Peering over the stone walls into the fields of rural Mayo begs the question: what lies at the heart and soul of this place? To delve more deeply than into the N5 and immerse yourself in the story of rural Ireland, look no further than the Museum of Country Life in Turlough, near Castlebar. One of four National Museums of Ireland--and the only one outside of Dublin--this award-winning home of the National Folklife Collection tells the story of country life from 1850 post-Famine to 1950, post-war, eventful and turbulent years.
For insights into life in that 100-year span, permanent exhibitions depict every facet of life as it was lived in rural Ireland through the objects, artefacts and trades including: clothing and textiles; furniture and crafts; agriculture and fishing; hunting and trades; transport and religion.
Permanent exhibitions include The Natural Environment, The Times, Romanticism & Reality, Trades and Crafts, Activities in the Home and Working on the Land and Water. In addition there are regular temporary exhibitions, as well as a variety of events and workshops throughout the year, including a celebration of country life each Spring. This fair (Féile na Tuaithe) provides a unique opportunity to see a range of traditional crafts, such as stained glass-making, basket-weaving and boat-making demonstrated. A traditional fireplace renders vividly the realities of traditional methods of cooking and bread-making over an open fire.
The Times exhibition tells the story of one of Ireland’s most turbulent periods, when the struggle for political independence was at its height. Also explored in the post-Famine era is the Land War and Land League, where tenant farmers’ strove for ownership of the land and to be free of British landlords. The years preceding Home Rule, Independence and finally the settling of conditions in post-independent Ireland are illustrated also.
The Romanticism & Reality exhibit delves into the folklife of the west of Ireland showing the ingenuity, craft and skills required in the creation of objects and tools needed to survive. Comparisons between ancient and more recent artefacts vividly illustrate how the way of life hardly changed for hundreds of years in this area. In addition to the physical world, this exhibit explores the stories and myths of the Irish people.
The museum’s galleries are located in a custom-built modern building, nestled in the side of a hill and overlooking the lake on the manicured grounds of the Victorian Turlough Park House, a ‘Big House,’ formerly home to the Fitzgerald Family in the 18th century. A walk through the library or drawing room, furnished as it might have looked in 1900, offers a stark contrast between how the ascendancy class and tenant farmers lived.
With 35,000 objects in its possession, the museum shows only a fraction of its treasures, but reserve collections are accessible by appointment. After hours of engaging with the spinning wheels or boats, and imagining yourself at work in the life-sized blacksmith’s forge, it might be time for a pit stop in the café, located in the original building. In the bookshop as you leave, you will find a careful selection of unique hand-crafted goods, from hand-woven blankets to musical instruments, paintings, ceramics and jewellery, echoing at times the style, but always the craft and practice of our ancestors.