”Warts and all’

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.

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


“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 and children’s war museums around the world, she felt “the lack of a similar space in Ireland”, “Sometimes you understand more by what a country decides not to say, not to talk about, than by what it does.”

“We need somewhere to tell the story of children, through objects and stories and experiences, a social history museum. We want to tell all the stories around childhood and growing up on the island of Ireland, whether that is around 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 want to say- where they can be heard.”

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 History of Irish Childhood Research Network.

Dr Pat Donlon, who chairs the museum’s board, 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.

Write on

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

Can you dig it?

This sounds fascinating. An archeological dig for children with Dr Mark Powers 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.

St Michael’s Church, Marine Road, Dún Laoghaire, events free but booking on Eventbrite for the archaeological dig

Super Giant Toy Cabinet

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. Booking on Eventbrite required for the arts and crafts workshop

Grand Designs

At Piggybank, rom 11am to 12.30pm there’s a children’s designing session with Anna Dobson from Love Mo Chuisle taking inspiration from the Museum of Childhood’s exhibition on children’s clothing of yore, which is on at the Bank of Ireland down the road. Anna will show a short documentary on how Irish tweed is made and children can create clothes designs using tweed pieces. The event is free but booking is essential.

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

Piggybank, Lower George’s Street, Dún Laoghaire

Skip To It

I am hoping this event at Johnny Carr’s Playground is also open to adults: a “professionally run” skipping workshop with Skip ‘n’ Rope. Great chance to dust off all those traditional skipping rhymes and learn some new ones. 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 from 3-5pm. The History of Childhood Panels, Children’s Rights Panels, Children’s Literature and Education Panels will all take place at the Royal Marine Hotel from 10am until 5pm. Booking is essential. The Eventbrite link for all the events can be found at: museumofchildhood.ie or on the Museum of Childhood Ireland’s Facebook page.