Ireland’s Resilience and Bouncebackability In 5 Objects

It’s been an unprecedented time in Ireland’s history.

The economy slowing to virtual stop in the coronavirus lockdown and all of us still wondering what will the new ‘normal’ look like?

However the country has rebounded before and that theme is being re-inforced by a clever use of a museum’s artefacts which are being made available to view online (where most of us are spending our time these days🙄)

Not physically open to the general public, The National Museum of Ireland, the country’s largest cultural institution has engaged in a bit of outside the box thinking.

While its four sites are closed as part of the Government’s efforts to contain the coronavirus and given that the Museum’s exhibitions are not currently accessible, the collections team at the Museum curated ‘Reflections on Resilience’, an online gallery, to allow audiences to connect with our national collection and to take solace and inspiration from the stories of these objects as the coronavirus crisis continues.

These objects tell their own stories of resilience, endurance and hope, and we hope they provide a moment for reflection in these challenging times.

The online gallery is now on display on the Museum’s recently refreshed website and features a diverse range of objects and specimens from the Museum’s collection, from the historic to the more contemporary, that demonstrate our collective resilience in the face of challenges, both from an Irish and global perspective.

Items that summarise Irish resilience:

1. The Bell of St. Patrick, 8th-9th century AD 

Bell shrine, shrine of the bell of St Patrick, three quarter view of front of bell shrine, Armagh, Co. Armagh, R4011, with iron bell of St Patrick, view of front and side of bell, Armagh, Co. Armagh, R4010

This bell is reputed to have belonged to St. Patrick. It is made of two sheets of iron which are riveted together and coated with bronze.

The bell, a powerful relic, is frequently mentioned in written sources as one of the principal relics of Ireland. It was also used as a political tool, to legitimise Armagh as the most important Christian site in Ireland through its association with St. Patrick.

An inscription on its surface indicates that the shrine for the bell was made around AD 1100.

The inscription along the edge of the backplate records the name of the craftsman and his sons who made the shrine, and Domhnall Ua Lochlainn, King of Ireland between AD 1094 and 1121, who commissioned the shrine; Cathalan Ua Maelchallain, the keeper of the bell, is also mentioned.

Remarkably, the shrine remained in the possession of this family until the end of the 19th century. The long-term hereditary keepership of this bell is a remarkable story and one which obtained for many medieval objects. This tradition shows the resilience of belief in the power of objects to effect change, for better or sometimes for worse, in people’s daily lives.

2.The ‘Irish Republic’ flag that was flown over the G.P.O. in 1916.

The Irish Republic flag which flew over the GPO in 1916. Green with the letters IRISH REPUBLIC painted in white and gold (vertical) on either side. A large segment torn off one side leaving the lettering incomplete. HE:EW.3224

It is of green poplin cloth with the letters IRISH REPUBLIC painted in white and gold on both sides. A large segment is torn off one side, leaving the lettering incomplete. 

This flag flew from the Princes Street corner of the G.P.O. from Easter Monday until after the surrender, when it was taken as a regimental trophy by the Royal Irish Regiment. It entered the Royal Collection of King George V of England, and was returned to Ireland in 1966 by the Imperial War Museum for the 50th Anniversary of the Easter Rising

This green flag with the words IRISH REPUBLIC painted on both sides was hoisted by the rebels over the General Post Office in Dublin on Easter Monday, 24th April. The rebels hoisted several flags across the city during Easter Week, including the Irish tricolour, a green flag with a gold harp, and the ‘Starry Plough’ Flag of the Irish Citizen Army.

3. The Coggalbeg Hoard, Co. Roscommon, Early Bronze Age, C. 2300-2000 BC

Gold Lunula (2010:246) and Gold Discs (2010:247, 2010:248), Coggalbeg, Co. Roscommon

Throughout the Bronze Age, gold was used to make very fine, elaborated and decorative objects. These would have been worn by people of high status and most likely for special ceremonial or ritual purposes.

Usually, when these type objects are found, they can be damaged or broken and are often found as single deposits and in places associated with water, particularly bogs.

It is thought that these objects were ritually deposited as an offering to gods. Lunulae and gold discs, sometimes called sun discs are examples of such objects. Lunulae are made from hammered gold into a crescent shape. Sun discs are pairs of circular, decorated gold discs, also made from hammered gold. The decoration on sun discs often follow a cruciform pattern, suggesting that these are representations of the rays of light coming from the sun. The use of gold as a raw material is also striking and has its own resilient nature as it is a metal that doesn’t tarnish. To make these objects the metal was hammered out and incised, decorated with elaborate designs.

The Coggalbeg Hoard, which came to light in 2009, demonstrates the resilience of the people in the Bronze Age through their commitment of crafting and deposition of the object, but also the work by the Museum and the Gardaí for the retrieval of the hoard.

