Foggy Sunset

Foggy Sunset
Photo by Aisling Doonan

Monday, 3 June 2013

Strokestown House

This June bank Holiday is almost over, so today we took a family trip to Strokestown Park House, to see the house and have a look around the famine museum and house gardens.

What size of a key would you need for this door???

Happily, the weather was perfect, warm, a little overcast but definitely not dull and we had a pleasant afternoon to wander through the woods, listen to the myriad of birdsong and then have a guided tour around the house.

I had watched the TV3 3 part documentary called 'The Big House' a few weeks ago, so I was very interested in seeing the house for myself.  I wasn't disappointed.  We arrived in plenty of time so we were able to have a cuppa in the café, look around the gardens with the kids, take some photo's and wander around the Famine Museum.

The gardens are pretty, a little wild in places, but full of the buzz of bees and birdsong.  There are plenty of seats to sit on and paths that wind around and about, leading you through flowers and lawns.  There is a working vegetable garden complete with it's own Broomhilda scarecrow wearing very chic sunglasses.

There is also a Woodland Walk, which was planted in the early 1700's by Thomas Mahon.  The original pathways have been reopened to the public and it's a very pleasant walk through the canopy of trees, some of which are growing horizontally, where it is cool, calm and silent except for the wildlife songs & chirpings.

We spent ages looking through the gardens, it's sectioned off by little pathways bringing you to separate little havens of peace.  I could happily have stayed there the rest of the day, sitting by the gazebo with a book and a cool drink.  Next time I will go alone and bring a sketchbook or journal and spend time, just sitting & scribbling.

The famine museum, which is also on site, shows the stark contrast between the 'big house' and the lives of the people who lived on the estate.  There is a very personal slant to the museum as it focuses on local people, their lives, their deaths and the way they tried to make better lives for themselves. 

The one thing that did leave a huge mark on me, was not a very obvious thing.  We learned about the famine during school, were aware of the 'Workhouse' as a lot of these buildings are still in use today (in Cavan, it was used as a County Hospital before being St. Felim's Geriatric Hospital) and read books as children such as Marita Conlon McKenna's Wildfower Girl, so I know the general history and tragedy.  I remember as a teenager walking through St. Felim's Hospital to visit the elderly and the coldness and eeriness of the building whose walls seemed to close in heavily around me.  Workhouses have seen to much to be free.  It's not an old folks home now, I'm kind of glad of that.

What struck me today as I stood in front of letters from the 1840's was that the art of handwriting and reading handwriting is slowly dying out.  My children aren't yet at an age where they could easily read script, but when do we ever read other people's handwriting now?  Schools are introducing tablets and letting children type up their homework instead of writing it.  Fewer people write letters to each other.  I looked at these beautifully handwritten letters, so neat and precise, begging for help and I thought to myself, soon people will need assistance to understand them.  It really saddened me (even as I type this, I realise the irony, but I will be journalling this later, promise :)

 I don't mean to take away from the tragedy of what happened, but it was something that made me pause and wonder.

On the woodland walk there are sculptures every couple of yards or so, made by school children in the local area.  These shoes were my favourite.

The house is accessible by guided tour only, but it's well worth waiting for.  You get to see the drawing room, dining room, kitchen complete with balcony for the lady of the house to stand and give orders to the 
cook, bedrooms, nursery and school room, which has the master of the house's copy book open on his desk.  

There is an amazing array of original furniture, wallpapers and personal belongings dotted around as if the family have just gone out for the day.  It is a snapshot of time, a little faded perhaps, but considering some items go back to the 1700's is it any wonder?

The Strokestown Park Schools Sculpture Competition:

"This is a very exciting event that takes place throughout the Summer in Strokestown Park, schools from all over County Roscommon have been invited to take part, by creating a piece of sculpture that reflects or is inspired by Strokestown Park. Be it the architecture or collections within the House, or the tragic story of The Irish National Famine Museum or the tranquillity of the walled Gardens & Estate that is up to the Students. Each piece of sculpture will be placed along the Woodland walk. All visitors to the woodlands can vote for their favourite piece, with kind sponsorship from Investec Bank the winning school will receive €3500.
All will be in place for June and Voting closes in September. Please visit and support this great Artistic initiative."
Taken from 
 This door made me laugh, unfortunately it doesn't open, we did try!

The gift shop has the usual postcards and books, but I did spot and buy some Ayurveda Herbal Tea by the Irish Tea Company which I will give to my dad for fathers day and some Calendula & Orange lip balm by the Handmade Soap Company for me.

We are home now, happy and tired and ready for the week ahead. 

Happy bank holiday 


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