Armagh County Museum
Armagh County Museum is the oldest County Museum in Ireland. It opened officially in 1937 in Armagh, County Armagh, Northern Ireland. The museum exhibits splendid collections that hold stories about people of this historic county, their work and their connections, their lives over the centuries. They tell the most intriguing stories from different aspects of their lives—from fabulous wedding dresses, rural crafts and Victorian jewellery to military uniforms and weapons, taxidermy wildlife, Victorian toys, even household appliances, each carrying a different human story and depicts a broader story of a certain time throughout the centuries. The collections vary between local history—taking you on a journey from prehistory to modern history—natural history, fine art, archaeology, domestic life and transport.
Norma Foster, Front Office Manager at the Armagh City Hotel was particularly interested in some household items at the Museum. She commented on her visit to the Museum:
“I spied a clothes mangle wringer exactly the same as the one my mum used on the washing many a year ago and also a tin bath brought back fond memories of my siblings and I having our Saturday night bath in front of the open fire when we were at grannies.”
Not only does the Armagh County Museum display it collections, but it also holds many temporary exhibitions. Some of these exhibitions display objects borrowed from the collections and material of further institutions. Moreover, the Museum’s exhibitions include a wide variety of shows, including the stirring music of the pipes and the best of contemporary works by local artists.
Armagh County Museum is located in Armagh, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, on the edge of the tree-lined Mall at the centre of Armagh city. Check out this map location:
History of the Museum
The Museum was originally founded as Charlemont Place National School probably by architect William Murray, Francis Johnston’s student. However, the school was not a success. Accordingly, in 1856, the trustees transferred the school lease to Armagh Natural History and Philosophical Society. In 1856, members of the Philosophical Society moved from their premises on Abbey Street to the previous school premises and used them as their reading room, library, lecture hall and museum. Then they continued to expand the museum, displaying a collection of objects collected locally and from further afield. To this day, the Society still retains a reading room in the front of the Museum and holds regular events.
The beginnings of the establishment of the museum, which belongs to the Armagh Natural History and Philosophical Society, were referred to in the Armagh Guardian, a local newspaper, on 24 March 1846, in the following extract:
“We hope that this is but the beginning of something beneficial and instructive to the different classes of society, and we really do not know why Armagh should not even surpass many other towns in the north of Ireland in supporting a Museum .. useful to the city and neighbourhood.”
The Society’s collection was the starting point of the Armagh County Museum’s collection. The Society and Museum expanded in the latter half of the nineteenth century. By the year 1888, it could boast 275 members paying an annual subscription of five shillings each. Edward Gardner, the architect who was employed by the Society, was asked to divide the one room interior into two rooms with a big balcony covering the museum from above. The interior design of the Museum was described that year, 1888, as follows:
“To economise space, the reading room, by the withdrawal of a partition formed of shutters, becomes the stage of the theatre, and the theatre and museum are one. A good collection of specimens has been secured for the illustration of lectures on natural history. The library is well stocked with books in the following departments: – Antiquities, Astronomy, Arts, Biography, Chemistry, Economics, Geography, Geology,and Mineralogy, History, Mechanics, Metaphysics, Microscopy, Natural History, Natural Philosophy, Poetry, and general literature…”
Three years later, in 1891, art rooms were built just behind the Museum and for some years an Art School flourished under the auspices of the Science & Art department of South Kensington Museum.
Revival of the Museum
In 1930, Armagh County Council took over the premises aiming mainly at using it as a repository for the County Library. However, T.E. Reid, the Council secretary, looked ahead into the future and saw a better chance of reviving the Museum once established by the Armagh Natural History and Philosophical Society. Accordingly, in 1933, the Council authorized J.A. Sidney Stendall, Assistant Curator at Belfast Municipal Museum and Art Gallery at the time, to prepare a report on the current state of the Museum and a feasibility study of the possible developments. By the year 1934, the had paid £1,300 on the reconstruction of the buildings to make them suitable for a central Book Repository and Museum.
