Museum of country life collects Covid artefacts to tell story of pandemic for future generations

National Museum of Ireland - Country Life in Co Mayo has started gathering pandemic-related items - from face masks to empty vaccine vials to Dr Tony Holohan’s tie - to remember the health crisis

Artefacts that narrate the story of life during Covid in Ireland are being collected by the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life in Castlebar, for display at a later date to a future generation.

The collection will comprisean eclectic mix of items ranging from an empty Guinness barrel, reflecting all the kegs recalled during the pandemic lockdown, to medical equipment and personal protective equipment donated by Sligo University Hospital, along with a tie worn by the State’s former chief medical officer Tony Holohan during his numerous TV briefings.

The tie was donated by Mr Holohan following a request from Clodagh Doyle, keeper of the Irish Folklore Collection at the Museum of Country Life.

”It’s a very plain tie, but still an important part of the Covid story. We wanted to do something to acknowledge that every night Tony was on our screens, advising and keeping us posted,” she said.


The future exhibition will include the book of the scripts of Normal People, the popular television drama broadcast during the pandemic, signed by director Lenny Abrahamson and donated by Element Pictures.

“The phenomenon that was the success of Normal People will be remembered by so many,” said Ms Doyle.

The myriad of items connected to the Covid experience awaiting eventual display at the museum include masks made from Irish linen by Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny-based designer Zoe Carol Wong.

When the pandemic crippled her business, the Hong Kong-born designer switched to making stylish, high-quality masks to make a living.

We will all have to process what happened. We don’t want to remember at the moment, but we will look back eventually

—  Clodagh Doyle, National Museum of Ireland

Slaney Health Centre in Wexford meanwhile provided an empty Pfizer vaccine vial.

After Covid’s arrival, unable to administer blessed ashes on Ash Wednesday in his church as normal due to the ban on assemblies, Fr, John Kenny, parish priest of Partry, Co Mayo, provided sachets of “takeaway” ashes, which he distributed, one sachet per household.

“For the first time ever the priest didn’t physically place the ashes on your forehead. You had to go home and do it yourself. I think that was amazing,” said Ms Doyle.

Her colleague, Noel Campbell, assistant keeper at the museum, provided a beanie hat in which he walked the virtual marathon that replaced the cancelled 2020 Dublin City Marathon.

Pointing up a key difficulty in creating a collection, Ms Doyle said few items were associated with Covid because during the pandemic people were touching fewer objects due to fears of infection.

“It is our mission to find the small items that tells one person’s story of Covid but will resonate with so many others,” she said.

One aim is to narrate painful stories associated with Covid: funerals with closed coffins and no mourners, and women who delivered their first babies without a partner being present.

“We would like objects such as those face masks with crosses on them that recall the pain of funerals, or baby tags that bring home the loneliness of giving birth alone,” said Ms Doyle.

“The births, marriages, deaths – those are the things that hurt. I don’t think they were happy births where the husband couldn’t come in, couldn’t see the baby, and then there were the deaths and the funerals.”

Ms Doyle believes the time for an exhibition reflecting Covid times and all its restrictions, pain and hardship is perhaps 20 years away.

“I don’t think you can have an exhibition for a long time,” she said. “We will all have to process what happened. We don’t want to remember at the moment, but we will look back eventually.”