A Unique Journey Through the Ages of Clare

Clare Champion, Friday, October 13, 2000

Clare people have been urged to support the new County Museum which opened to the public for the first time this week. The appeal came from Eamon Kelly, Keeper of Irish Antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland, who said that in the past Clare people were generous in their support for the National Museum with their findings. He asked them to give the same support to Clare Museum. He was speaking in Ennis on Monday at the official opening of the new museum which is situated in the former Convent of Mercy building off the Town Plaza in O'Connell Street. The opening ceremony was performed by Arts and Heritage Minister, Síle de Valera, T.D.

The museum, which houses the Riches of Clare exhibition, contains a number of artefacts relating to Clare and which prior to this were in the National Museum. However, Minister de Valera outlined that it is her wish that the remaining artefacts from the county will be returned to the Clare Museum to be permanently on view.

Clare is the tenth county to have a local authority museum - the rest are Donegal, Monaghan, Cavan, Louth, Cork, Tipperary South, Kerry, Limerick and Waterford. The collection of artefacts in Clare Museum is one of the largest long-term loans ever granted to a regional museum.

The Riches of Clare exhibition occupies two galleries at the museum which is incorporated in the building which also caters for the Tourist Information office, office space, canteen, meeting rooms and auditorium. The overall cost of the project was £4.2m., the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands contributing £1m., eircom Ennis Information Age Town supporting the high tech equipment to the tune of £137,000 and the remainder of the cost was decided between Ennis UDC and Clare County Council.

It was stated at the opening ceremony that our history can be traced back 6000 years and the imaginative use of audio-visual equipment and the layout of the artefacts will ensure a unique journey through the ages of Clare.

County Council chairman, Sean Hillery, said the new museum captured the history of Clare in an imaginative, easily accessible and comprehensive manner. It had also captured the proud and noble history of a great county. It was also very obvious from what was on display in the museum that Clare and its people played an important and significant role in the history of the country. He added that Clare was a remarkable county and some of the most talked about sights in the world were to be seen in the county. He also joined in the appeal to Clare people to be on the lookout for any old items and photographs to ensure that the new museum can collect items from the past.

Ennis UDC chairman, Frankie Neylon, stated that the people of Ennis, young and old, had a marvellous resource on their front doorstep in this new museum. Not only was there a wealth of information available about the county and the people of the county, but the town of Ennis wad depicted very thoroughly and in an almost imaginative way. As Ireland's Information Age Town it was nice to see that modern technology had been utilised in an unique manner in an effort to enhance our understanding of our past. The chairman said that much had been made of tourism figures in recent months. Some figures showed a decline and some showed an improvement. Whatever the case, one thing was certain - the opening of the County Museum heralded a new departure for tourism in the town. The museum was one of a number of town projects with the International Folk Music Centre, which is to be opened in spring 2001 and the new swimming pool now nearing completion. He added that the opening of the new museum was another example of what could be achieved by working in partnership.

Assistant County Manager, Tom Coughlan, spoke of his confidence that the new museum would become a major attraction for visitors and locals alike. He also referred to the educational value of the museum and he suggested that the facility would be of immense benefit to students. He said he looked forward to welcoming many school tours in the coming years. Mr. Coughlan, who is also Town Manager for Ennis, said future generations of Clare people would be able to enjoy and learn from those who have gone before them and who helped shape the county to be among the best in the country in many aspects of life. To have such a marvellous resource in the county would, he was confident, result in a greater interest and understanding of our heritage and this was to be welcomed. Mr. Coughlan said the proposal to establish the museum had its origins at the time when former assistant County Manager, Tom Dowling, identified the potential of this town centre building. He was particularly pleased to see the Sisters of Mercy at the opening of the museum as the building was formerly their school. He said that partnership and co-operation were also the guiding principles of the Museum Project Team. Other members of the team were John Piggott of Finbar Piggott and Partners, John Gilroy of Tom McNamara and Partners, Richard Rice of Michael Healy and Associates, County Librarian, Noel Crowley, Declan O'Regan, Senior Executive Engineer, Clare County Council and David Rice, Optic Nerve.

Minister de Valera, who was made a presentation by Ennis UDC chairman, Frankie Neylon, of bog oak from Dooras Bog in East Clare, explained that Michael McGimpsey, Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure in the Northern Ireland Executive could not be present for the official opening of the museum. She said that the museum would play an important role in the whole network of projects which they could present to locals and visitors. The project was all about what they were trying to do to bolster the heritage portfolio and the arts portfolio within the area. Paying tribute to all who were associated with the building and equipping of the museum, Minister de Valera said they had a very modern facility in place and the very attractive layout and good design, special lighting and the exhibits all combined to make the museum one that would attract visitors of every generation. The Minister concluded by saying that the museum used a number of themes, earth, power, faith and water to get the message across.

Earth - the close links between the earth, the seasons and agriculture with their influences of the development of the landscape over the centuries is explored.

Power - this section deals with the symbols of power to be found in the county. In Clare these range from Mooghaun hillfort to the many castles and tower-houses in the county.

Faith - reminders of the strong faith held by generations of Clare people can be seen all over the county.

Water - Clare is a county with close links to water. The concept of the river Shannon and the Atlantic ocean combining to turn Clare almost into an island is explored broadly in this section.

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