’ with the use of steel. Some of the ironwork that replaced the corroded iron during the Curvilinear restoration came from the discarded scraps of the Palm Hose at Kew.


Why should someone come to visit?

“Because where else can you see an aspect of almost every part of the world in under 50 acres?” In addition to housing Ireland’s only rain forest, it is the home to rare plants and even one that is extinct in the wild, the Cycad Encephalartos woodii, and it has an illustrious history of orchid cultivation.  Adding all that to the fact that there is free admission, it is fair to say that the Botanic Gardens Glasnevin is “a blooming free for all!”

For opening hours and directions to the Botanic Gardens, click here.

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Athenry Heritage Centre – Putting the Fun into History!

Entrance to the heritage centre

Athenry Heritage Centre is small but significant amenity found in the centre of the infamous medieval walled town, located fifteen miles East of Galway city. This year the centre celebrates ten years of bringing the past to life through a series of fun activities and colourful displays. A community service project funded by Pobal, the heritage centre aims to put the fun into history, as is proudly exclaimed on its website and in its mission statement. The Heritage Centre itself is located within St. Mary’s Church in Athenry town. The fact that it is enveloped in history is particularly significant and visually engaging, as this church is a protected structure. The surrounding graveyard is also active, illustrating the continuity of the town’s history.Athenry Heritage Centre

The designers of the heritage centre display interacted well within the confines of the church space and utilized the layout to its best advantage. The long rectangular nave is subdivided by fake masonry props that act as dividers and circulation devices, guiding visitors on a particular route through a series of different spaces. These include the dungeon, armory and medieval streetscape. In terms of circulation within the gallery, the passages are wide enough to facilitate the movement of large groups throughout. As well as this the chancel at the back of the church has been utilized as a stage area, often used for plays by drama groups, puppeteers or school children. Information is presented via a series of visual aids throughout the gallery. These are detailed information boards, artefacts (the Athenry Mace and Seal), models of the walled town layout and a timeline.

The centre offers a variety of activities, both daily and seasonal, as well as historical tours. Medieval costumes are available for visitors of all sizes and heights and are designed by local volunteers using second-hand fabrics. By dressing in medieval costume or armour it brings the past to life for the participants. Archery is provided and implores participants to channel their “hidden Robin Hood” by catering for all ages and levels. A sensory herb garden allows visitors to explore history using their senses in a relaxed outdoor environment, while walking tours of the Athenry town allow further open air exploration of its historical sites.
Colourful Costumes
A key strength of the heritage centre is its engagement with and education of individuals with special needs, as indicated in its mission statement. As well as participating in the tour, dress-up and role-play activities in the centre, the aforementioned sensory herb garden provides a huge range of benefits to both children and adults with special needs. Visitors can touch, smell and taste the herbs, many of which would have been cultivated and used during the Medieval period. The interior of the heritage centre is also completely wheelchair accessible. The heritage centre also offers a venue for children’s birthday parties and provides medieval costumes, an archery lesson, a medieval banquet table for the party food, face-painting, games and a tour of the dungeon. Seasonal events include a Hallowe’en Spectacular and Christmas Winter Wonderland. The centre also celebrates the Heritage Council’s annual National Walled Town’s day with various activities including battle re-enactments, plays by local theatre groups, archery tournaments, medieval craft demonstrations and a children’s parade.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit there and, judging by the happy faces depicted on the website, many others enjoy it too. The staff are friendly, helpful and eager to impart knowledge and create a fun visitor experience. The centre fulfils its aim of ‘putting the fun into history’ with its wide range of entertaining activities, while also educating the public on what life in a medieval walled town was actually like. The level of accessibility for all visitors is exceptional. It promotes the rich heritage of Athenry very well to locals and visitors from further afield through the range of seasonal and daily events organized. It is accessible via train or bus, or alternatively by car on the motorway from Dublin to Galway. A fun experience for all and you might even learn a thing or two!

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UCD Classical Museum

Museum Logo

Within the labyrinthine halls of University College Dublin there exists a treasure chest of classical history and archaeology. The UCD Classical Museum (located in room K216 in the Newman Building for the intrepid explorers among you) holds many thousands of artefacts from all over the ancient world, from regions as diverse as Egypt, Greece, Rome and Cyprus.

