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30 year milestone for Newry and Mourne Museum

June 27, 2016

This year marks thirty years of service for Newry and Mourne Museum. Originally housed in the then Newry Arts Centre, the Museum was officially opened by the Chairman of Newry and Mourne District Council, Councillor Pat Toner, along with Major Gerald Reside, a founder member of the Old Newry Society, on 30th May 1986.

Tony Canavan was the first Museum Officer and the early days were focused on building up the Museum Collection by encouraging members of the public and local historians to donate valuable, sometimes personal items, to the new service, which would tell the rich history of the Newry and Mourne area. Many of these initial donations are on display in the new Museum, which has been housed at Bagenal’s Castle since 2007.

The former home of McCann’s Bakery provided a larger building with increased exhibition space for permanent and temporary exhibitions and enhanced storage facilities. A major element in the new building is the Reading Room used by the public to consult the Museum’s two significant archival collections, the Reside Collection and the Hugh Irvine Collection, which are important sources for anyone researching social and family history in the area.

Since re-opening in March 2007 the Museum has welcomed visitors from all over the world to see the three main exhibition galleries featuring pre-historic artefacts, medieval carvings from Newry Cistercian abbey, 18th, 19th and 20th century objects, as well as artefacts relating to McCann’s Bakery.

Two temporary exhibitions are held each year that further highlight the rich heritage and culture of the region and since 2007 there have been over thirty temporary exhibitions based on the Museum Collection supplemented with loans from the public. These temporary exhibitions inform the Museum’s dynamic education and events programme and help sustain Newry and Mourne Museum’s high visitor figures which, at an average of 36,000 per year, are among the highest for local museums in Northern Ireland.

According to Noreen Cunningham, Newry Museum’s Curator for the last 21 years, the services provided for schools are a significant highlight of the museum with informative and entertaining curriculum linked lessons provided for a number of schools throughout south Down and south Armagh.

“Our curriculum linked lessons for schools are hugely popular and we find the children involved are very enthusiastic about our workshops, “ Noreen told The Examiner.

“We offer specific lessons for primary schools in particular such as archaeology workshops and World War Two workshops. We have a very good uptake of the schools programme as we liaise with teachers to develop lesson plans and deliver what schools want, providing the children with highly interactive and entertaining workshops which really help local history to come alive for them.”

In 2011 the Museum was fortunate to receive the papers of Éamon Donnelly, a Nationalist politician in the early decades of the 20th century who was born in Middletown, Armagh but who raised his family in Newry.

The Women’s Exhibition currently on display also showcases a wide range of artefacts which highlight how women with local connections in the Newry and Mourne area and farther afield contributed so much to home life, in business, education, sport, politics, church life, both world wars and the arts.

One of the highlights on display is a dress worn by former president of Ireland Mary McAleese when she attended the State Banquet held in Dublin Castle in honour of the Queen’s State Visit to Ireland in May 2011. There are also samples of Carrickmacross lace alongside a photo of Culloville lacemaker Mary McMahon who was interviewed for the museum in 2003.  A biopic of Josephine Crilly (1929 – 2011) also forms part of the hugely popular Women’s Exhibition.  Josephine was involved for many years in local sports administration for Carrickcruppen GAA in a voluntary capacity and was Chair of Newry and Mourne District Council’s Sports Development Committee.

“We have quite a number of items on display which hail from the south Armagh region,” said Noreen,

“These include butter making equipment from Newtownhamilton, linen samples from Bessbrook mill,  and a photograph of Frank Aiken at Eamon Donnelly’s funeral in 1944.

“One of our current exhibitions called ‘All Politics are Local’ features a Sinn Fein election poster from 1985 from the local government elections in the Slieve Gullion ward as well as an Ulster Unionist poster for the Fews ward featuring Danny Kennedy and Andy Moffett.”

In addition to in-house exhibitions, the museum also provides a touring exhibition programme which is available for booking. Current travelling exhibitions running in local libraries include the Famine exhibition which looks at how the Famine affected the Newry area, Forkhill and Warrenpoint and a First World War touring exhibition which looks at how the war affected Bessbrook, Jerrettspass, Newtownhamilton, Rostrevor and Warrenpoint.

A packed schedule of family oriented events and workshops is also provided throughout the year with themed workshops at Halloween and Christmas and Summer events also on offer throughout the first week of August.

“Our Reminiscent Loan Boxes are another popular service which are used by healthcare workers particularly for senior citizens,” added Noreen.

“Our staff are trained by Reminiscent Network Northern Ireland, and all boxes are themed to include School Life, Household, Earning a Crust and Rural Life. They provide a nostalgic trip down memory lane for many senior citizens throughout the area.”

Nearly all of the artefacts on display in the main exhibitions have been donated by local people or those with links to the area and the museum curator described the importance of these donations as the “bread and butter” of the museum.

“Most of our exhibitions are made possible from the items donated to us and we decide on exhibitions based on the strength of our collected items. Newry and Mourne Museum is planning an exhibition for 2017 looking at the development of farming in the local area so we would like local people to help by providing information, including memories of past farming practices, membership of Young Farmer’s Clubs and selling animals at markets or fairs and by way of loans or donations of items to the exhibition including photographs and memorabilia.”

If you can help, please contact the Curator at 028 30331 3182 or email museum@newryandmourne.gov.uk

Newry and Mourne Museum is open to the public seven days a week with admission free of charge. For opening hours, information on events and exhibitions, other services and bookings please phone 028 3031 3178 or visit www.bagenalscastle.com.

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