Happy Days and Hard Times - a collection of visitor memories at the National Museum of Ireland, Country Life - has just been reissued for print, due to its initial success.
The book is a series of stories contributed by the general public during their visit to the museum and draws on their experiences and memories of country life. Included in the collection are memories from a Mayo visitor who remembers the Sunlight soap being used for the washing. The book is a thought-provoking response to the extensive Folklife collection held at the museum.
This beautifully sentimental book, which evokes strong memories, such as collecting hay in the summer or fetching water from the well, was compiled by the Museum's documentation officer, Joanne Hamilton. The project was initiated in 2013 to encourage Museum visitors to engage in the process of reminiscence during their visit.
Using specially designed memory sheets, visitors were invited to record their memories and stories of country life. These individual memories were then added to a growing archive of personalised accounts, which was organised by Hamilton for publication and complemented by an array of archival images from the Irish Folklife Collection.
Talking about the project, Hamilton said: "As a Museum, the National Museum of Ireland - Country Life is in a unique position in that many of the themes and objects that it exhibits are still in living memory for many visitors, either directly or indirectly, through accounts from parents and grandparents.
"Having overheard visitors regularly engaging in reminiscence whilst talking together in the galleries, I saw the potential to harness this by enabling visitors to record these stories and memories in a simple way. In doing this, the personal stories and memories recorded can contribute to the broader narrative that the Museum represents.
"What we’ve found is that visitors buy a book for themselves, older relatives or those living abroad. The thought-provoking stories resonate with so many; those visits to the bog with the flask of tea or cycling the countryside. It brings people into a simpler past, a past filled with colour and conversation, a past where children ran through fields till dusk and neighbours sat for hours whiling away time."
Of course, as the book title suggests, not all of the rich memories of country living are surrounded with that wistful glow; the undercurrent of hard times comes to the fore as people recount their stories. Poverty, overcrowding and hunger all quietly resonate in these simplistic tales of old.”
Amongst the many memories revisited in the book, are stories by people from all corners of the country as well as one contributed by well-known Irish singer/songwriter, Christy Moore, who recalls listening to Michael O’Hehir on the wireless or hearing the day-old chicks chirp underneath the settle bed.
Members of the public can still contribute memories and stories of country life to the memory book project, either via the memory sheets which are available at the memory corner at the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life, or by downloading a memory sheet from the museum website www.museum.ie and returning it with your written memory, to Joanne Hamilton, The National Museum of Ireland – Country Life, Turlough Park, Castlebar, Mayo.
Copies of the book are available at any of the book shops at the three National Museum of Ireland sites in Dublin: Collins Barracks, Natural History and Archaeology and at the National Museum of Ireland - Country Life, Turlough Park.