It’s one of those things about human behaviour that while we readily travel halfway across the country to attend some event or visit some attraction, when it is on our doorstep we are slow to bother. There is plenty of time, we tell ourselves. We will do it next week; by which time, of course, it’s too late.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that if you have not yet visited the National Treasures exhibition at the National Museum of Country Life at Turlough Park, don’t leave it until the holidays are over and the family are back at school.
The National Treasures is a fascinating exhibition, whether you are old enough to remember the leather strap used by the Christian Brothers, or young enough to wonder why there was a need for ration coupons for tea and sugar.
The exhibition is based on the RTE TV programme of the same name hosted by John Creedon. It comprises, as the blurb says, of ordinary little objects with big stories behind them. They were collected from all corners of Ireland both through online and roadshows, and the final selection is accompanied by a brochure providing the background and provenance of each item on display.
Perhaps it’s a reflection of the Irish love of sport that quite a few of the exhibits recall memorable sporting events. There is the original match programme from the historic day in 1978 when Munster defeated the All Blacks, and the equally famous memento of the 1963 match at Dalymount Park when, before a crowd of 25,000, the League of Ireland team defeated the much vaunted English League 2-1.
Also on display are the Euro 88 jersey from that memorable day in Stuttgart when Ireland beat England, and the more poignant 1949 Belfast Celtic jersey, reminder of the most successful team in Irish soccer, until sectarian hatred forced its withdrawal from football.
Whatever dark memories the aforementioned leather strap might evoke, they fade to nothing compared to the document from Glin Industial School in Co Limerick. The specific document on display illustrates that, when the unfortunate child inmate had served his sentence in Borstal, he had to pay back from his first wages the food, lodging and clothing costs of his incarceration in Glin.
Given the centenary that we are in, there are two unique documents from 1918 on display. One is an Anti Conscription Pledge certificate, the pledge that was distributed throughout the country and signed by hundreds of thousands in protest at British Government plans to introduce conscription in Ireland for the Great War. The other is a 1918 voting registration slip, issued to a woman, and marking the first time that women over 30 were given the right to vote.
Among the other treasures on view are a crucifix made entirely from bullets, the work of an unknown Republican prisoner held in Cork jail during the Civil War of 1922, and an equally striking piece of handcraft – a tin lantern made by a traveller tinsmith on the side of the road in the 1950s, from tin cans and scrap material.
And just in case you might incline towards penance and self-mortification, there is the original bed of nails on which Australian-born Mike Maloney would perform in public. The secret, according to his wife, who donated the article, was to ensure that each and every nail was exactly the same height.
An important piece of information should you wish to try the trick at home.