I think that a museum has an important role to play in a community. It is vital that we preserve our history and record it for future generations. The role of a museum is also to educate and often museums can be unable to do that due to restrictions on budgets or their location.
With this is mind I think outreach is a useful and resourceful method of making the museum and it’s collection more accessible to a wider audience.
In Cavan County Museum, outreach has become a core part of the museums role. As the museum is situated in Ballyjamseduff, a small village/town outside of the main town it means that making sure that the museum is represented at large events and festivals in the main town and central hub of the county is paramount to increasing awareness of its existence.
County Cavan has been making a huge drive to boost tourism in the county, with festivals and events. Cavan held the Fleadh Ceoil na hEireann for three consecutive years which brought huge revenue and increased visitor numbers in the county. This year the Life of Reilly Festival was held and again was a big boost for the county. With this in mind the museum has striven to make our presence known at all these events. Exhibitions have been created to mark the occasions that were displayed both in the museum and in venues across the county. The museum played an intrinsic role in the festivities providing two large scale reenactment workshops for the Life of Reilly festival, A Medieval Village and an Archaeology Dig. All of these events provided an entertaining and educational experience for all attendees.
This brings me to our most recent event, The International Rules Series weekend, 17th-20th September 2013. Ireland v Australia was played in Kingspan Breffni Park with Ireland triumphantly winning the game. There was a weekend of events organised with the festival getting the very catchy hastag #funrules. For this festival Cavan County Museum played a pivotal role. For the Civic Reception which was held in Cavan Courthouse we created an exhibition entitled ‘Collective Culture’.
It focused on the story of GAA and Comhaltas in Australia, bringing together the emigrant story and the impact of cultures. The emphasis on the intercultural identity of the two nations was clearly illustrated. Displayed alongside these colourful and engaging panels were some original Jerseys, kindly loaned to the Museum by the GAA Museum, Croke Park. These jerseys were very eye-catching with some of them signed by the team members. There was also an array of International Rules Souvenir programmes with the oldest dating to 1967. On top of that we displayed a collection of GAA memorabilia, football boots dating to the 1940s and a football from 1927.
This exhibition was a great success and was a focal part of the launch of the festival. The courthouse was a great venue for the reception, ideally located in the center of town with loads of space to hold exhibitions., have a photo call with the teams and hear speeches.
The museum also exhibited in the large marquee that was stationed at Breffni Park for the weekend. There we displayed an exhibition on Cavan Sporting Heroes and one on Traditional Music and Comhaltas. These exhibitions brought vibrancy and colour to an otherwise very bleak marquee.
This was a large space that appeared vast and stark, however with the addition of these colourful panels hung alongside some Peace Banners that were created by students who took part in the Peace III funded Connecting People, Places and Heritage Project, the marquee was truly brought to life.
I have to say that creating and displaying these exhibitions was a lot of work. The amount of work that goes into any exhibition is often forgotten. The late nights and constant thoughts of whether everything will be all right on the night would exhaust anyone. However when you get to see how people react to these exhibitions and the joy they get from them you understand why it is all worth while. One of the biggest positives that comes out of any outreach work is the fact that is raises awareness of the organisation. Having the museum at the center of the festivities meant that more people became aware of our existence and as a result of that will hopefully visit the museum.
I think it is vital to make sure that any museum is involved in community projects and large-scale events. To this day a lot of people still view museums as elitist and exclusive and therefore tend not to visit them, by having your name associated with events outside of the ‘Institutional’ building you can begin to break down the barriers and create a more engaging and perhaps even more friendly view among the general public.