While the COVID-19 situation continues to affect museums, successful measures are being shared across the sector, with bodies such as the Network of European Museum Organisations (NEMO) collating research and information. After an initial survey in March and April, data from almost 1000 museums and 48 different countries has been analysed and a virtual map of European museums has been created.
Findings show that as early as April, 60% of museums were reporting they had increased their online offer, while 30% said they had redeployed staff to different tasks. Activities requiring little or no additional investment, such as social media promotion using hashtags, highlighting particular objects within collections, or adding artefacts to online exhibitions have seen the greatest uptick. Museums in Norway, Spain and Austria were the most agile in reallocating resources.
Turning to the interactive map, users can click on various countries and discover their museums and virtual offer – a tool not only for would-be travellers, but educators and dreamers too. I chose to explore Ireland, and clicking through from the map to the Irish museums site, I discovered over 60 featured institutions on the ‘Emerald Isle’. Many are using 3D tour technology (often used in the real estate industry) to give virtual visitors an experience that feels as close to the real thing as possible. Whether you are trip-planning or looking for (home) classroom resources, here are five highlights from the island of Ireland that you can explore from home.
1. Glasnevin Cemetery Museum
Until the early 19th century, Irish Catholics had no place to bury their dead and penal paws forbade Catholic services. Following a public outcry, Glasnevin (then known as Prospect Cemetery) was opened. Today it’s the final resting place for well-known figures such as Michael Collins and Maud Gonne, as well as holding thousands in unmarked graves, due to the Great Famine of the 1940s and scandals like the Magdalene Laundry.
An online tour of the cemetery’s museum allows visitors to peer through their device’s screen into small display cabinets showing shoes, brushes, letters and other possessions that once belonged to some of the over one million souls buried in the cemetery. Wander virtually through other galleries, and discover the history of grave diggers, body snatchers and various customs and beliefs important to the place.
2. Kilmainham Gaol
Kilmainham Gaol is the largest unoccupied gaol in Europe and today tells the tale of Irish penal laws and struggles for justice between 1798 and 1923. A series of ‘lockdown videos’ is available on the Gaol’s website as well as it’s Facebook page, where virtual visitors can see parts of the gaol not usually on the official tour. For example, follow a guide who passes No Entry sign to climb to a women’s wing not open to the public.
Delicate graffiti in one cell documents the weather over the forty days following St Swithin’s Day 1923. It was created by Cecilia Gallaher, the entirely innocent wife of Frank Gallaher, a Republican activist, who nonetheless declared that the longer she was imprisoned, the more radical she felt.
3. Museum of Literature of Ireland
At MOLI, the Museum of Literature of Ireland, a radio station and series of podcasts broadcast documentaries, conversations with writers, cultural commentary and readings 24/7, including one poem, eerily named Quarantine, about two lovers during the Irish famine, which brought me to tears.
4. The Butter Museum
Located in the Shandon area of Cork, the Butter Museum recounts the past of the world’s former ‘Butter Capital’, from early production and storage in peat bogs to the development of the 20th century dairy industry. Let yourself be absorbed watching clips of perfectly-designed butter-making objects, such as ‘Aunt Maggie’s Churn’, and explore the museum website’s host of links, including a set of cross-curricular worksheets and teacher resources.
5. Kerry County Museum
This museum has a huge remit, to collect, record and preserve the archaeological, historical and cultural heritage of County Kerry, with over 4000 objects in its collection. Its website includes details of selected items from the collection, such as cannon balls and tricorne hats, as well as simple and humorous ‘Armchair Travel’ videos such as this one, recounting Kerry’s link to Canadian writer Margaret Atwood.