L-R Coleman Curran and David-Boles, who gifted their lifelong collections to the Irish Museum of Time, and Eamonn McEneaney, Museum Director Waterford Treasures. Photo: Patrick Browne
IT was the best of times and it was the worst of times as Covid continued to wreak havoc on the artistic calendar of the community. It was all to come to an end when everyone was vaccinated and life would return to normal. Unfortunately, Covid refuses to follow any rules other than its own and its current Omicron variant proves the most infectious of all.
Nevertheless, the indomitable spirit of artists, composers, writers and performers continues to confront the obstacles the current pandemic presents and the opening of two new museums is the signature moment of the year.
‘This museum celebrates the incredible skills of the virtuoso craftsmen, who, since the seventeenth century, created timepieces of remarkable beauty and technological genius’
I was with Eamon McEneaney in May of this year, curator of Waterford Museums, and he was just proud as punch of the opening of the new Irish Museum of Time. Why wouldn’t he be?
“Look at this collection,” said Eamon with his hands sweeping wide to embrace the whole expanse of it, “You’d stand in the snow to look at it.” And stand you would because this museum celebrates the incredible skills of the virtuoso craftsmen, who, since the seventeenth century, created timepieces of remarkable beauty and technological genius. There are displays here from countries all over the world – Switzerland, Britain, America, France, Austria, Italy and Holland with clocks the size of cranes and another watch the size of a cufflink. The smallest grandfather timepiece in the world that would fit into your pocket is here along with fob watches as big as a giant’s cricket ball and frequently made in gold. The museum was made possible thanks to the remarkable generosity of David Boles, Colman Curran and Elizabeth Clooney whose lifelong collections were gifted to the museum.
McEneaney and Co. were back at it again in June when Waterford opened its new Irish Museum of Silver. This time I was in the company of Rosemary Ryan of the Waterford Treasures Museum for a tour of the new Irish Museum of Silver and Rosemary’s knowledge of these silver treasures was as dazzling as her subject. Silver as a currency always made far more sense than gold, simply because it was more freely available. It made perfect sense, actually. For millennia it was always silver, not gold, that was the real basis of the domestic economies: the foundation for most money-of-account systems, for payment of wages and salaries, and for most local retail trade.
Pride of place surely goes to the Henry de Bromhead case that boasts the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Aintree Grand National Trophy.
This museum was made possible by the remarkable generosity of the Frisby family and there’s a story to everything here. But the biggest story of all is that Waterford has opened two new museums at the height of a pandemic because imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.
Where else in Europe has this happened? It’s all part of the Waterford Museum’s philosophy that we are a city that can’t stand still and that we must see the city in the future when we’re in a post-pandemic era. This is history as we live it. “Next up,” declared a triumphant Rosemary “will be the Museum of Death. We hope to open in Cathedral Sq.” “I hope,” says I, “that I’ll be there as a guest… and not as an exhibit.”
Muintir na nDéise
The Foley Sisters from Ring continue to be a force for Waterford as they record the extraordinary lives of ordinary people. Muintir na nDéise 2 was an all-Irish weekly series, that began on Sunday, August 1, 2021 on WLR FM at 8.30pm. The 10-part series was recorded especially for WLR FM and featured people who live and work in the West-Waterford Gaeltacht. They commented on their lives and times and the changes they have witnessed in the last 60 or more years in Ring. Another series is planned for later this year. The Foley sisters also produced ‘Scannáin Bhaile Andy’ – an excellent TG4 programme on Andrew Kelly, archivist and collector from Kilmacthomas in Co Waterford. Catherine and RoseAnn detailed the massive collection of valuable photographs and film collected by Andy that shed light on the social history of the Déise.
TG4’s Sinéad Ní Uallacháin’s programme ‘Peig’ was a gem and a retrospective of this great seanchaí’s work was long overdue. A loving and open conversation between Sinéad and the dead Peig in the graveyard was deeply moving and reminded me that I once made that same visit and had that same conversation. “Tá daoine fós ag faire amach duit, a Pheig’,” adúirt Sinéad. Peig’s story is unique and her testimony as a woman was rightly celebrated in this excellent programme.
Notable book launches this year included no less than two on the Spanish Civil War. Liam Cahill’s ‘From Suir to Jarama’ followed the story of Waterford man Mossie Quinlan who volunteered for the International Brigade and died at the battle of Jarama just outside Madrid on February 17, 1937, in his fight, alongside Spanish peasants and workers, for freedom and democracy against Franco’s fascists. Along with fellow historian Barry McLoughlin (Senior lecturer in Irish Contemporary History at Vienna University), Dr. Emmet O’Connor (Senior lecturer in Irish History at Ulster University) from the Mall in Waterford also co-authored a new and very detailed work: ‘In Spanish Trenches – The Definitive Study of the Connolly Column and the International Brigades’ that was launched by Waterford Mayor Seamus Ryan.
Poet Róisín Sheehy
Poet Róisín Sheehy published a new book of poetry intriguingly titled ‘Líomóidí ‘s Rúbarb (Lemons and Rhubarb) with pictures by my fellow News & Star columnist Catherine Drea. Róisín has also won several Oireachtas writing awards and her writings have featured on Sunday Miscellany.
I must also mention ‘Cuisle an Chósta’ (The Pulse of the Coast), a recent publication from our own Catherine Foley, who, in co-productions with her sister, television director, RoseAnn, produces top-class programmes for TG4. Catherine’s wonderful memoir of her life and times in the Déise in ‘Beyond the Barricade’ previously won the Best Book category in the Green Room Awards. Catherine Foley also writes for our News & Star Christmas Annual, Festive Star. In ‘Cuisle an Chósta’ she chronicles life in the Waterford Gaeltacht, through a collection of easy-to-read articles from print and radio that provide an insight into daily life in Ring, Co Waterford and into the particular culture and heritage of the area.
More memories from 2021 next week.