Highlights include the remarkable stone sarcophagus (complete with resplendent skeleton), a selection of red and black figure Greek vases, a multitude of Roman coins and exquisite glass vessels, ancient Cypriot pottery and the mummy linens of Khnum-Nakht. These mummy linens are of particular significance, as they came from one of the mummies from the renowned Tomb of the Two Brothers, now on display at the Manchester Museum.

The broad spectrum of cultures represented ensures that each visitor will find something to learn from and be inspired by, no matter what their age or interests. The collection is used primarily as a teaching resource for UCD and visiting students, but it is also open to the general public. As a teaching collection, it is extremely valuable for students as they get to don white gloves and physically handle artefacts that are thousands of years old.

This year, the museum has obtained a new curator, Dr. Jo Day, a lecturer in classical history in the university. Jo is working hard on the museum’s education and outreach programmes, in order to attract visitors from outside the university, with a particular emphasis on primary school groups.  Although the display style may err on the side of the old-fashioned cabinets of curiosities, the museum has huge potential for change, in terms of new cases, lighting, layout, etc, if funding were to become available. Despite its appearance it holds remarkable artefacts from the ancient world and presents them to all visitors for free. It is well worth a visit.

Classical Museum

More information on the museum is available here and the opening hours are: during term time on Tuesday (14.00 – 16.00), Wednesday (10.30 -13.00), and Thursday (12.00 – 14.00), or by appointment (+353-1-716 8576).

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Irish Photo Archive

Young boys playing in Castlebar, 1952

Following a Nationwide feature on the Irish Photo Archive, I was compelled to contact them to offer my services as a volunteer. The story of the organization and its dedication to presenting Irish history to the public through photographs is both inspiring and important. The archive, located on North Strand Road, is currently in the process of digitizing and publishing the Lensmen photographic collection.

The Lensmen Press and Public Relations Photographic Agency was originally set up in 1952 by two photographers, Andy Farren and Padraig MacBrian, who photographed street scenes, sporting events, weddings, communions, visits by famous figures to name a few. Their work presents a broad overview of Irish life. Today, the archive encompasses some three million negatives that chronicle the last sixty years in Irish history, have a look at their website here:

Images of all aspects of Irish life were carefully preserved and documented and today the Irish Photo Archive aims to digitize these photographs for online use. One recent example of the process was the discovery of never before seen images of the Rolling Stones at Dublin airport, which were exhibited in the airport and eventually published in a book.

This is a monumental task and one that requires constant scanning, editing and captioning of images. In order to bring this archive to the public, hard work must be carried out by a series of enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers. It is a very worthwhile project that has the potential to bring previously unheard stories within our nation’s history to life. Please get involved!

Check out their website at:

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Ross Errilly Friary, A Missed Opportunity

 Ruins of Ross Abbey, Franciscan Friary, Founded in 1357, He

This majestic historical site is a significant structure in terms of social, religious and architectural history of the west of Ireland. Ross Errilly (or Mainistir Ros Oirialaigh in Irish) is a medieval Franciscan friary that was founded, according to a charming foundation legend, in 1351 after the local bishop followed three swans carrying flax seed in their mouth to a spot along the banks of the Black river. Known to locals as Ross Abbey, it never actually had an abbot, so it is technically a friary. It still stands proudly in the landscape today in a remarkable state of preservation.

Visiting the Abbey has been a part of my life from a very young age. Despite its out of the way location, it is only a few minutes drive from Headford town itself. It was and is the place our family bring family and friends to visit regularly, as it certainly does not disappoint visually! Wandering around the Abbey has always enthralled me, its vast system of rooms and corridors lend themselves to hours of childish fun regardless of a person’s age. Distinctive architectural features survive, meaning that upper floors and elements such as ovens, window seats and chimneys are all discernible. Tracery still survives on the magnificent windows that once adorned the building, but they can still be appreciated today, particularly on sunny days when light beams flow in. Standing inside the giant fireplaces and looking upwards to the sky inside the chimney is one of my favourite things to do when visiting. The impressive central tower, now closed, used to be a particularly thrilling aspect of the tour, as visitors could view the sprawling surrounding area from an unrivaled vantage point.

