Why a Museum of Childhood?

We Must Make the Museum of Childhood Ireland a Reality Now

“I remember, I remember
The house where I was born
The little house where the sun
Came peeping in at morn.”

”I remember, as perhaps, you do, learning that Thomas Hood poem in school– a paean to childhood. In any group of people introduce the theme of childhood into the conversation and words and memories come tumbling out, jostling each other for space, for recognition.

Childhood is at once universal and deeply personal.  In the Constitution the State pledges to ‘cherish all of the children equally,’ This is a pledge that, sadly has been broken over and over again as through the years many Irish children have suffered and some have died through neglect.  We cannot right that wrong, we cannot raise the dead.  However, we can honour those children and bear testament to their lives and the lives of countless Irish children who have lived normal, loving, happy childhoods.

It seems remarkable that there is no one institution dedicated to preserving the memory and records of this important cohort of society.  This is a lacuna that the Museum of Irish Childhood will fill through collecting the fragments of the missing jigsaw of the past and through the active involvement of today’s Irish children, together creating a glorious record of Irish childhood. The reality of the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened for all of us the fragility of life and the brevity of childhood.  Let us remember our children and their childhoods as a beacon of hope for the future. Let us do this in a creative and lasting way by making the Museum of Childhood Ireland a reality.”

Dr Pat Donlon



Rights March. Senator Alice-Mary Higgins as a young child, with her mother Sabina

Why is the project for a permanently-homed Museum of Childhood Ireland so important?

“There is no simple or singular version of childhood in Ireland or anywhere.  One of the reasons myself, Colette Kelleher and others in my Seanad Civil Engagement Group proposed a Bill to promote Traveller History and Culture in Education is because we wanted all children to have an understanding of the diversity that makes up our national fabric. Children’s experiences are different, their circumstances and perspectives are different and what makes a community is when we can share and learn from each others stories. That’s why a project like the Museum of Childhood is so important  and needs a permanent home. By gathering stories and images together in one place it offers insights into the diverse experiences of what it was and is to be a child alive in an ever-changing Ireland and world. It is important to remember also that children may themselves help make that change! I am including below a picture of myself on a march at a very young age and some of the most thoughtful and strong activists I work with as a Senator are the young people demanding climate action. Listening to childhood experience and children’s voices can deepen understanding and I hope, solidarity. As a legislator, I draw on such solidarity when pressing for better social policies, including ones to respect and protect the rights of the child – a key priority for the Museum and its wonderful volunteers. As many children across Ireland navigate new challenges in these strange times, we must remember that their stories matter.”

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins

Photo taken by the MoCI Co Dublin 2019

Photo: Children play in Dublin in June 1955. The Museum of Childhood Ireland aims to chronicle Irish childhood “warts and all”. Photograph Bert Hardy/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

An Irish Museum of Childhood: Recalling Irish childhoods “warts and all”

Edited from the Irish Times, Friday, August 24, 2018, 06:00

“Day of events aims to raise awareness about the Museum of Childhood for Ireland.”

Róisin Ingle. https://www.irishtimes.com/author/roisin-ingle/

“When I visit London, which doesn’t happen often enough for my liking anymore, I always try to go to the Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. I’m drawn to it for suitably childish reasons.

One of the first books I remember ever becoming passionate about as a child was Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. In the book the three Fossil children would often take the bus along Cromwell Road to the museum, or “save the penny” and walk if it was a fine day, trailing their hands along the railings of the grand houses they passed.

The idea that you could actually go and visit this place that I’d read about in a book, where I could visualise Pauline, Petrova and Posy inspecting the museum’s dollhouses, was and still is a kind of book magic to me. Every time I walk into that gorgeous building filled with childhood treasures I think of them.

I love that museum. I wish there was one like it in Dublin. And that’s the wish of a group of people, including museum founder Majella McAllister, who have been working to create such a place.

McAllister says that having seen many museums of childhood, children’s war museums, and children’s museums around the world, she felt “the lack of a similar space in Ireland, but wants a museum where the child is ‘front and centre’. Sometimes you understand more by what a country decides to not say, to not talk about, to not make a priority, than by what it does.”

