A Day in the Life: Noel Campbell


WRITING HISTORY Noel Campbell, curator at the National Museum of Country Life at Turlough Park and a former Castlebar town councillor. Pic: Keith Heneghan

I would be up at half seven. We have two young kids in the house so you have to get yourself sorted first. Up and shower and then get the two up. They are five and three and they are good enough to sleep through the night, so you have to wake them up. Once you have them up, you have breakfast and out the door pretty sharp because they have to go to school and the creche or to their granny’s to be minded. It can be a bit hectic in the morning.
I live along the N5 and can go straight out to Turlough, but if the kids are going to school I have to go across town to drop them off. I don’t mind that. I’ll stop off for some coffee and have the radio on. I would get the news on Midwest and Dermot and Dave on Today FM would be kicking off by the time I get to work. There is never any traffic so you are out at work pretty sharpish.
I am Assistant Keeper One [in the Museum of Country Life in Turlough House] and I’m told the one is very important. You have your Manager Keeper and below him you have a series of assistant keepers who are graded as assistant keeper one and assistant keeper two. To the Joe Soap I would be known as the curator.
When I get to work emails have to be checked first. We get a lot of public queries from people trying to date things and offer stuff as donations and that type of thing. I try to get those things out of the way and deal with them straight away.
Every curator works on a project and I am currently working on a programme of events to mark the centenary of the Spanish Flu of 1918. That will be launched on September 11. It is part of the National Museum’s decade of commemoration for the likes of The Rising, the War of Independence, World War I and all of that.
Staff were asked to get their heads together to mark events and one such event was the Spanish Flu. It was such a big event to hit the world. It hit Ireland for 12 months and 2,000 people a month died. Imagine if something like that happened today.
There is not a lot of research on the Spanish Flu in Ireland at all. There is so much we haven’t heard about it, so it’s a very busy time for me. There will be an exhibition here on site in Turlough, and I will be giving a lecture series in 16 different venues around the country. There will also be an online aspect where people can put down their own town or family memories of the Spanish Flu.

The two months prior to any exhibition are always pretty hectic. You are dealing with design and publicity and logistics. We are only three weeks out from the new exhibition so it is a busy time now and you start to get worried about deadlines. When you have a deadline there is no hiding.
I wouldn’t spend too much time grabbing coffees during the daytime. We have a flexi-time system here where you have a two hour window to clock off to have your lunch but I wouldn’t spend much time at lunch or go out for a walk or anything like that. I’d try and get back to work. If I get a window to do something I keep going at it. There are enough other things which will sidetrack you.  
The main aspect of my job is researching projects. We have our own library here and I find it more than enough for what we need but we also have access to online libraries like Trinity College and different websites. We have a good relationship with the other institutions and we all help each other out.
I was always interested in history and after school I went on to get a degree in history and archeology in NUIG and then got a HDip from UCD to teach history. I was teaching for a year in Dublin and I had my fill of that. By a stroke of luck I got wind that this place was opening and I got the job, and 17 years later I am still here. There would be nothing worse than to be stuck in a job you have no interest in. I love it here, it’s a great job.
For the next few weeks I could be in here from nine and get home anytime between 6pm and 7pm. With the deadlines coming up you have to stay on when the place is quiet and catch up on work. But I don’t want to be a martyr about it, it’s not like that all the time.
When I come home I love going outside and play with the kids. If you want to forget about work, play with the kids. There is no talk on how your day went or anything like that. It’s all about them, but that’s the great thing about it.

In conversation with Anton McNulty

Name: Noel Campbell
Age: 40
From: Castlebar
Occupation: Curator in the Museum of Country Life, Turlough House

Quickfire questions

If money was no object what would you do?
Probably do the same thing, doing more research and write books. Sad but there it is. You’d have to do something.

Tell us something about yourself we don’t know?
I am a twin. My brother Conan and I are not identical. He has black hair and I have red. He actually ran for Sinn Féin in Galway the same year I ran in Castlebar. That is something people might not know.

Favourite place in the world?
Anywhere along the Mayo coast to be honest or South Africa which is fantastic.

First Hero?
It would have to be one of the GAA guys no doubt … Liam McHale or Willie Joe.

Best advice you ever got?
Plan ahead.

What makes you nervous?
Flying … I didn’t fly until I was about 20 so maybe I was too old to start off

Most prized possession?
I shouldn’t say they are my possession but family definitely. My wife Laura and two children Luke and Grace.

What do you miss most about being a child?  
Not having a care in the world.

Most famous person you met?
I didn’t actually meet him but I came close to meeting Woody Allen once in New York.

Favourite Song?
Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits.