HOUSE OFF LIMITS Turlough House itself remains closed but the adjoining folk museum is open to the public.
Museums and heritage sites were among the last places to open as part of the lifting of lockdown restrictions.
One such attraction was The National Museum of Country Life in Turlough, which has been open for just over a fortnight.
On a damp Friday afternoon, there are about a dozen cars parked outside, none of which have MO registration plates. An alphabet soup of Cs, Ds, a WX, a KE, a camper van, and even a couple of UK number plates are an indication that ‘staycationers’ are on the move.
The surrounding grounds are speckled with the dreaded yellow signs reminding walkers and visitors to keep their distance and observe hand hygiene.
While Turlough House itself remains closed, the adjoining folk museum is open to the public.
Bar the foot-operated hand sanitisers, most of the interior remains as it was. The three floors still display the same trinkets, ornaments and implements from a past that has never seemed further away.
Interactive displays are out of use for obvious reasons. Masks are not yet compulsory, yet about a third of the visitors have their faces covered as a precaution.
One Dublin visitors says: “I work in retail so I’m well used to the masks at this stage. I wear it for other people more than myself really, it doesn’t bother me whether other people decide to wear them or not.”
Another Dub, who is visiting Mayo with her grandchildren, sings the praises of west of Ireland hospitality.
“We’re staying in a guesthouse just outside Westport and the hosts were very friendly, you don’t get that in every place,” she says.
Having climbed the Reek the previous day, the 69-year old from Rathcoole was in high spirits despite the ongoing uncertainty.
“When the man above says it’s time to go, that’s it. You can’t be going around worried all the time,” she declares optimistically.
She was, however, far less impressed American tourists being let arrive in Ireland during the pandemic.
A woman from Wexford was full of praise for Mayo’s hospitality sector.
“We were back in Achill yesterday and I have to say the people are sticking to the guidelines very well. They were very friendly as well.”
Another woman from Macroom in Cork says: “It’s great that this place is open. We’re staying in a camping park in Roscommon and a lot of places were closed on the way.”
No bus tours
While there is a manageable crowd browsing the various displays, one staff member says it will be a while before the usual summer trade begins.
“We have no bus tours at all,” he says. “We’d normally have around four or five buses a day at this time of year. We’d have the likes of Active Age coming in buses and they’d have a look around and spend a bit in the shop.”
With the outdoor seating area soaked in the summer rain, the museum’s café operates on a takeaway-only basis.
One employee working in the gift shop says it has been busier than she expected.
“When we re-opened there we didn’t really know how many to expect. Today is quiet but most other days it’s been fairly busy. It’s been all Irish visitors. I thought it would be quieter, to be honest,” she says.
At one point, the museum reaches its maximum safe capacity, which prompts a staff member to politely ask one group to queue outside until someone leaves.
With 2019 seeming as long ago as 1919, one can’t help wondering if barstools, bingo books and holy water fountains will become part of the folk history collection here in the near future.