Irish Studies 2010

The adventure of a lifetime…

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Strokestown House and Famine Museum

May 28th, 2010 · No Comments · Famine Museum at Strokestown

After beginning the day well before 7 am and loading tiredly onto the bus by 8:15, we unloaded in front of a large building made uniformly of gray stone. Soon after disembarking, we walked to the front entrance of the house where we met our tour guide, a woman with a thick accent and traditional Irish geniality. The tour began in a foyer with high ceilings and white walls adorned with various mounted antlers. As we progressed through the house, we were introduced to all the customs that defined daily life for the landlord class during the time of the potato famine. The house included amenities such as beautiful drawing rooms and libraries, several bedrooms, a large dining room and kitchen, and a playroom and schoolroom for the children of the house, all furnished with elegant wooden furniture pieces that demonstrated the relatively extensive wealth of the family. Despite all the beautiful aspects of the house itself that showed how nicely the landowners lived, other aspects of the house highlighted the great disparity between the working and wealthy classes. One example was a tunnel that ran below the house through which all servants were expected to travel. Similarly, the beautiful gardens behind the house reflected a similar hierarchy. The servants who kept the grounds so magnificent were forbidden to be present there at the same time as the family. In this way, these too were set up with the family’s comfort, rather than logical convenience, as the most important aspect of maintaining the area. But even more than either the house or the gardens, the museum portion of the estate showed how different life was for those who were far less fortunate during the time that the blight plagued the island.

The museum provided tremendous insight into the shocking hardships that dominated the time of the famine, especially how difficult every aspect of daly life was for those who didn’t own land. Landowners essentially held the fates of their tenants in their hands. Perhaps the most potent example were the boats which are now remembered as “coffin ships” for the high death toll that arose from their horrible conditions. When landlords found that they could no longer support their tenants, they paid their passage on these grim emigrant ships, destined for the US or Canada. Many passengers never survived the voyage. Another enlightening image that came out of the museum as the juxtaposition of pictures from the Irish famine next to those that depict modern famine. These two aspects of the museum seem to exemplify the lessons that we are supposed to take away from this exhibit–the famine was a distant tragedy, but today we have to work to end it in any part of the world where it still exists.

We finished our visit with a walk through the gardens of the estate and lunch at the small museum cafe before getting back on the bus and beginning the trip to Omagh.

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