Launch of Treasures of the Strokestown Famine Archive virtual exhibit.

With Dr Jason King of Irish Heritage Trust at the new National Irish Famine Museum at Strokestown Park House

It was a real pleasure to be back in Strokestown Park House on Saturday for a very special event ‘Archive to Arts’ which marked the launch of Treasures of the Strokestown Famine Archive Virtual Exhibit.

Strokestown Park’s collection of records and documents is a real treasure trove with over 50,000 documents and items which will help provide huge information about the parallel lives of tenants of Strokestown and its landowners, the Mahon family during a turbulent and tragic time in Irish history.

As a writer I often spend a huge amount of time researching and using archives so it is great to mark the start of an exciting project which will over time make parts of the collection with its valuable letters, petitions and eviction and emigration lists available digitally to all those with an interest in Strokestown Park House and the Great Irish Famine.

It was also a great opportunity for me to see the redesigned National Famine Museum which only recently reopened after a huge upgrade and tells the Strokestown Story in a hugely immersive way. Set in a bright new airy space with a lovely café it is well worth visiting.

The day was spent discussing the varied aspects of artists using archives to inspire their work, be it in theatre and performance, literature or art or music and how using archives can not only inform us but be a catalyst for something new. Other speakers included Anne -Marie O’Sullivan of Enchanted Croi Theatre, Professor Mark McGowan, Professor Kevin Whelan and singer and writer Declan O’Rourke.

With Anne-Marie O’ Sullivan, Declan O Rourke and Carolin Callery of Strokestown Park House

Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum has closed in U.S

Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum

It is desperately sad and disappointing to hear of the closure of Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum in Quinnipiac in the U.S , which houses the world’s greatest collection of Great Irish Famine related art and artefacts and sculptures reflecting on the greatest tragedy in Ireland’s history.

Only three years ago that ‘Coming Home’- Art and the Great Hunger’ a part of this important collection, on loan from the Great Hunger Museum and Quinnipiac University, was exhibited in Ireland.

From March 2018-to March 2019, the ‘Coming Home’ exhibition visited Dublin Castle, Skibbereen and Derry. It attracted huge crowds who crowds flocked to see this amazing collection, moved by the memorable and inspirational works interpreting our history

I was involved in a few events as part of the exhibition and was often asked why this collection was in America and why we in Ireland did not have our own Great Irish Famine collection!

Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum’s valuable collection was first created by the vision and generosity of Murray Lender and his brother Marvin and Quinnipiac’s former University President, the innovative John Lahey.  As the collection has grown and been added to over the years, Irelands’ Great Hunger Museum was opened to house and display it. However now with changes in the University’s management unfortunately The Great Hunger Museum‘s doors have finally been shut.

Robert Ballagh

The danger is that this collection will be broken up and sold, dispersed and scattered between other universities, galleries, museums and private collectors both in the U.S and across the world. A campaign to save Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum and the collection is under way.

My hope is that The Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage and Tourism and the Irish Government   will have the good sense and offer a permanent home to Ireland’s Great Hunger Collection here in Ireland.  This historic collection could if necessary be rotated and shared between the US and Ireland.

 If not it is high time Ireland and her people began to gather a lasting Great Irish Famine collection of our own for all ages to visit.

Yeat’s Country

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Rosses Point

I am just back from a lovely visit to Yeat’s Country in Sligo, a part of Ireland that I had only visited briefly before. This time I was staying in Rosses Point, a place where poet William Butler Yeats and his artist brother Jack and family spent many happy holidays when they were younger. Part of the Wild Atlantic Way the views of sea, sky and mountains are absolutely breath taking and you can immediately recognise their influence on these two artists and their work.

‘ Elsinore’, the fine house where they stayed with their mother’s relations  is only a ruin now but sits overlooking the  expanse of water with  its lighthouse and Metal Man, a  place where tides and time seem to blend, only a minute or two from two golden beaches. There is a beautiful walk that takes you along the path that the Yeat’s family must have passed so often.

In Sligo itself I visited the wonderful Yeat’s Society Building , right near the river, which has a really interesting display about William Butler Yeats and his life and family and work and their links with Sligo.  For anyone with an interest in the poet… a definite must. It also has small display of some of his brother’s art work too.

Sculpture of W. B. Yeats  and Yeats Society, Sligo

We then headed out to Drumcliff, the place where Yeats wanted to be buried in the graveyard of St Columba’s, the church where his Great grandfather had been a rector.  It is such a peaceful and spiritual spot, and the poet and his wife’s grave rests under the shadow of Ben Bulben which was his express wish. He wanted no fuss and for his body to be brought home a year after he died in France for burial in Sligo but unfortunately World War 11 intervened.It would be a few years later in 1948 before Sean Mac Bride, the son of Maud Gonne, helped to make the arrangements for the return of the much loved poet’s remains to his final resting place in Sligo.

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Ben Bulben Mountain is so much a part of Sligo that no matter which direction you seem to travel in you are conscious of its gentle presence just as with Table Mountain in Capetown.

As you travel round Sligo, you soon realize just how much Yeat’s words capture the very nature, spirit and beauty of this very magical place.

                          Fairies come take me out of this dull world,

                          for I would ride with you upon the wind .

                         Run on top of the disheveled tide.

                        and dance upon the mountains like a flame.

The Land of Heart’s Desire- W.B. Yeats

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Yeats resting place in the shadow of Ben Bulben