The Council also recommended that the Honorary Curator, 46-year-old local historian George Paterson aka T.G.F. Paterson through his writings, who was in charge of the Museum, would be granted £50 per annum. And by the end of 1934, Paterson was appointed as a full-time curator for three years, starting from January, 1935. Paterson was the ideal candidate for this position for his wide-ranging interests. He started off energetically and quickly began adding to the Museum collection. He also appointed the artists John Luke, who fled to County Armagh during WWII, to paint a local scene for the Museum’s developing art collection. His artwork, The Old Callan Bridge, painted in 1945, has become one of the Museum’s valuable treasures and is considered one of Luke’s finest works. The alterations made in the building were completed by the year 1937. On 28 April, 1937 Viscount Charlemont, Minister of Education for Northern Ireland at the time, performed the opening ceremony. The Carnegie U.K. Trust also played a role in the refurbishment of the Museum by funding the institution in 1938.
Armagh Museum Refurbishment
In 1955, Roger Weatherup was appointed as Paterson’s Deputy Curator. In 1959, they both worked for months on emptying the display cases by packing up the collections in order to prepare the Museum for the major refurbishment. And for the sake of this mission, they had to relocate near the Armagh County Museum. So, Paterson, a completely dedicated man, was allocated a cosy cell as his office in Armagh jail where he continued his writings and research. After the refurbishment was complete, he moved to his new home as the Council saw the unnecessity of a live-in curator.
During the refurbishment, all of the old buildings behind the neoclassical façade were demolished, including the 1890s Art School. Accordingly, an extension was built to host the museum’s collections and accommodate the library repository temporarily until the new Museum establishment is done. The official opening of the Museum was in September, 1962 and in 1963 D.R.M. (Roger) Weatherup took over as Curator of the Museum.
In the early 1970s, the Armagh County Museum was left with no funding institution as a consequence of the re-organisation of Northern Ireland’s local government and the abolition of Armagh County Council. So, in 1973, the Museum was meant to be transferred to the Ulster Museum, located in the Botanic Gardens in Belfast, under a concluded agreement. This brought a positive return for the Museum since it brought many advantages not least the ability to rely on the resources and skills of the larger institution, the Ulster Museum. A chance for expanding the Museum was seized in the 1980s, where the Museum took over the premises of a library headquarters, which was meant be relocated at Woodford on the outskirts of Armagh city. The new premises was spatial enough to incorporate as much needed storage and offices.
Today, Armagh County Museum has become part of National Museums Northern Ireland (NMNI) as one of its four components. The Museum is now funded by the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure (DCAL). In 2015, the museum was transferred to the newly formed Armagh City, Banbridge district and Craigavon Borough Council, as part of Northern Ireland’s Review of Public Administration.
Activities & Events
Armagh County Museum is not like any traditional museum. Besides displaying its great sum of collections, Armagh County Museum, the oldest county museum in Ireland, believes in the importance of launching learning programs and conducting workshops in response to diversity, equality and the ethos of lifelong learning. It provides a range of learning programs that offer opportunities for skills development, such as teamwork and creativity, as part of its plan to provide a safe and secure, yet enjoyable, learning environment and experience. These programs, which draw on the collections displayed at the Museum, are designed to meet the requirements of the new Northern Ireland curriculum.
Moreover, sessions are tailored, free of charge, to meet the particular needs of the community, youth and special interest groups, on various topics and may include crafts. Each session usually lasts up to 2 hours. The topics addressed in these sessions include seasonal traditions, old photographs, homes in the past, a general introduction to the Museum collections and exhibitions.
The workshops conducted in the Museum provide the students with the opportunity of exploring the cultural heritage, change over time and the relationship between individuals and places as well as their identity, place in society and the world. Workshops also tackle language and literacy and the Arts and Personal Development & Mutual Understanding (PDMU). Not only are these workshops dedicated to educate the pupils on various topics, they are also a lot of fun. Each workshop ranges from 90-120 minutes.
