A model exhibit
County Museum is famous countrywide for the volume and quality
of its exhibits. Seamus McCluskey reports.
of the National Museum in Dublin, and possibly the Museum
in Armagh city, Monaghan County Museum is unquestionably
the finest museum in the 32 counties. Now just over twenty-five
years in existence, the museum, which started in the Monaghan
court house in 1974, now stands on an impressive site on
The Hill just above the 17th century market
house and tourist office, and almost in the centre of the
town. It is probably the most visited building in Monaghan
today and daily attracts tourists from all over the world.
Lay-Out of the Museum
The Museum exhibits are divided into ten sections, on the
following lines: -
Section One covers The First Settlers age (5500BC
- 2500BC), with artifacts from the Stone Age, found at Tully
near Monaghan town, and at Derryhee in the parish of Donagh.
Portal tombs and Wedge tombs are well illustrated, particularly
the one at Lisdarragh. Section Two covers The Metal
Age (2500BC - 500BC). Items from the Bronze Age, particularly
from the Tydavent area, are on display here, as also in
some Funerary Ware. Section 3 deals with The
Iron Lords (500BC - 500 AD), and pride of place hero
goes to the magnificent Alcatarte Cauldron which
was carved from a single block of wood. Details of the Black
Pigs Dyke, which stretches right across Co.
Monaghan from Scotshouse to Oram, are illustrated in this
section. Excavations were carried out on this magnificent
South Ulster Defence Line in Currin parish some
years back. Art and Religion of the period as, well at The
Ulaid are also included here.
Section Four covers Book, Bell and Crozier (500AD
- 700AD), and outlines Monastic Monaghan life, with the
High Cross of Clones, the Round Towers at Inniskeen and
Clones, and Donagh High Cross, but the Real Gem
is surely the magnificent Cross of Clogher, made during
the 14th-15th century, which was first displayed in St.
Macartans Seminary, and is now on permanent loan from
the National Museum in Dublin. Section Five covers The
Gaelic Chiefs (700AD - 1600AD) and tells the story
of the McMahons, McKennas and other ruling clans of that
era. Here too there is a magnificent model of the Co. Monaghan
crannog at Killyvilla. The Battle of Clontibret 1595 and
the Nine Years War also come into this section.
Section Six covers The New Order (1600AD - 1800AD)
and details the Division of Land, Land Ownership, The Protestant
Nation, Life and Leisure, Defence and Loyalty, and the Linen
industry. A lovely Penal Cross and uniforms
of Grattans Volunteers are on display here, as well
as an excellent model of Monaghan town as it was in 1610.
Section seven is devoted to The Land and the People
(1800AD-1900AD) which includes displays on Revolt
& Reform, Nationalism, Administration, Economy
and Transport, and the Ulster Canal, with many relics of
the Great Northern Railway system which criss-crossed the
county from 1850 to 1960.
Section 9 is entitled A Border Again (1900-1990AD)
and covers the IRB, the Irish Volunteers, 1916 , War of
Independence, Civil War, the Free State, and the advance
towards a Republic, right up to modern times. Section 10,
the final section is entitled Places and Times
and covers all the societies in the county, as well as religion,
commerce and recreation aspects of Co. Monaghan life.
In 1970 there was a very active branch of An Taisce in Monaghan,
which dealt with environmental issues. They got the idea
that there should be a museum in Monaghan and gradually
got pieces together for some local exhibitions which proved
highly successful. The idea of a permanent museum was then
discussed and it was decided that it should be in public
ownership. The suggestion was brought to the Co. Manager,
George Cannon, who immediately approved. It was decided
to forge ahead, but funds were scarce and An Taisce
raised much finance through carnivals and dances, with great
assistance from people like Theo McMahon, Bertie Geary,
Paddy Turley and Michael McCaughey. The Bishop of Clogher,
Most Rev. Dr Joseph Duffy had also been involved with An
Taisce and gave all the encouragement possible.
The Bishop along with the St. Macartans Diocesan Trust
generously bequeathed the heart of the museum
to the Co. Council. The organisers were also very indebted
to a good friend in Armagh Museum, Roger Wetherall, who
gave valuable help in the formation days of the museum.
So also did the Friends of the Museum who rounded
up hundreds of artifacts for display. The sheer size and
scale of the collection in Monaghan Museum can now match
that of any other museum in the country.