Original tracery

Although two books have been published on it, the Abbey itself is crying out for some care and attention. Bus tours do make their way down the windy road to it during summer months, but apart from a small sign on the main road pointing to it, the structure is all but lost. It can be seen from the main road between Cong and Headford, but there is no access road from that side and I feel that the Abbey has missed numerous potential visitors because of its location. Although the site is in the control of the OPW, nothing of note has been done with it to improve its image or attract more visitors. As with many OPW sites, an information board to the right as one enters the Abbey provides basic details about when it was built and how. This is certainly helpful, but not anywhere near adequate. The lack of information provided about each individual room (of which plans survive, so we know what they were used for!) is an injustice to my mind, as this building bursts with untold history of the people who built it, lived in it and are buried in it.

Aerial view of the Abbey

In order to be properly recognized for its importance as a heritage site, Ross Abbey would benefit from better signage and advertising in the local area. It is featured on a Headford website but this is also lacking and could be made far more educational and informative. It should have its own website that provides historical details, reconstructions, photographs, interactive games and activities. There should be a series of children’s activity sheets available for download to make a visit fulfilling for kids in a historical sense too. Engaging information boards should be placed in each room, with explanations for the space’s function depicted both in words and images. This at the very least would provide visitors with a self-guided tour option and would unlock some details about the Abbey’s history and function in the local area. In the place of a functioning heritage Centro, that is completely impossible due to current funding issues, small ideas like the ones outlined above could elevate the Abbey to having a deserved national status as a prominent historical site.

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Women’s Museum of Ireland


When I first mentioned the concept of a Women’s Museum in Ireland to an outspoken male acquaintance, he immediately responded ‘Can you name ten famous Irish women? I can’t.’ and set off on his merry way, much to my chagrin. This is exactly the attitude towards women in history that needs to be challenged and a group of Trinity graduates are doing exactly that. The Women’s Museum of Ireland is a new initiative to bring the stories of Irish women in history to the public’s attention. It aims to educate the public about the role Irish women played in political, social and cultural history, both in Ireland and abroad. As well as celebrating Irish women who are renowned in the public sphere already, they hope to focus on every day women and their achievements throughout the ages. Although this is not a completely new concept (museums dedicated to women exist in California, Washington DC and Australia, to name a few) it is new to Ireland and something that is needed.

The young women involved in its creation have worked tirelessly since its establishment in November 2012 to gather information and materials, and this hard graft culminated in their first photographic exhibition entitled “Monsters of Creation: Snapshots of Women in Higher Education”. It was launched during International Women’s Week in the Long Room Hub, Trinity College Dublin, and drew great public interest, including a visit from Mme Christine Lagarde, director of the IMF. Photographs were donated by women, families and institutions from all corners of the nation and included both recent graduates and women who had to fight for their education. Having both my own graduation photograph and my mother’s included in the display was a privilege. As a first exhibition it was a success and acts as a starting point from which this museum will continue to flourish.

In my own experience, raising gender equality or feminist issues can be met with sighs and ‘get back in the kitchen’ jokes. Although to some, the idea of a women’s museum may seem bizarre and even pointless, I feel that there is a real need to celebrate the achievements of past Irish women as a mechanism from which to encourage modern Irish women to succeed. Often, women have been overlooked in historical writing, as they were overlooked in society for many generations, but organizations like this are changing attitudes and perceptions. In terms of public history, this is a wonderful opportunity for discussion on the public perception of females in history, both in general and specific figures.

Currently the Women’s Museum has a blog, Facebook page and Twitter account, all of which are active and updated daily. These are well worth keeping an eye on, both for their articles with historical relevance and links to more modern day issues. In keeping with the first photographic exhibition, the organizers will be creating a series of these pop-up exhibitions in the coming months. The materials utilized in these displays will be archived for further use when the museum gets the permanent home it deserves. Referring back to my gentleman friend and his apathetic view of Irish women in history, I will finish by countering that influential and inspirational women did and still do exist, we just need to find and share their stories.

Images from the museum’s first exhibition are available on their Facebook page here:

And their official website is now up and running with daily content updates, sharing the stories of influential Irish women:

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