The Doors of Perception are Open

Clare Champion, Friday, August 27, 2004

By Joe Ó Muircheartaigh

“The gates flew open and out they came,” is Peadar O’Donnell’s famous line about the ending of internment in the mid twenties. The old socialist’s line, long since bookmarked in history, has a resonance where a house of history in Clare is concerned, even if the traffic is going in a different direction.

It has all to do with the stream of pedestrian traffic heading up Arthur’s Row these days. The pedestrians are going back in time at the same time. They’re getting in touch with their past in the County Museum – sampling the “Riches of Clare”, to give the museum its official title. The increased traffic is down to a recent decision of museum curator, John Rattigan, Ennis Town Council, and Clare County Council which sponsored the project to open the museum’s doors to the public free of charge. The gates have flown open and in they are coming, in huge numbers at that. “We made the decision to drop charges in the third week of June,” revealed John Rattigan, “and the response from the public since then has been phenomenal. The museum is now packed all the time, with a constant flow of people coming in all day. “In the last two months we have had over 15,000 visitors – they have been made up of tourists and passers by. By having it open free to the public is in keeping with the Clare County Council policy of social inclusion. This is being done on a trial basis until the end of the year, “Mr. Rattigan added.

The building within which the 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 his 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 museum project was spearheaded by Ennis Urban District Council in association with Clare County Council and the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht & the Islands. Financial assistance of £1,000,000 was received for the project from the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht & the Islands under the Cultural Development Incentive Scheme under the Operational Programme for Tourism 1994-1999. The combined floor area of the museum at present is 7,500 square feet. The museum is one of only ten county museums in Ireland and its establishment was in line with the National Heritage Council’s policy to see a systematic development of local authority based county museum structures.

Now, thanks to the waiving of charges more and more people are seeing this for themselves. “We had 9,000 visitors last year and 8,000 the previous year so numbers have jumped a lot,” revealed John Rattigan. “We have got great feedback from the public, they like what’s on exhibit and love the layout of the place. A lot of people have commented on the design feature of the well that’s set into the floor,” he added.

The Riches of Clare – its people, places, treasures – occupies two galleries of the Clare Museum. The displays have been designed to have a wide visitor appeal and comprise a large loan of artifacts of Clare provenance from the National Museum of Ireland, the de Valera Museum collection and artifacts collected locally. The galleries incorporate the traditional method of displaying original artifacts with modern interpretive tools such as colourful display panels, audio visual and computer interactive presentations, models, and some replicas and specially commissioned art pieces. The concept of the exhibition is thematic, focusing on the lives and experiences of the people of Clare through the themes of Earth, Power, Faith, Water, and Energy.

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