“We need somewhere to focus on children, to tell their stories, our stories, through objects, art and experiences. We want to tell all the stories around childhood and growing up on the island of Ireland – clothing, medicine, rights, family, war, celebrations, toys, computer games, holidays, schools or institutions. When it comes to childhood there is an awful lot to cover. And most importantly, we want to make space to hear what children are saying – where they can be Seen and Heard, and have their say.”

Some of the other people supporting the project include former director of the National Library Dr Pat Donlon, Dr Marnie Hay of DCU and historians from the History of Irish Childhood Research Network.

Dr Pat Donlon, says a lot of the groundwork has already been done but what they are looking for now is a permanent home for the museum.

“When you hear a museum of Irish childhood you think of old dolls and old teddy bears. And yes, there will be all of that, and it will be a place of learning and of fun for children,” she explains.

“But it will also be a museum of Irish childhood warts and all. We want to create a space, somewhere that is going to tell the story of how children have been treated in Ireland over the centuries, the good and the bad.”

So look, I know there’s something quite big happening in Dublin city-centre this weekend involving a smiley man traversing the streets of our capital in a pimped-up golf cart, but if you want to stay out of town with your children may I suggest an alternative?

This Saturday in Dún Laoghaire, there is a day of events designed to to showcase what a Museum of Childhood might look like and the kinds of exhibits and activities it might include from hopscotch to exciting excavations to puppet shows and writing workshops. The Museum of Childhood event day will keep you and your little ones occupied all day long. Here is a selection of the events.

Mini-detectives will love the display of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books from the museum’s collection at the Lexicon Library but there’s plenty more going on in this space. The Museum have two children’s creative writing workshops. From 2-4pm there’s a writing club for younger teenagers inspired by the History Panel, and inspired by the Children’s Rights panel on vulnerable children and childhoods from 4-6pm there is a workshop for older teens.These are free events but booking on Eventbrite is essential.

This sounds fascinating. An archeological dig for children in the grounds of St Michael’s Church. The dig takes place from 11am until 5pm. If you don’t fancy getting your hands dirty there is hopscotch and puppetry, 11am-5pm, and a seanachaí from 1-3pm.

Marine Road, Dún Laoghaire, events free

Anyone heading to Bloomfield Shopping Centre on Saturday will be hard pressed to recognise the place. The whole centre is being transformed into a giant museum toy cabinet and there will by SmArty Crafty activities there too. There is also face painting and an arts and crafts workshop from 11am until 2pm. Stick around for the traditional Punch and Judy show at 3pm.

Bloomfield Shopping Centre, Lower George’s Street.

At Piggybank, from 11am to 12.30pm there’s a children’s design session with Anna Dobson from Love Mo Chuisle, inspired by te museum’s exhibition on children’s clothing of yore, (and the museum’s Crolly Collection) at the Bank of Ireland down the road. Anna will show a short documentary on how Irish Donegal tweed is made and children can create clothes designs using tweed pieces. The event is free.

A reading inspired by the Museum’s Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Collection exhibition at the Lexicon will take place from 2.30pm to 3.30pm. No booking is required.

Piggybank, Lower George’s Street, Dún Laoghaire

This event at Johnny Carr’s Playground is open to all: A skipping workshop with Skip ‘n’ Rope. Great chance to dust off all those traditional skipping rhymes in Irish and English, and learn some new ones in other languages. Booking is not required.

Johnny Carr’s Playground, Library Road, Dún Laoghaire, 11am to 4pm

In addition to the above events, balloon-making will happen at various locations around Dún Laoghaire between 10am and 5pm. The History of Childhood, Children’s Rights, Children’s Literature, Education and Engagement Panels will all take place at the Royal Marine Hotel from 10am until 6pm. Booking via Eventbrite is essential.

In an interview with Austin Comerton of Irish Radio Canada, Majella McAllister outlines the project:

Have a listen below👇

Have a listen below 👇

Have you heard ‘TLRH | The Hublic Sphere | Past, Present and Potential at the Museum of Childhood Ireland’ by TLRHub on SoundCloud?

