The oldest urban domestic building in Ireland is now home to Ireland’s newest museum which traces the customs, traditions and superstitions associated with death from the earliest times to the 20th century.
The Irish Wake Museum is officially opened today by Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien.
The Irish Wake Museum located at what was the former Dean John Collyn’s Almshouse, a Retirement Home for old people, called ‘God’s People’s House’ was founded in 1478 on All Souls Day, 2nd November, the Day of the Dead. The occupants of the former Alms Houses paid for their keep by praying three times a night for the souls of its patrons and the souls of the deceased citizens of Waterford.
Commenting on the new museum Minister O’Brien said, “I am delighted to support this imaginative initiative which celebrates how death has always been a community event in Ireland. I’d like to congratulate Waterford City and County Council on another remarkable conservation project demonstrating yet again their commitment to our heritage. Many people have supported this project, and I would particularly like to mention David Boles, the co-founder of the extraordinary Irish Museum of Time as well as the late Dr Tom and Mrs Marie Cavanagh of the Tomar Philanthropic Trust. I’d like to also thank the conservation master mason Brian Whelan whose craftsmanship cannot be underestimated. Finally, I’d like to acknowledge all the staff of Waterford Treasures Museums, including Director Eamonn McEneaney, Acting Curator Rosemary Ryan and museum Keeper Donnchadh Ó Ceallacháin, whose hard work and dedication brought this project to fruition as well as the support of the Chairman Des Whelan and the entire Board.”
Mayor of Waterford Cllr. John O’Leary said, “The Irish Wake is a unique and intrinsic element of Ireland’s heritage. It brings communities together, it is a time to grieve together but it is also a celebration of life. This distinct and historic act is one that holds an air of intrigue and the Irish Wake cultural traditions are held in fascination. The new museum is a distinct tourism proposition in a global sense and added to the award-winning collection of museums in Waterford City it re-affirms Waterford not only as Ireland’s oldest City, but an ancient City which celebrates its own heritage and that of Ireland for its locals and visitors alike.”
The new museum is the latest in the Waterford Treasures collective of Museums at Waterford’s Viking Triangle, it is in addition to the Medieval Museum – the only purpose-built museum specialising in medieval history in Ireland – The Bishop’s Palace, The Irish Museum of Time, Irish Silver Museum, King of the Vikings virtual reality experience and the EPIC guided walking tour of Waterford. The Museum houses a remarkable array of objects associated with death in Ireland which the Waterford Museum of Treasures has been collecting for the last 10 years and will offer visitors an opportunity to explore rituals that hold global intrigue and that are entirely unique to Ireland on an intimate guided tour experience. In addition, The Irish Wake Museum has partnered with the multi-award-winning Waterford Whisky and visitors will also be able to book tickets to an Irish Wake and Whisky experience.
Director of Waterford Treasures Eamonn MceNeaney said, “The Irish Wake is one of the iconic parts of our national culture and visitors will get to experience a sense of this at The Irish Wake Museum as we trace the customs, traditions and superstitions associated with death from the earliest times to the 20th century.
At the new museum visitors first arrive at the area once occupied by a shop, the rent from which was used to maintain the almshouse, a new audio-visual showcase explores how the Irish landscape was etched by death over six thousand years.
Moving into the almshouse proper, visitors will experience storytelling through six rooms chronologically from the 15th to the 20th centuries, with different themes associated with death being explored. The exhibition ends by urging people as others have for centuries to Memento Mori - remember death - and to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, to rejoice in life for its own sake and understand that life is no brief candle but a sort of splendid torch which we get hold of for the moment, in order to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”
In keeping with the spirit of the founders of the almshouse Waterford Treasures will donate €1 from each admission ticket to the Waterford Hospice Movement. The museum is now open to visitors, further details and advance tickets can be found at www.waterfordtreasures.com