By John Madden
On Friday 17th November, 12 young Travellers from across Galway took on the roles of museum guides in the Galway City Museum as part of Takeover Day 2017. It was the second year that the museum was involved in this unique initiative but it was the first year that it involved a group of young Travellers from in and around the city. The idea behind the project was to give the children meaningful roles, work alongside staff and volunteers to participate and see what life and work is like in the life of a museum.
Education Officer Brendan McGowan for the museum worked in partnership with Ballybane Foróige Youth Project and Youth Work Ireland, Westside Youth Project to make this day the huge success that it was. Brendan told us “We are trying to get across to the kids that this is their city, their museum, their objects. It is their space so it is important for them to take part in it, to do jobs that normally adults get to do. Often times, we see primary-school aged kids coming in on school tours and then, later as adults, they often come back independently but there’s an age period in between where young people ‘fall away’ from museums and such, so it’s great to have the group involved and even if only one of them was to turn around and say ‘I think I’d like a job like this,’ then it’d be great and we would be able to put them on the right track to make that a reality. But of course that doesn’t need to be the case, we could just as easily hear back, ‘Yes I’d great fun working here today and I’d like to come back as a visitor someday,’ that’d be good enough for me!”
There was something of a surprise visit from Labour Party Leader, Brendan Howlin who was extremely impressed with the event saying, “I think it’s a fantastic idea. What stood out for me was the degree of preparation that the young people had done. They were very knowledgeable in every aspect of it and it was even a learning experience for myself, so I’ve no doubt it was a great experience for all those involved. Projects like this are key to building confidence and put their best foot forward. It’d be great to see it happening across other institutions across the country, I would champion it because it’s such a great idea. ”
The kids are so enthusiastic and totally engaged.
Eithne Verling, the museum’s director added, “it’s been a great success from which we have built on from last year. We were very keen to engage with communities that wouldn’t normally use the museum so that we could get an understanding of the barriers that exist. Our education officer has been engaged with young Travellers for the last six months so it’s been far more successful than we originally thought. It’s amazing to see how the kids have bought into it, we weren’t sure if they would enjoy it and get something out of it. After today we’ll regroup and do a bit of an evaluation with the kids to see what worked, did they enjoy it, what could they do better and what would encourage them to come back? You can see from the crowds here how big a success it is, it’s just marvellous but it’s the kids who are creating that vibe, they are so enthusiastic and totally engaged.
As the day progressed the museum filled with curious tourists who would have been visiting anyway but their experience was further enriched by the group as they were met with a warm greeting from Scott Barrett who told the visitors of what was going on. Ian McDonagh was on hand to man the helpdesk answering questions for all who had any queries. Across the museum, the rest of the group who were, Maureen Dodd, Megan Griffin, Aoife Ward, Codie McDonagh, Francis Sweeney, Mary Sweeney, and youth leaders Kerry E’lyn Larkin, Megan Depina and Martin McDonagh, were assigned to various pieces of history so that they could then explain to the museum visitors what each piece was or what it represented.
It’s often said that Travellers are the real custodians of Irish history, folklore, mythology and culture.
While everybody participating did amazing work, it has to be said that PJ Mongan wowed all who walked through the museum’s doors. Labour Leader, Brendan Howlin hung on PJ’s every word as he expertly weaved all the listeners through the folklore and history of the Corrib. With Galway 2020 being on the horizon, which means Galway will be the European Capital for Culture, it would be great to see many more events such as this that will celebrate, not just mainstream Irish culture, but the true Irish Culture that includes all aspects of Minceir culture too. It’s often said that Travellers are the real custodians of Irish history, folklore, mythology and culture, and when we see events such as this happening, it reaffirms this truth.
Huge credit should be given to both the Ballybane and Westside groups, the youth workers and the staff of the Galway City Museum, together they made the museum experience so much more. If you haven’t visited the museum, then next time you are in glamorous Galway, why not take an hour to have a wander around, take in the historical artefacts or even just spend a few minutes looking over the Corrib from the windows at the top of the building, you’ll be glad you stopped by.