Young Travellers take over Galway City Museum

A story revealing an ingenious use for a dead fox are among the highlights of takeover day

Mary Sweeney and Codie McDonagh look at a display of a caravan made from matchsticks, brought to Galway City Museum for Kids in Museums day. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Mary Sweeney and Codie McDonagh look at a display of a caravan made from matchsticks, brought to Galway City Museum for Kids in Museums day. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

 

“If a Claddagh fisherman saw a red-haired woman or a fox or a hare on the way to the quay in Galway, he would turn back, as it was a sign of bad luck,” says 14-year-old PJ Mongan.

“ So once a butcher who wasn’t making any money got a dead fox and hung it on the end of the pier. That meant anyone who wanted a good dinner – because spuds, bacon and cabbage wouldn’t do – would have to buy his meat, until the local fishermen copped on and found him out.”

PJ never thought of being a guide until he had to take on the role on Friday in Galway City Museum. The history of Claddagh was his subject, and his enthusiastic storytelling flowed as fast as the river Corrib below him.

PJ recounted stirring tales, such as that of the giant lobster that once lived under Wolfe Tone Bridge and could shape-shift into human form. “And one day the lobster was coming out of a pub and a fella walking beside him saw his claws, and he grabbed the fella and flung him into the rapids, and that’s why they say you’ll never get out of the Corrib if you fall in.”

PJ, from Ballybane, is a Junior Cert pupil in Galway Community College at Moneenageisha and one of a group from Galway’s Travelling community who took over the museum for a day.

PJ Mongan speaks about the history of the Corrib and adjoining buildings. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy
PJ Mongan speaks about the history of the Corrib and adjoining buildings. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

With him were nine members of Ballybane Foróige and Youth Work Ireland’s Westside projects, who took responsibility for various snapshots of the city’s history.

Directing traffic at the front door was Scott Maughan (13), from the “Jes” secondary school (Coláiste Iognáid). Ian McDonagh (16), in transition year at Merlin College, ran the information desk. Ian has been twice winner of a Young Scientist award for his projects on the influence of the lunar cycle on equine birth patterns, and a scientific investigation of the cures and folklore of Travellers.

Taken over

Museum director Eithne Verling and education officer Brendan McGowan are both wearing badges saying they have “been taken over”. They explain that the project is part of the Kids in Museums initiative already run in the UK, which aims to boost the contribution of young people to museums, galleries, and heritage sites.

“We had students from Salerno Secondary School last year, and this time we thought we would work with the Travelling community, in the lead-up to Galway 2020 European City of Culture,” McGowan says.

“I took the volunteers through the museum first and invited them to pick the section they would be most interested in talking about,” he adds.

Each participant was also invited to bring in an object for display that might be representative of their own community.

“So here we have a Traveller wagon made of matchsticks, these are Irish dancing medals which I won, and this is a woodwork project,” Mary Sweeney (12) of Merlin College says, pointing out the various items in the display. Also in the case are a basketball, medallions and rosary beads, and a cerise pink Nokia mobile phone.

McGowan says it is the first phase of an initiative that may also involve taking over other cultural institutions, such as the Town Hall Theatre. Some of the participants have already volunteered to work in the Hall of the Red Earl and the Fishery Watchtower Museum.