Milestones in museum history
1974: - The preliminary work is completed and the museum
is finally established. Monaghan Courthouse is the venue
and the Official Opening ceremony is performed
by the Minister For Local Government, Mr James Tully, on
27th September 1974. First Curator of the Museum is Galway-man,
1980:- The Museum wins its first great award - a major international
distinction, winning the Council of Europe Museum Prize.
1981: - Disaster strikes on March 30th 1981, when the Courthouse
is burned to the ground. The Northern Troubles had frequently
over-spilled into Co. Monaghan and this was at the height
of the H-Block Protest. Fortunately, most of the section
housing the Museum artifacts escaped the ravages of the
conflagration. New premises must be now obtained and eventually
the Council Offices on The Hill are converted into a New
Museum, but the Museum itself remains closed for some years.
1987: - The New Monaghan County Museum, Phase One, at The
Hill, is officially opened by Mr. Padraig Flynn TD, Minister
for the Environment, on Friday 30th October 1987 at 6pm,
with a reception afterwards in the Westenra Hotel.
1990: - Aidan Walsh resigns as Curator of the Museum and
is succeeded by Pat Long.
1990: - The Official Opening of the completed Museum and
Exhibition Gallery is performed by Dr. Patrick Hillery,
President of Ireland, on June 22nd 1990, Monaghan Heritage
1993: - Another prestigious award for Monaghan County Museum
when it won the Gulbention/Norwich Union Best Collections
1999: - On Tuesday 7th December 1999 the Museum marked the
25th Anniversary of its existence with celebrations at The
Hill and later in the Hillgrove Hotel. The celebrations
opened with a Special Exhibition, putting on display some
pieces rarely seen by the public. Pat Long first welcomed
everyone to the Exhibition and recalled the founding days
of the Museum, stating that, at a time of great difficulties,
the Museum was established as Irelands first ever
County Museum and so was a pioneer in this respect.
He paid particular tribute to George Cannon, who had been
a pioneering official of the County Council
and the key figure in getting the museum established. He
also acknowledged the contributions of Frank Keelaghan,
Theo McMahon, the Darcys, Jim Jenkins, Mrs. Killen, Sean
Murphy and Tony Murphy. Paying tribute to the professionalism
of his back-up staff, he said Life in the Museum could
be a lot more hectic than what one imagined from the peaceful
elements of the display.
Co. Council Chairman Brendan Hughes was lavish in his praise
of the museum, saying that all members of the council were
extremely proud of it. He had been chairman of the Council
Estimates Committee since 1999 and when it came to budgetary
requirements for the museum, members never found any difficulty
in providing the funds needed to keep it going. Co. Manager
Joe Gavin also paid tribute to the staff and to former Co.
Secretary Tony Murphy, as well as to all who had set up
the museum in 1974.
Following an anniversary meal, the celebrations continued
in the Hillgrove Hotel where a special presentation was
made to one of the great supporters of the museum, Mrs.
Frank Keelaghan said that a museum without exhibits or donations
was not a museum at all and he paid particular
tributes to Eamonn and Joe Smith from Castleshane, who had
contributed an enormous amount of material to the original
museum. George Cannon paid tribute to the then Minister
of Local Government, James Tully, who had agreed that Monaghan
Co. Council should have its own museum and who got immediate
cash from the Government of the day. Frank Keelaghan finished
with the quote Without George Cannon there never would
have been a museum.
2000: - Curator Pat Long moves to Dublin and is succeeded
by Omagh archaeologist, Roisin Doherty as Curator. In an
interview with a local newspaper, Roisin outlined her future
plans for the Museum and stated that Museums are not
boring - they are very exciting places to be, and I want
this Museum to have one foot in the future. Already
she has established herself as a go-ahead young lady who
is sure to put Monaghan County Museum on the world map in
the not too distant future.
The Museum is ably assisted by The Friends of the
Museum under the chairmanship of go-ahead Jim Jenkins,
while the Museum Supervisory Committee acts
as a Governing Body and also keeps a close eye on the daily
goings-on at the history making Museum. It is under the
chairmanship of Theo McMahon and meets four times a year.
Curator Roisin has a very able helper in conservator Noel
Breakey, as well as assistants Padraig Clerkin and four