Clare County Museum

by John Rattigan, Curator

Local Authority News, April 2001

Introduction
On the night of October 9, 2000, Ireland's newest Local Authority museum was opened in Ennis, County Clare, in a refurbished former convent building. A joint Clare County Council and Ennis Urban District Council project, the establishment of Clare Museum is in line with the National Heritage Council's policy to see a systematic development of local authority based county museum structures, and is the tenth such museum in the country.

History of the building
The building within which Clare Museum is housed was originally a Sisters of Mercy school and chapel. The congregation came to Ennis in 1854 at the invitation of Parish Priest Dean John Kenny. Row House, on the site of the present Temple Gate Hotel, was adapted for the use of the sisters. A former occupant was Charles O'Connell, cousin of Daniel O'Connell who often visited the house during this 1820's campaign for Catholic Emancipation.

The sisters soon became involved in teaching. A new convent was built in 1861 to accommodate the growing number of sisters and Row House was incorporated into it. The section that is now the Clare Museum was constructed as a primary school in 1865 and the final portion of the convent complex, a chapel and classrooms, was erected in 1869.

In 1995 the main convent building was demolished with only the present section surviving. The sisters now live in smaller accommodation nearby.

Background of the Project
The former St. Xavier's school and chapel of the convent, chosen for the location of Clare Museum, was in a very dilapidated condition and was scheduled for inclusion in the Derelict Sites Register. In accordance with Ennis Urban District Council policy, as the building was architecturally sensitive and of historical significance, it was decided to have the building refurbished rather than replaced. What followed was a major cultural project developed by Ennis Urban District Council in association with Clare County Council and the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. Financial assistance of £1,000,000 was received from the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands under the Cultural Development Incentive Scheme under the Operational Programme for Tourism 1994-1999. The character of St. Xavier's school and chapel has been retained and the new Clare Museum development has been carried out in accordance with the character of the building prior to re-development.

At present the building incorporates the museum exhibition, office space, public toilets, canteen, meeting rooms, council chamber, and the Tourist Information Office.

The Riches of Clare: its people, places, treasures
Robin Wade & Partners were selected as the museum design consultants for the proposed Clare Museum in April 1998. As Ennis has been designated as Ireland's Information Age Town, the museum exhibition committee decided that interactive media displays be used extensively in the museum as a new technique to help to draw the visitor into the displays and also educate the visitor while entertaining.

The permanent exhibition, The Riches of Clare - its people, places, treasures, occupies two galleries at Clare museum. Rather than follow a strictly chronological layout, it was decided to present an exhibition under thematic concepts, focusing on the lives of the people of Clare through the themes of Earth, Power, Faith and Water. The displays have been designed to have a wide visitor appeal and comprise a loan from the National Museum of Ireland, the de Valera Museum collection and artefacts collected locally. The galleries incorporate the traditional method of displaying original artefacts with modern interpretive tools such as colourful display panels, audio visual and computer interactive presentations, models, some replicas and specially commissioned art pieces. All showcases have been designed with their contents in mind and are environmentally conditioned to the requirements of the artefacts displayed in them.

Clare Museum has been very fortunate in securing a loan of objects of Clare provenance from the National Museum of Ireland. This collection of artefacts is one of the largest long-term loans ever granted to a regional museum and its importance as the backbone to The Riches of Clare exhibition should not be underestimated. Archaeological objects from the Irish Antiquities Division include artefacts from the Mesolithic through to the Medieval period, some of which have only been recently excavated. The Folklife Division contributed traditional farming and domestic implements, including one of only eight flax hackles in existence. Also on display are geology specimens donated by the Earth Science Division. Many of these items are on public display for the first time.

In November 2000 Clare Museum was awarded a commendation in the Best Smaller Museum category at the Irish Museums Association/Gulbenkian Awards and was short-listed in the Museum of the Year category, fitting recognition for the hard work carried out.

Future Developments
In many ways the opening of Clare Museum and The Riches of Clare exhibition is the beginning rather than the end of the project.

Clare museum has applied for designation under the Cultural Institutions Act (1997). Should this application be successful, objects collected will form an important material archive that would otherwise be sold abroad, lost, or stored outside county Clare.

An education package to integrate the exhibition into the curriculum of local schools is at an advanced stage and should be ready for launching by Easter 2001. It will comprise two workbooks, one for 6-10 year olds and another for the 11-14 age group, complete with a local history project component. This package is enthusiastically supported by Clare Education Centre, who will pilot the workbooks, promote the package to schools and provide in-service training for teachers in preparation for a school visit.

The education package will form the core part of the museum outreach programme, but it is hoped to adapt the package in time to suit specialist and disadvantaged sections of the local community. Also in the future the Council Chamber, currently incorporated into the building, will be assimilated into the museum proper to provide audio-visual educational facilities, and temporary exhibition space.

In the near future it is expected that a Marketing Officer will be appointed to promote the museum as a tourist resource, while the establishment of a museum website is in the early stages of planning.

There is much work still to be done but there is little doubt that a public museum service for county Clare has now been well established.
John Rattigan, Curator, March 2001.

Clare Museum in a National Context
There are currently nine county museums in the Republic of Ireland (Donegal, Monaghan, Cavan, Louth, Cork, Tipperary South, Kerry, Limerick and Waterford) and the tenth local authority museum has now been provided by Clare. The establishment of Clare museum is in line with the National Heritage Council's policy to see a systematic development of local authority based county museum structures. Ennis Urban District Council and Clare County Council are extremely pleased that Clare has contributed to the creation of a national professional framework for the preservation of the county's material culture.

Clare museum will have an acquisition policy dedicated to the collection, storage, recording, interpretation and display of historic and archaeological objects that are not only of local significance but may also be of national importance. Should Clare Museum be successful in its application for designation under the Cultural Institutions Act (1997), objects collected will form an important material archive that would otherwise be sold abroad, lost, or stored outside of county Clare. The objects will also provide Clare Museum with a valuable research and reserve collection.

With The Riches of Clare - its people, places, treasures, this policy can be achieved while providing a high level of educational and entertainment value.

Acknowledgements:
Funding:

Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands
Ennis Urban District Council
Clare County Council
Shannon Development
Ennis Information Age Town
This project is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund

The Museum Building:
Michael Healy & Associates, Architects
Paddy Burke Builders, Ltd.
Tom McNamara & Partners, Chartered Quantity Surveyors
Finbar Pigott & Partners, Electrical & Mechanical Engineers

Exhibition Design & Graphic Design :
Robin Wade & Partners

Research and Editorial:
Dr. Alicia St. Ledger
Dr. Carleton Jones, Alix Gilmer
(Burren Archaeology Research)

Audio Visuals & Interactives:
Martello Multimedia

Photo Repographics:
Miguel Foto Lab

Exhibition Contractor:
GEM Manufacturing Company Ltd.

Artists:
Catherine Philips
Rhonwen Hayes

Conservators:
Conservation Department, National Museum of Ireland
Adrian Kennedy

Showcase Dressers:
National Museum of Ireland
Tom Weir

Press Cuttings