Museums and monuments communicate Irish culture

We spent over a quarter of our trip—10 days of the 35—on the island of Ireland. While we were here, we visited plenty of outdoor monuments and museums. For my essay on the island of Ireland, I will focus on mass communication to the public at monuments and museums.

First off, let’s take a look at outdoor monuments. These include statues, castles, art installations, and miscellaneous outdoor monuments. One of the most interesting monuments I came across was a piece called “Universal Links on Human Rights,” which I discussed briefly in a previous blog post. When I saw this piece, however, I wasn’t sure what its message was. I was distracted by the love locks placed on the structure. It required an online search to find out that this piece is about human rights, and specifically political prisoners. The candle in the center represents the flame of the ideas the prisoner support which never goes out. In light of what we learned in Belfast, where a hunger strike by Irish Republican political prisoners is still a cultural touchstone, this sculpture takes on a new meaning.

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Another outdoor monument I viewed in Dublin was the statue of one of my favorite authors, Oscar Wilde. Wilde was born in Dublin, and later moved to London, where he wrote plays and books like The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Gray.  Usually, statues are all one color, so I was surprised to see that this statue colored in Wilde’s red and green jacket. This probably represented howe vibrant the author was in life. In order to communicate Wilde’s brilliant wit, there were two pillars next to the statue featuring some of Wilde’s best quotes. In all, I thought this monument inside the Merion Square park was tasteful and appropriate.

 

 

There was also a public monument to the Viking history of the city in downtown Dublin. This monument provided an informative plaque, telling viewers about this history. I thought this was an informative display, highlighting a part of the city’s history that is not obvious.

 

 

We visited two castles during our bus tour: Trim Castle, in Ireland, and Dunluce Castle, in Northern Ireland. We did not go in Trim Castle, whereas we did go into Dunluce. The communication employed by Dunluce Castle was effective in making castle remains come to life. Personally, I have always had a difficult time visualizing castle remains, as they do not provide much direction about what it was like to actually live in the castle in question. But the displays at Dunluce Castle were very helpful in allowing me to get over this problem.

 

 

During our time in Dublin, I visited the Book of Kells display at Trinity College, the Guinness beer museum, the Jameson whiskey museum, the Writers’ Museum, two different art museums, and the EPIC emigration museum. In Northern Ireland, I visited exhibits at Belfast City Hall, as well as the Titanic Museum, the Ulster Museum, and the MAC art museum.

The Book of Kells is only one book, so you might think that the exhibit that accompanies it would be extremely simple and not feature much information. Fortunately, that was not the case. The Book of Kells exhibit was preceded by a lengthy exhibit explaining the book’s history and the reasons why it is so important, as well as explaining the methods which the scribes of 1,000 years ago produced books like the Book of Kells. It was a very informative exhibit. After viewing the pages of the Book of Kells and a couple other ancient manuscripts that were open that particular day, the viewer exited into the Long Room, a beautiful collection of old books in the upstairs at Trinity College’s old library.

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Perhaps my favorite museums in Dublin were the ones I visited last Saturday, on our last day in town. The Writers’ Museum featured exhibits on most of the notable Irish writers from the 19th-20th century, as well as some before and after that time, which were presented on placards and in a free audio guide that was essentially like a phone (you put it up to your ear and listened to information about each author). There was also a collection of memorabilia and artifacts for each author. They also had a library, featuring an in-progress exhibit on women writers, and a gift shop, as well as a collection of paintings of Irish writers. I enjoyed learning about the extensive history of Irish literature at this museum.

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I also visited two different art museums on my final day in Dublin: the National Gallery and the Dublin City Gallery. These two museums presented a different feeling to the viewer, even as they were both organized in the usual art museum way, with galleries full of paintings and captions. The sparse display and presence of some modern art pieces at the City Gallery gave the gallery a modern, of the moment feeling, in contrast to the National Gallery, whose architecture and focus on older pieces gave it a more vintage feeling. In Belfast, I also visited the MAC art center and museum. It featured a couple of avant-garde art exhibits, which I did find interesting, but not an extensive collection like either of the museums in Dublin, since it is not just a museum, but a community center for supporters of the arts in Belfast.

 

 

The EPIC emigration museum, the Titanic Museum, and the Ulster museum were similar in that they offered interactive exhibits for viewers, often using digital touch-screens to help exhibits come to life. The EPIC emigration museum was especially strong in this category, as it featured interactive exhibits which allowed viewers to understand the paths of the many emigrants who left Ireland during the 19th-20th centuries. The EPIC museum also featured an extensive indoor shopping area, not just including a gift shop, but also a Starbucks, and a few other businesses within the museum. The Titanic Museum even featured an amusement park ride (it looked like a roller coaster, based on the cars that riders sat in, but it didn’t have any twists or drops) to help illustrate the process of building the ship in Belfast. there were also interactive experiments to help you experience the deep-sea wreck, which in actuality has remained underwater as a tribute to those whose lives were lost on the ship. The Ulster museum was the least digital of the three, but it was still very modern, as it featured a timeline dating back to the first human immigrants to the island of Ireland, and even before. It provided a lot of historical background on Ulster (the northern part of Ireland), its wildlife, and its art. Outside the Ulster museum, on the campus of Queen’s University Belfast, there was a beautiful botanic gardens, including a greenhouse. Each of these two Belfast museums featured an extensive gift shop as well.

 

 

The two alcoholic museums were interesting, as they tried to balance advertising for their particular company with providing the history of a brand that is important to the fabric of Irish life and the Irish economy. Personally, I found the Jameson whisky museum to be the more informative of the two, probably because of the tour we went on there, which allowed us to experience the different steps of the whisky distillation process (rather than just read about them), as well as to conduct a taste test comparing Jameson to other whiskies, to better understand how it differs. The Guinness museum was interesting too, especially the section showing the many innovative advertising campaigns that have made the beer popular.

 

 

All in all, the museums and monuments of Ireland were a huge part of what made the 10 days on the island some of the most memorable of my entire life. The different approaches these museums took in communicating with viewers were effective in communicating the different essences of each museum.

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