Currently, the Museum offers 3 workshops designed for the development of skills like Communication, Working with Others, Creativity, Fostering Curiosity and Thinking skills:
- Playing through time
- Homes from the Past
- World War II
Armagh County Museum organizes free family events as well suitable for primary school aged children and their families, such as Easter (2016), Hallowe’en (2016) and Christmas (2016). All events run from 12pm–4pm and offer a range of craft activities, trails and talks/storytelling.
Collections Development Over Time
Paterson’s passion for incorporating a variety of items of local artists was evident in his fascination with the polymath, George William Russell, an Irish writer, editor, critic, poet, artistic painter and Irish nationalist born in Lurgan, who wrote with the pseudonym Æ. He managed to get his paintings and personal articles donated to the Museum by his contemporaries, among whom was Lily Yeats. Now the Museum has 26 of his paintings as well as hundreds of his letters and personal stuff, such as his glasses, painting palette, passport and birthday book. Other items were also gathered regarding different fields and subjects, including uniforms and accoutrements from the Volunteers period of the 1780s and harvest knots and rush-light candleholders that were used by the rural communities of South Armagh. The great expansion of the Museum was what convinced the Armagh County Council to fund an expansion program by the late 1950s.
Armagh County Museum offers a wide variety of collections regarding prehistory, modern history art, natural history, domestic life and transport. These collections carry a rich legacy from a bygone age represented in artifacts related to archaeological, costume, traditions, industry, art, etc.
You will find a wide selection of prehistory artifacts relating to the city and county development. Most of these artifacts are weaponry and tools used in daily life during the Iron Age, Stone Age and Bronze Age. The Prehistory Collection includes a bog butter evident of a practice of burying the butter throughout Ireland dating back to period between 400 BCE and the 13th century CE, a polished stone axe from the Neolithic period (c. 4500–2500 BCE), Viking bracelets, the heading ‘Armachiana’ and prehistoric pots.
- Modern History
The modern history collection reflects the lives of people who have lived and worked in Armagh or have been associated with the County. Some of the artifacts displayed are Scold’s Bridle, an hourglass, a lunatic asylum bowl, penal crosses and a globular brass shell.
The art collection can be divided into three categories: paintings by local artists; paintings of local people; and works representing buildings and topography of County Armagh. The paintings also include those by Northern Irish artists, such as Charles Lamb, T.P. Flanagan, Maurice MacGonigal, Beatrice Glenavy, James Humbert Craig, John Luke, Cecil Maguire, William Conor, James Sinton Sleator, and Maurice Wilks. The artifacts displayed include a memorial plaque entitled The Grievous Return, satin waistcoat, Victorian dresses, paintings like The City of Armagh 1810, and others.
The Museum holds excavation material from the excavations carried out at the megalithic sites, such as Clontygora and Annaghmare, in South Armagh in the 1930s and 1940s.
- Natural History
The natural history collection displayed on the first floor of the Museum is one of the most popular display areas, especially with younger visitors. It is divided into sections: mammals water birds, birds of prey, garden birds and geology.
- Domestic Life
The collection includes wooden objects as wood was the main material used until quite recent times. The range of wooden objects on display in the museum indicates the importance of timber before the use of other raw materials became more widely available. This collection displays butter stamps, weaver’s rubber, etc.
The transport collection is a rich section, most of the material displayed are handbills, posters and railway memorabilia collected by D.R.M. Weatherup during the 1960s when the local rail infrastructure was in decline. There are also guards’ hats, tickets, timetables and name plates of study engines like ‘Slieve Gullion’.
- Free (parking charges may apply)
- Baby Changing facilities
- Credit/Debit Cards Accepted
- Euro Accepted
- Guided Tours Available
- Gift Shop
- Monday to Friday: 10.00 – 17.00
- Saturday: 10.00 – 13.00 | 14.00 – 17.00
For more information on Armagh County Museum, go to the Museum’s website: https://www.armagh.co.uk/armaghcountymuseum/