If you are planning a visit to Cavan, you would do well to pay a visit to the Cavan County Museum in Ballyjamesduff. We have visited a few county museums over the last few years but Cavan’s museum stood out. Museums today should strive to create interactive user experience’s and the museum has embraced this idea.
The Museum is based in a beautiful 19th-century building that was previously a convent used by the Poor Clare Order of nuns.
The nuns arrived in Ballyjamesduff in 1872 with the convent itself being opened in 1883.
In 1992, with the dwindling convent community, a decision was made to close the convent and move to smaller accommodation within the community. Cavan County Council purchased the convent to house the new county museum.
The museum is located on the Virginia Road – it’s signposted but easy to miss the turn (it’s a narrow slip road beside the church).
The building itself is substantial as you can imagine but luckily they have a lot of varied exhibitions to make good use of the space.
Exhibitions include Cavan GAA history, the history of the Barons Farnham (owners of the Farnham Estate for over 300 years until it was sold in the mid-2000s), the Great Famine, Percy French, local links to World War 1 and an exhibition on the Poor Clare Order of nuns.
There are other interesting pieces scattered around the museum like a gun belonging to Arthur Griffith.
Percy French was a famous Irish songwriter in the early 1900’s and he is connected to Ballyjamesduff as he worked in Cavan and wrote a famous Irish emigration song called “Come back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff” and in his honour, a replica statue was erected in the town. I found out recently after posting the photo below on our Facebook page, a descendant of Paddy Reilly told me, he was a jarvey taxi man with a horse and cart who use to drive and collect people from Ballyduff and the Oldcastle train station, he did leave Ballyjamesduff, when he emigrated but he returned a few years later and settled back in Ballyjamesduff.
By far the most impressive features of the museum are the World War 1 Trench Experience and the Visualising the Rising exhibition.
Cavan Museum has a replica trench onsite that was “built to the specifications and manuals of the Irish Guards and used by the Royal Irish Fusiliers at the Battle of the Somme 1916, it is over 350 metres long and includes frontline, communication and support trenches. Over 6000 sandbags were used in its construction. ”
The replica trench is the largest outdoor one of it’s kind in Ireland and the UK. This is very well done and you get a better understanding of what life must have been like in the trenches for the soldiers, they slept in something that resembled a shelf, never far from the rats and mud. With audio posts dotted throughout the trenches, capturing some of the sounds of the WW1 trenches.
Also onsite is “a replica GPO façade and a series of tunnelled-through contemporary building interiors that allow visitors to experience the claustrophobic fighting conditions endured by the rebels.”
You can go inside the GPO during the Rising and experience the tunnelled Moore street houses. We both read a book called Inside the GPO, it was a memoir by an Irish volunteer called Joe Goode, which recounts his time during the 1916 Rising. Goode paints a vivid picture of the last days of the Rising, volunteers tunnelling through the narrow rows of houses on Moore street and life inside for the inhabitants, with James Connolly stretchered into the house, a defiant Sean MacDiarmada and Patrick Pearse looking out at the civilians killed and writing the surrender letter and about life for the impoverished families who lived there. One story about the young volunteer Michael Collins trying to cook his ration sausages in a bedroom fireplace, on quenched emblems so as not to attract the British army snipers with smoke coming from the chimney stack, in the end ashes covered the sausages with Michael cursing the snipers.
The museum has a peace & reconciliation garden that remembers those from all sides of Irish society and the different paths they took, that led some to the trenches in World War 1 and others to the Easter Rising.