Bear necessities: childish things we can’t put away

As a teddy exhibition opens in Dublin featuring everything from Bono’s bear to vintage Paddington, five people tell us what their childhood teds mean to them

Bears of every size, shape and colour, including one owned by Bono, have been gathered as part of The Teddy Bear Story exhibition brought to Temple Bar from the V&A Museum of Childhood in London.

Fri, Feb 7, 2014, 01:00

‘You have to think of the sensitivities of teddy bears. Teddy bears aren’t given their place in the scheme of things in this world.”

Referring to his numerous tweets about the escapades of a teddy bear known simply as Ted, Gerry Adams was pointing out that, when you consider the joy they bring to so many, Teddy Bears have not always been given their due.

But if the Sinn Féin leader goes down to the Ark children’s cultural centre in Dublin today, he’s in for a big surprise. Bears of every size, shape and colour have been gathered as part of The Teddy Bear Story exhibition brought to Temple Bar from the V&A Museum of Childhood in London.

The touring exhibition is in Dublin for a month, the first time it has travelled outside of the UK. It features everything from the original German Steiff bears through to WereBears and Care Bears. There are old bears, rare bears and even some celebrity-owned bears.

Aideen Lynch, visual co-ordinator at the Ark, says they were delighted to be approached by the V&A to host the exhibition. “The bears arrived in three large containers last month. Each one was individually wrapped, as some of them are quite valuable,” she says. They could only be handled by exhibition curator Catherine Howell, who works at the V&A but is originally from Cork.

There are 90 bears on view. The oldest, a German Steiff, dates from 1905-1910, while the newest bear in the exhibition is an iTeddy, made in 2011. Also featured are Teddy Bear portraits from photographer Mark Nixon’s book Much Loved. Furry friends belonging to Bono and Miriam O’Callaghan also star alongside Irish-made bears donated by The Dolls Store Hospital and Museum in Dublin.

“It’s essentially an exhibition for children, but we think adults are going to love it just as much,” says Lynch, adding that bears belonging to Ark staff members are also on display. “It brings back that nostalgia for childhood. Even if you don’t still have your special bear, the memory of it stays with you forever.”

The Teddy Bear Story exhibition is at the Ark, Temple Bar, from February 8 until April 6.Tickets €5 (teddy bears go free). To book a bear-making workshops visit or phone 01-6707788


I have had Jimmy (46) since I was two. We have been life-long best friends, and have always told each other everything. We’ve only been separated once, for the year I lived in London in my early 20s.

At 23, I got married and moved back to Ireland, and Jimmy has been by my side ever since. Jimmy now lives in my 21-year-old daughter Suzanne’s room, with his roommate, Teddy, who is also 21. Jimmy looks after him when there is no one around.

It is only recently that my children have be able to get their hands on Jimmy. When they were growing up they were allowed to use Jimmy in teddy lines-ups, for playing shop and performances and the like, but they were not allowed to play with him on his own. It was a “look but don’t touch” type of thing with Jimmy.

Jimmy still wears an outfit I knitted for him when I was 10. He thinks braces and a jumper suit him nicely. Some people don’t get the attraction but it’s like with pets: you’re either a dog person or you’re not. Well, you’re either a teddy person or you’re not. And in my family, we are definitely teddy people.


Ted (70) is a reserved bear who sits in a quiet corner of my bedroom in Galway. I would describe him as deep thinker: pensive and serious. I have had Ted for nearly 40 years, but Ted had a previous life, long before me.

He was originally given to my mother when she was a baby, and was passed on to myself when I was also very young. I’m not sure if Ted is ready to be passed on to my own kids yet, after all Bianca (13) and Thomas (12) have their own teddies.

In truth, Ted is very precious, and my prognosis is that he needs tender, loving care and quiet time in his old age. His once-glass eyes have been replaced with stitches, his luxurious fur nearly all gone and his straw stuffing is slowly slipping out the side of one of his legs. He’s part of the furniture now. I don’t think about it much but I know he’s there, sitting in the corner, and that is where he will always be.


I recently had a baby, and just before the new arrival I realised that my bedroom was full to bursting with teddies. I put a call-out on Facebook to ask what to do, and my brother suggested that instead of disposing of them all, I should keep the really special ones. So I kept the most special 12. The ones who didn’t make the cut went to new homes through charities.

Meet Brown Teddy, Yellow Teddy and White Teddy. No one bear is more special than another. The three teddies live a happy life in a room in my house in Co Wicklow where I keep all my girly things.

Yellow Teddy has been with me as long as I can remember. Brown Teddy was an extra-special present from my brother all the way from Hamleys [in London] in the 1980s, and White Teddy was the last childhood teddy I ever got. He has the honour of wearing my old school tie.

If I’m honest, I don’t think I will pass my toys down to my 16-month-old son, Matthew. I might if I have a girl, however, as girls are generally more careful. On the other hand, if no girl appears, I will be happy to still be sitting here in my girly room, aged 90, surrounded by my teddies.


My mum made Ted (49) for me. I was born and brought up in Dublin, but now Ted and I live in Clonmel, Co Tipperary. We had a wonderful childhood together until I grew out of Ted at the age of nine, and he languished in a cupboard for a few years. Despite not being played with, Ted was always there, in the corner of my eye.

About five years ago, my seven-year-old son, Tom, discovered Ted, and it was love at first sight. Ted has been in Tom’s bed every night since, apart from last summer when we were on holiday in Cavan. On that trip we inadvertently left Ted in Clonmel. Cue much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Thankfully a neighbour soon posted Ted on, to everyone’s relief.

I have had to do some careful negotiation to be allowed take Ted to Dublin for this photo shoot. Tom was not at all happy with the prospect of Ted disappearing for a night, and would have felt much more comfortable had Securicor taken charge of the precious goods.

With a new owner, Ted now has a new lease of life. He is awaiting surgery to replace his missing eye. I wonder will Ted make it to a third generation.


Teddy (46) and I have a special friendship. I received him from my beloved grandad, Jack Byrne, when I was three, and he has been watching out for me since.

Teddy represents the unconditional love of a grandparent. I have difficulty talking about him with getting a lump in my throat. I was the oldest grandchild on both sides of my family. We had a special bond – I called my grandfather Cuckoo and he called me Cobbles. My sister and I went to boarding school at a very young age, and while she was a great help, it was really Teddy that got me through.

Teddy isn’t the prettiest bear, with his threadbare green-and-orange coat. My kids, Sean (24) and Isabel (17), call him ugly, and never wanted to play with him growing up. They much preferred Pink Teddy, and when they heard about this piece they said they hoped I was using him and not Teddy. But Teddy’s beauty is on the inside. I would never be without him.

These days he sits in my bedroom, on his own chair, wearing the tie I wore to boarding school. Although I don’t often even notice him, it’s nice to know he’s there.

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