Guided Tours of Ireland's Hidden Gems 2022 book now at 2020 prices
The Museum of Country Life is housed in an award-winning, modern design space, beautifully reflected in the lakeside setting of Turlough House and park, close to Castlebar. Admission is free to this museum which attempts to recreate for the visitor 100 years of rural life in Ireland from 1850-1950. The exhibitions are themed to portray the closeness and dependence Irish people had on the land or sea at the time. Which is reflected not just in the objects they designed and often made by hand to fit the task required ie fish traps and animal feeders, but in the wealth of folklore and customs that surrounded the changing of the seasons, including both pagan and Christian rituals. Some of which survive today and many that have been forgotten. What is unique about this collection is that you can get up close and personal with most of the objects on display, as they are not housed in typical, hands off style glass cabinets, giving a real insight into the texture, relevance and authenticity of the objects.
While many of the items are originals, kindly donated to the Museum of Country Life, quite a few are modern recreations, assurance again that certain crafts will survive into the 21st century. Indeed there are regular craft workshops and an excellent straw, rushes and hay exhibition, it seems that just about anything was made out of straw once upon a time, from horse bridles to babies cradles. What fascinated me most was the folklore surrounding births, marriages and even death and the customs associated with latter day Christmas, Easter, May Day and Halloween celebrations which had there origin in much older pagan traditions, highly recommended.
10 Hidden Gems near the Museum of Country Life
1 Turlough House in the grounds is worth a visit as it is furnished in the style of landlords house in the 18th century, you can even see where the tenants used to pay their rent through a hole in the wall
2 The restored Victorian greenhouses are also worth a peek, the last time I was there they were bursting with exotic and colourful hot house flowers.
3 Castlebar itself is a large market town with a nice square from which most of the activity and shops in Castlebar radiate, our current Taoiseach (prime minister) Enda Kenny lives there.
4 Westport is a very nice seaside village (more of a small town really) on Clew Bay with 365 islands, it was voted Best Place to Live in Ireland in 2012.
5 Visit Westport House another James Wyatt designed mansion that the same family the Brownes, have lived in for 600 years. The famine didn't affect people as badly as other parts of Ireland because the Marquis of Sligo saw to it that there was a huge cauldron of fish stew made daily to feed the hungry, a kindness which hasn't been forgotten to this day.
6 Speaking of hunger, if you fancy some seafood yourself you might like to try the West Bar on Bridge Street which won the all-Ireland chowder cook off 2 years in a row.
7 Or if seafood is not your thing try Mango’s also on Bridge Street, I have been told it is very good, lovely fresh, innovative food. And I loved the tea and rhubarb pie I had in Willow's just opposite.
8 The Legend of Grainne Mhaol Show which runs throughout the summer in the Town Hall Theatre looks like a good night out. It tells the story of our very own Pirate Queen who ruled the waves in the 16th century, famously refusing to bow to Queen Elizabeth believing them both to be equal.
9 Climb Croagh Patrick or just visit the museum at the bottom of it. St Patrick is supposed to have spent 40 days and nights on this holy mountain which is climbed by 1000s of pilgrims, many barefoot, every July on Reek sunday.
10 Cycle the Great Western Greenway, a converted railway line between Westport and Mullranny it is now closed to traffic so perfectly safe, amazing views of Croagh Patrick and Clew Bay.