The hoard, made up of a lunula and a pair of matching sun discs, was  discovered in 1947 as a result of turf cutting. On discovery, it was placed in the safe of a family friend at Sweeney’s Pharmacy and stayed there until the pharmacy was raided in 2009. The family reported the raid to the Gardaí and described the gold objects that were in the safe. On talking to the family, it became apparent that it was likely the raiders were unaware of the gold objects, as they were placed at the very back of the safe, but also, the description of the objects alerted the Gardaí to contact the Museum.

At this point it was realised that these objects were of archaeological and national significance and the rush to find the safe ensued. A detailed investigation brought the Gardaí to a skip in Dublin, where thankfully, they found the safe from the pharmacy, and the lunula and sun discs in near perfect condition. Following further investigation by National Museum of Ireland staff , they were able to trace the finder and family who found the hoard.

The work by the family, the Gardaí and the Museum demonstrate the effort, commitment and resilience that they all undertook to retrieve this remarkable hoard. The hoard is significant, as neither the lunula, or the matching sun discs were damaged, and it is also the only time that a lunula and sun discs were found together.

4. Puck Fair Photo from 1970

Horse Fair/Donkey Fair:Horses and donkeys at Puck Fair, Killorglin, Co. Kerry.

This picture is of the first day of the three-day Puck Fair of 1970 which was held on 9th, 10th and 11th August. The festival known as the Puck Fair takes place annually in Killorglin, Co. Kerry.

The origins of the Puck Fair are uncertain, but written records from the 17th century refer to the fair at that time and it has been suggested that the fair’s origins are even pre-Christian.

Each year, a wild male goat is captured locally and crowned King Puck in the town of Killorglin by a schoolgirl in her role as the Queen of Puck. The crowning signifies the beginning of the festivities. What is certain is that the Puck Fair has survived for centuries, because of a resilient people’s drive to overcome every obstacle humanity and nature has put in their way.

Even during Ireland’s most trying times, the Puck Fair took place with good attendances reported. This annual fair took place throughout the Great Famine of 1845-51. It would appear that the hardship inflicted on Killorglin and the whole county of Kerry seemed to only encourage the turnout, as people possibly sought comfort in meeting family and friends in the light atmosphere of the fair. The fair of 1845 was described as ‘the best fair ever held in Killorglin’. The fair of 1846 was well attended, and business boomed in 1847 as ponies and pigs were in big demand.

The success of the fair in 1847 is remarkable when one considers that year, known as Black ’47, was the worst of the Famine. With Famine still scarring the land and the people, and a cholera outbreak spreading rapidly toward western counties in 1848, the Puck Fair nevertheless proved too strong for both challenges and was held as usual in August that year. 1849 was no different as sellers, buyers and the curious packed into Killorglin to see the crowning of the goat.

The fair took place every year during the Great War (1914-18) and fears that the politically-charged atmosphere following the 1916 Rising might upset the event were not realised.

5. Panti Bliss’ Noble Call speech dress

Photograph © Julien Behal

The gown worn during the impassioned oration by Rory O’Neill, also known as Panti Bliss, on the stage of the Abbey Theatre in 2014 about homophobia in Ireland.

The contribution helped to kick-start the national conversation on same-sex marriage ahead of the marriage equality referendum in 2015.

The Museum is also inviting members of the public to reflect on objects in their own lives or homes that they consider to be a symbol of resilience, and to post a photo of those items on Twitter using the hashtag #ReflectionsonResilience.

Director of the National Museum of Ireland, Lynn Scarff said; “As a society, as families and as individuals we have had to draw upon our own wellsprings of resilience during this coronavirus crisis. Human resilience is as old as history itself and after examining our own collection through the lens of our new reality, we’ve brought together a selection of objects and specimens that we hope will offer people an opportunity to reflect on our resilience, not only as individuals and a nation, but also as a global community.

Head of Collections and Learning, Dr Audrey Whitty said; “People, and indeed all living things, have always responded to the environment they find themselves in by adapting and learning how to survive in it – just like we are today during the coronavirus crisis. There are countless examples of this throughout our collection and we hope that ‘Reflections in Resilience’ will give people pause for thought during these challenging times. As a country, and a planet, we have overcome great obstacles in the past and we will do so again.”

Some of the items featured in ‘Reflections in Resilience’ on are on display in the National Museum of Ireland, but many have been sourced from its vast reserve collections, not physically open to the general public. Additional objects and specimens will continue to be added to the online gallery as Covid-19 restrictions remain in place and the doors of the National Museum of Ireland remain closed to the public.

Great idea. What 5 things are helping you get through the pandemic? email us or tag my5!