Past, Present and Potential at the Museum of Childhood Ireland / Músaem Óige na hÉireann 

“Hello. My name is Lorraine McEvoy and In this episode, I speak to Majella McAllister (founder, head of Youth Voices Team) and Professor Mary O’Dowd (head of History Team) about the Museum of Childhood Ireland, “Ireland’s first Island-wide / diaspora / global, Museum of Childhood.” The ultimate aim of the voluntary group behind the Museum is to establish a physical, interactive and community driven museum, which seeks to be research based, critically engaged and more than simply a repository of nostalgia. They aim to provide both a museum and a platform; connecting the history of childhood with the experiences of children today. As they pursue the establishment of a physical museum, the team have worked on numerous traveling exhibits, community initiatives and projects such as the “Children’s Voices Project 2020/21: Together, Le Chéile” which sought to provide an outlet for children, in addition to creating an archive of children’s responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this episode, we talk about topics ranging from the origins of the Museum, to the range of its voluntary teams and initiatives,  definitions of Irish childhood and how we can respectfully include the full range of childhood experiences. The Museum has a very active social media presence and you can find them on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and X (@museumofci).”

About the Museum: In their Own Words 

“Over the last three decades, the varied history of children and childhood in Ireland has come to the fore of our collective cultural consciousness in ways that are too frequently dark and deeply disturbing. We are in many important ways still coming to terms with the legacy of the outdated belief that “children should be seen and not heard.” At the Museum of Childhood Ireland, we believe that all children should be seen and heard. Our primary objective in establishing the MoCI is so that the museum can lead in creating a new vision for the way in which children are cherished and respected in Irish society. Within the museum, children themselves are central to driving change. 

MoCI is breaking new ground by reimagining what exactly a ‘Museum of Childhood’ could be. At present, there are museums of childhood which focus on toys and nostalgia; there are also children’s museums that offer various activities based on play, educational and scientific principles, and there are social history museums that address some aspects of childhood from the historical perspective. The MoCI adopts elements of all these, and starts with the child, with a wide-angle approach to the subject of childhood that is both islandwide and international in scope. The range is from evidence of the child in archeology, up to contemporary childhood, and children help to shape and drive the museum.

As there is no singular narrative that captures childhood experiences in Ireland, we present an inclusive and holistic view of historical and contemporary childhood to inspire critical reflection and stimulate important and timely conversations about childhood in all its complex forms.”

The Museum Teams and their Recent Projects

To find out more about the Museum of Childhood Ireland, their project teams and all of the work they do, you can visit their website and very active social media pages. 

Website: https://museumofchildhood.ie 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MuseumOfChildhoodIreland/ 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/museumofchildhoodireland/ 

Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/museumofci 

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/museum-of-childhood-ireland/ 

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCx8bymLYkYRJ0tqCNxCx5cg 

Recent Work at the Museum of Childhood Ireland

The team at the Museum of Childhood Ireland are always busy putting together new exhibitions and initiatives, here are just a few that may be of interest to listeners of this podcast: 

  • Dr Matthew Fogarty of the Education Team organised a panel on “Writing Irish Institutions” with Jacinta Daly, Melatu Uche Okorie, and Emilie Pine. You can watch it here
  • The History Team’s Award Winning Heritage Week videos on Irish childhood from medieval times to the eighteenth century are available to watch here
  • For more on the Children’s Voices Project 2020 & 2021 Together, Le Chéile, see here
  • RTE’s report on the death of Ann Lovett and her son in Longford is here (please be aware that this story may be distressing to some): 
  • You can read James Kelly’s article, “Chimney Sweeps, Climbing Boys and Child Employment in Ireland, 1775–1875” Irish Economic and Social History (2020), which is available in open access here
  • You can find out more about Lorraine’s research here

Martin Swords and Teresa O’Donovan, Booterstown,
Co Dublin, 1956

Proclamation of the Irish Republic, 24th of April 1916

POBLACHT NA H EIREANN

“The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally.”

Hill Street playground, Dublin 1970s