The following article was originally published in Museum Ireland vol. 13, 2003.Musaem Chorca Dhuibhne, Baile an Fheirtéaraigh, Co. Chiarrai
Musaem Chorca Dhuibhne is situated in an old school house, immediately opposite the Church, in the village of Baile an Fheirtéaraigh. This village is situated eight miles west of Dingle town. The entrance porch leads into a small attractive cafe/bookshop, complete with delicious looking chocolate cakes and a selection of Irish and English publications. To your right a door leads into the museum proper.
I visited the museum accompanied by my family, which comprises three young children, aged six years and younger. My immediate impression upon entering the museum was of a bright, airy, spotlessly clean, space. The warm honey coloured wooden floor, the high white ceiling and walls, the new information panels and cases, all together create an impression of light. The museum covers the geology, archaeology and history of the Dingle peninsula. As I entered, I picked up an attractive information leaflet.
Most of the new freestanding information panels lead off to the left to form a double-sided, chronological, commentary on the development of the area. The panel text and illustrations are set upon a white background. The panels are informative but are not overloaded with the text, which is bi-lingual. For the most part, the information is broken up into fairly short, dearly defined paragraphs. There appears to be some effort to ‘layer’ the text, with the key information in slightly larger print, followed by greater detail in smaller print. Useful distribution maps supplement the many colourful illustrations.
The account begins with a description of the Mesolithic excavations carried out at Ferriter's Cove during the 1980's. The next panel describes the introduction of agriculture to Ireland and the evidence for contact between hunter-gatherers and farmers at Ferriter's Cove. The saddle quern located beside this panel was of great interest to my six-year-old son. Having tried to rub the top stone back and forth over some imaginary corn, he decided that this must have been 'very hard work'. A little further on he encountered a rotary quern, but didn't appear overly convinced with my explanation that this would have made life much easier!
Obviously I cannot describe every panel here, but a number immediately spring to mind. One of the Bronze Age panels carried a striking photograph of Ballintermon Standing Stone with its later cross and ogham inscriptions. This was my favourite panel. I also liked the attractive aerial view of Dun Beag promontory fort on the Iron Age panel. The reconstructions depicted on the other panels were colourful and informative. My son's favourite was the reconstruction of Gallarus Castle. However, he was also very interested in the lovely blue panel that traced the route of St Brendan's voyage from Dingle to Newfoundland. A photograph of Tim Severn, as he departed from St Brendan's creek in the 1970’s to try to recreate the journey, provided a modern link.
I was unaware that there were 19 medieval parishes in Corca Dhuibhne, but the colourful distribution map clearly indicated that there were. I had also forgotten the history of Dun an óir, where a garrison of 700 - 800 Spanish, Italian and Irish were massacred in November 1580. Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Edward Denny and Edmund Spencer, were involved in this siege.
I liked the way the exhibition came right up into the modern period. On the wall a panel traced the history of The Tralee and Dingle light Railway. This railway opened in 1891. It covered a distance of 31.5 miles, and was the most westerly narrow gauge (3ft.) line in Europe.
Another panel documented the role the area has played (no pun intended!) in the modern film industry. For the two years it took to shoot Ryan's Daughter here during the 1960’s, the crew lived locally and provided employment for many. Purple Taxi, with Fred Astaire, was made in the area during the 1970’s and Far and Away, with Tom Cruise, in 1990.
A number of old and new display cases line the walls and occupy the centre of the room. They are well spaced out and allow plenty of space to circulate. One contained an interesting stone figurine from a ceallunach or children's burial ground. This was on loan from the National Museum, as were the cross-inscribed stone fragment, the spindle whorls, sharpening stones and scrapers, displayed with it.
Other cases contained models of a Naomhog, of Tim Severn's St Brendan boat and of the engine and carriage from The Tralee and Dingle Railway. The latter especially was of great interest to the children. I was interested in the case containing a ‘pull-over’ made in a knitting factory in Baile an Fheittearaigh during the 1950’s. This was worn as part of a boy's Holy Communion outfit at that time. The Sisters of the Infant Jesus ran the factory in their convent in the village from the 1930’s until the 1950’s.
The boiler or soup pot used in Baile an Fheirtéaraigh during the famine is on display here. According to the museum's website, this was one of the largest ever used in Ireland. There is also a fine collection of cross-inscribed and Ogham stones, on loan from the National Museum. The Ardamore Cross Slab is particularly fine. It was discovered in 1978 having been re-used in a secondary context.
A touch screen computer is located at one end of the museum. The children enjoyed trying to write their names in Ogham on it. They were also happy to play one of the memory games, which involved cross-slabs, while I toured the exhibition. A second touch screen will be added shortly.
I took the time to observe a number of other visitors to the museum while I was there. My impression is that they took the time to read each panel before proceeding to examine the cases. I did enjoy and learn from my visit to the museum and my six-year-old has also referred to it several times since. Obviously it made an impression on him also. We both, therefore, would recommend a visit.