Museum of Country Life
The Museum of Country Life is housed in an award winning modern design space, beautifully reflected in its lakeside setting close to Castlebar. Admission is free to this museum which attempts to recreate for the visitor a 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. 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 typically, hands off, 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 on the ground floor, its 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 Turlogh 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 hand in the rent.
2 The restored Greenhouses are also worth a lot, the last time I was there they were bursting with colourful exotic plants.
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 hails from there.
4 Drive the short distance to Westport a very nice seaside village on Clew Bay with 365 islands.
5 Visit Westport House another James Wyatt designed mansion that the same family have lived in for 100s of years. No one went hungry during the famine in Westport as the Marquis of Sligo saw to it that there was a huge fish stew made to feed the hungry everyday.
6 Speaking of hunger and if you fancy some seafood yourself you might like to try the West Bar on Bridge Street which has won the all-Ireland chowder cook off for 2 years in a row now.
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.
8 The Legend of Grainne Mhaol in the Westport Hotel looks like a good night out. It tells the story of our very own Pirate Queen who ruled the waves on the West Coast, who famously refused 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 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.
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