We chose a pinwheel as our emblem for the Museum of Childhood Ireland.
A pinwheel can be homemade from items readily to hand, or inexpensive to purchase. Played with by children regardless of gender or class, and frequently a memento of a wonderful seaside day trip, a pinwheel demonstrates science, engineering, craft, art and philosophy. It has cause and effect action, and moves in whatever way the wind blows. It signals change, or what change, through your own exertions, (blowing) you can affect yourself. Pinwheels also allow a great scope for creative expression. The pinwheel links to time, to seasons, and the cyclical nature of everything.
The pinwheel is a simple child’s toy made of a wheel of paper or plastic curls attached at it’s axel to a stick by a pin. Designed to spin when blown upon by a person or by the wind, It’s a predecessor to more the more complex whirligigs.
During the nineteenth century any wind-driven toy held aloft by a running child was characterised as a whirligig including pinwheels, and growing up in Ireland in the 50s and 60s this is what our family called them. Later in the 70s my younger siblings knew them as windmills. Pinwheels provided children with hours of enjoyment and amusement, both in the making of and playing with them.
Pinwheels have been around for a very long time. The first documented history of a “whirligig” was in China in 400 B.C.
The pinwheel is significant in Chinese culture where its symbolism is “to turn ones luck around”. It is especially used at Chinese New Year celebrations for good luck and fortune.
Pinwheels began appearing in paintings in Europe during the 15th century.
These are the ancestors of the plastic and tin pinwheels we all played with in our childhoods, and are still in use today.
“English-speakers, and particularly children, began spinning whirligigs as early as the 15th century. Since then, “whirligig” has acquired several meanings beyond its initial toy sense. It even has a place in the common name of the whirligig beetle, a member of the family Gyrinidae that swiftly swims in circles on the surface of still water. The word whirligig comes to us from Middle English “whirlegigg” which is itself from whirlen, meaning “to whirl,” and gigg, meaning “(toy) top.”
Smithsonian American Art Museum
The pinwheel has come to represent such diverse concepts as childhood innocence, unseen energy and spiritual freedom. Most of us though just remember the fun, whimsical, playful toys of our childhood that we loved to make, or receive as gifts, and watched blow in the gentle breeze on a lazy sunny, summer afternoon at home or at the seaside.
Pinwheels are as much a part of Irish childhoods as they are representative of childhood the world over.
Background to the Project-From little acorns
The Museum of Childhood Ireland Músaem Óige na hÉireann, Charity number: 20205452, Company Ltd by guarantee (accounts audited and publicly accessible*) is an Islandwide multi-award winning inter-genarational museum with an important collection of over 25,000 artefacts of material childhood culture. They have a superb social media following too with 36,000+ on Facebook alone.
It began its journey, as all the best stories do, with small steps. The project was interested in reusing the unused Carnegie Library in Dún Laoghaire as the museum of childhood. To raise awareness of, and for an initial funding stream (no Capital fundraising was initiated as a building was not secured at this time) a vibrant little second-hand book/bric-a-brac shop was opened in Dún Laoghaire, in what had been the wonderful Doyle family’s shop. The shop was rented from Doyle’s on a 5 year lease. The shop settled down to provide work for one paid employee, James, and provided free weekly creative writing /art / other classes and events for children/ teenagers / adults – the community, (and also a museum office / HQ, storage), and a free annual whole-town Event Day in Heritage Week each year. We will always be very grateful to the people of Dún Laoghaire through the shop’s support for the early development of the highly ambitious museum project and for helping progress the museum mission: To ensure a museum dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of childhood Past to Present; that all children in Ireland are placed “Front and Centre,” that they are ‘Seen and Heard“.
Read all about the museum and the incredible work it has continued throughout the years here (warning-there is a lot! The museum team are an incredibly dedicated and hardworking voluntary group)
*Shop accountants were: Conor Woods and Robert O’Riordain at Woods & Partners https://woodspartners.ie/
From little acorns…
Mol an Óige…