While much "Irish-ness" can be observed and understood through the amazing landscape- it isn't hard to see why people believed in banshees, fairies, and leprechauns when surrounded by that much untamed nature, let me tell you!- some of the history requires more concrete explanations.
In the middle of our bus ride to visit Errs (voted "most wild" place in Ireland), we took a stop to explore the old Fitzgerald family home and the accompanying Irish Folklife Collection of the National Museum of Ireland.
For example, the period in which the "ascendancy," or ruling British class, occupied lands taken from Irish owners by Oliver Cromwell.
The ascendancy and their opulence were the most visible representation of the British suppression of the Irish.
I'm taking a class called "Irish Gothic" this semester, and many of the stories we've read have the rocky relationship between British landlords and native Irish at their core.
Just the entry hall of the Fitzgerald family's home shows how decadent there style of living was. They had a marble fireplace and staircase, stained glass windows, and hand-painted walls (styled to look like a rare type of marble, at the time this would have cost more than to actually have the house made from marble!). That's pretty crazy, even by modern standards! Now, try and place it in the context of potato farming on tiny slivers of land. Pretty hard, huh?
The library is equally impressive, if slightly less ornamented! The fact that they even had a library set the Fitzgeralds even further apart from their tenants. At this time, oral culture reigned supreme in Ireland. The British found this very strange when compared to their careful record keeping and twisted it as proof of the Irish as needing to be guided by a British hand.
^sneaky door, painted to look like a bookcase filled with books!^
The Museum of Country Life is the newest addition of four museums that make up the National Museum of Ireland.
It's located on the (pretty extensive) grounds of Furlough Park in County Mayo.
As would make sense, given the name, the museum focuses on the different aspects of folk life in Ireland. Different exhibitions cover attire, modes of transportation, ways of making a living, celebrations, history and more!
^original Halloween celebrations!^
I wish we'd had more time to wander around, but our tour guide kept us on a pretty tight schedule!
We also got a quick intro to weaving after seeing the Aran Islands Sweaters on display...
... yeah, our little cardboard looms didn't really stand up to comparison.
I had actually done this when I was little so it was really fun to see everyone's reactions to the weaving!
All in all, this stop on our trip was pretty awesome! It definitely gave us a view into one of the biggest divides in Irish history and an academic-approved understanding of the folk tales and life we were learning about in NUIG classes.