A national treasure that is well worth exploring
Published 08/07/2015 | 02:30
Baraka is an Arabic word for a blessedness that begins with God and flows into physical objects, as chosen by God, and onwards into what they create.
I never knew such a word existed but am glad to find out that it does. I discovered the word on a recent visit to Turlough Park House and Museum, near Castlebar, Co Mayo. Somewhat to my embarrassment, I didn't know the museum existed. It is the fourth branch of the National Museum of Ireland and the only one outside of Dublin.
We were out for a drive on the only wet morning of a family break to the west when we came upon a sign for a museum about country life. Failing to recognise the distinctive brown signage, I feared it might just be a few iron wheels lying against a wall. But it turned out to be an absolute gem.
As to it being a well-kept secret, head of the museum Tony Candon later explained that it is publicly funded and currently does not have the budget for much promotion.
The estate was once home to a branch of the Fitzgeralds after they were hunted out of Kilkenny, and the present, Victorian Gothic style, dwelling was built in 1865.
Only two of its rooms were open to the public but any disappointment felt was quickly forgotten when we got to the museum, which is built into the slope at the rear of the house and overlooks the turlach, now lake, after which the estate is named.
Spread out over four floors in modern exhibition galleries, it gives a balanced multi-faceted portrayal of life in rural Ireland from 1850-1950.
Life was often harsh, sometimes joyful, while the sense of family and community was strong. These days, there is a lot of talk about fostering community spirit as if it were something new but really it used to be widespread and was generally unprompted.