Clare Museum Welcomes the Children of the Banner

Clare Association Yearbook, 2003

Fidelma Mc Donnell, Staff Member, Clare Museum

For two years now, my collegues and I have guided tours around Clare Museum. People from all corners of the globe have passed through, many with Clare ancestry. The reaction of the visitors to the museum has been overall very enthusiastic, and the visitor's book is laden with superlatives expressing their appreciation of the facility.

The most rewarding aspect of the work for me, however, has been guiding the school children of County Clare through the Riches of Clare exhibition. At the beginning of 2002 the management of Clare County Council and Ennis Town Council agreed to waive admission fees for all Clare school children visiting Clare Museum. This has proved to be very worthwhile and since then about 1,300 Clare students from both primary and secondary cycles have passed through its doors.

The Riches of Clare exhibition is thematic in design and tells the history of Clare using the themes of Earth, Power, Faith, Water and Energy. It is also chronological in that we begin the exhibition with artifacts from the earliest settlers in Neolithic Clare some 6,000 years ago. This is followed by objects from the Bronze Age, Iron Age and the coming of Christianity. By taking the children back to the beginnings of human occupation of Clare we are able to work forward in time and explain logically the sequence of the development of the County.

The megalithic monuments, the hillforts such as Mooghaun, the high crosses and round towers, all from different archaeological periods, are discussed. When the children see the various artifacts displayed relating to these monuments it aids their comprehension and brings the different time periods to life. For some children, the visit will start out with tepid enthusiasm. Surrounded by "old stuff", they are usually to be found at the back of the group. The challenge for me as a guide is to engage such children and spark their interest.

Each school will usually have accessed our website prior to the visit, so the children have a good sense of what there is to see when they come into the museum. Every month we place a different school quiz on the Clare Education Centre website in a bid to take the exhibition out of the museum building and to place it interactively into the classroom. The quiz concept is unique to Clare Museum as no other local authority museum in the country has the facility to outreach to schools in this manner. It is maintained and hosted by the Clare County Library website and was launched in February 2002. Rather than discourage visits, this facility actually raises the curiosity of pupils and teachers, and a visit to the "actual" museum usually follows.

The children are always entertaining; sometimes a more pragmatic child, obviously the makings of a future businessperson will ask (in the middle of earnest talk on the history of an artifact) "is that worth much now?" Another typical comment relates to the purpose of a calf basket on display in our folk-life section, which was presumed by one child to help "to stop the calf biting the farmer"! To the child from the urban school especially, the turf cutters slane, calf basket, pot oven, griddle and other folk-life objects are completely alien and from another time unknown to him or her. They love to hear about the old rural way of life, the thatching, butter making, thrashing with the flail, amongst others.

The 19th century well, the top of which is glazed with armour-plated glass and is located in the middle of the ground floor gallery, is very much a showstopper. The children fall to the floor and gaze into its depths asking so many questions about how deep it is and who used it. "Your grandparents probably collected water daily from a well just like this", I tell them. I explain about houses having no running water or electricity in their grand-parents time. They then begin to understand the daily hardships of their predecessors.

Also on display, in the Power section, is a Sinn Féin banner from 1917 that incorporates a picture of Eamon de Valera who won a seat in Clare that year. Recently, I was telling a group of school children all about de Valera's long career in politics, as a Clare TD. I mentioned that every year on the 15th August, de Valera would come to Ennis, and that people would hold rallies, and that during election times especially, would march through the streets holding this banner aloft. "Well, not all the people did!", a young lad exclaimed. "That's true", I replied, making a mental note to be mindful of the pluralist political background of the school children. This was obviously a young lad from a non-Fianna Fáil household!

Praise for the museum as an educational tool has come from a number of schools. One school principal commented: "The children were enthralled …the whole session was very well suited to children of primary level and the display of artifacts was most impressive. I never imagined we had such a valuable teaching resource on our doorstep". Positive feedback, like this, on the benefit of the museum to the youth of the county, is most gratifying. Afterall, the youth of the county are it and the museum's future.

It is hoped that each one who visits the museum will have a spark ignited of further appreciation of their heritage, museums in general, and a greater understanding of what it is to be a Clareperson.

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