EPIC the Irish Immigration Museum

EPIC the Irish Immigration Museum

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EPIC the Irish Immigration Museum tells the stories of the 10 million people who left Ireland.

Our visit

EPIC is one of Dublin’s newest museums, opened in 2016 in the historic CHG building. With it’s modern facilities and highly interactive displays the museum is very appealing to families with young children. As a recent returning immigrant I was interested in reflecting on the experiences of Irish immigrants and their contribution to the countries they settled in. When Pea’s Dad had a job interview nearby, we decided to make a day of it.

For the first hour or so it was just me and Pea, while Pea’s Dad went to his interview. We asked about parking the Pea mobile when we booked tickets and were advised to fold it up and put it in one of the lockers. I don’t think any of us expected it to fit. It didn’t.  I felt obliged to push it around one-handed while attempting to control Pea with my free hand.  In the end, an obliging staff member agreed to store the buggy in a locked room, giving me both hands free for optimum toddler wrangling.

Upon arrival, visitors are given ‘passports’ with a space inside to stamp each of the sections as you move through the museum. This is such a nice idea. It’s practical, as it serves as a map of the museum and I found this much easier to navigate my way around than a traditional floor plan. It doubles up as an activity trail, as visitors stamp their own passports in the stamping machines in each room. This would be a great way to keep little people focused.

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The first few rooms focus on individual stories of immigrants, the reasons they may have left (famine, political strife, employment opportunities, missionary work). Later rooms cover the social, political and cultural impact of Irish immigrants worldwide. There were some really nice little touches throughout the museum. In one section, there’s a selection of old fashioned school tables with crayons, which kept Pea busy for a blissful twenty minutes or so. We had the most success, funnily enough, in a room decked out like a traditional Irish pub with little tables, traditional music and pub quizzes. The touch screen quizzes proved to be a great distraction for Pea, and gave me a much needed rest. I also really liked the ‘Achieving Infamy’ section with a myth-busting quiz about notorious Irish criminals.

When Pea’s Dad returned, we were all hungry and Pea was looking tired, so we stopped for lunch. Once Pea fell asleep in his pram we were able to go back for a second walk through and this time I was able to take my time to read the bits that interested me. There is a lot to take in, and even though we spent most of the day here there were still sections that I didn’t get to fully appreciate during Pea’s napping window.

I really liked the fact that the museum shines light on the positive impact immigrants have had in the world and not just on the tragic reasons for leaving the homeland. I had expected it all to be a bit heavy on famine and strife but it was much more balanced than that. The exhibits are interactive and innovative, making some subjects, such as sports, much more appealing to me than they generally would. While there’s nothing here to directly engage with very young children it’s overall very family friendly and Pea certainly found enough to keep himself occupied.

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Essential information

EPIC The Irish Immigration Museum is at the CHQ building Custom House Quay, Dublin 1. Open daily, 10-5. Admission is EUR 15 adults, EUR 7.50 for children 6-12, under 5’s go free. Step free access, accessible toilets, baby changing and lockers are available. The CHQ building has a gift shop and several food and beverage outlets for refuelling.

Dublinia

Dublinia

Dublinia is a heritage centre located in Christchurch Dublin. Visitors can learn all about Dublin’s Viking and Medieval past through interactive exhibits.

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Our visit

I’ve been meaning to visit Dublinia ever since I can remember and certainly long before Pea’s arrival in the world. Somehow, despite my numerous visits to Dublin before we moved to the city I’d never gotten around to it. I’d earmarked this one as something to do with Pea on a rainy Autumnal day, but in the end, after weeks of baking hot weather I just wanted to do something indoors and relatively cool.

There are four exhibitions to explore – Viking Dublin, Medieval Dublin, History Hunters and St Michael’s Tower. Viking Dublin provides some context into the Viking way of life. You can step inside a poky Viking house, learn the runic alphabet (we didn’t) or wield some Viking weaponry (we tried). This part of the experience was the least successful for us, it was difficult to engage Pea with many of the exhibits and I couldn’t read any of the information because I was too busy trying to prevent him from getting trampled by other visitors.

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Medieval Dublin was much more successful for us. Here, you can explore Dublin’s docklands, call into a merchant’s home for dinner, play games from the time and, best of all, do some shopping at the market. The highlight of this was the spice trader’s stall with its selection of spices stored in drawers within Pea’s reach.

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History Hunters focuses on archaeological techniques and the process of piecing together the city’s past. This exhibition included more information to read than the others and I mostly had to skim these as Pea isn’t capable of remaining still for long enough for me to read anything. Still, there were some nice hands-on features that Pea loved. Namely, trying on hard hats and attempting to get his little bubba feet into an adult sized pair of wellies. This section also included some archaeological finds for handling, an opportunity to create a trace drawing and interactive quizzes at the end.

At the end of the History Hunters exhibition is the gift shop, coffee shop and an exit and I nearly missed the final part of the Dublinia package – St. Michael’s Tower. This recently renovated medieval tower offers stunning views over the city. I wasn’t sure how Pea’s little legs would cope with the 96 steps to the top, but to his credit, he got almost all the way up before he threw up his arms to be carried. The views from the top really are gorgeous and it was very quiet and peaceful there. The best bit? All that climbing tired Pea out and he slept for nearly two hours afterwards.

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Essential info

Dublinia is at St. Michael’s Hill, Christchurch, Dublin 8. Facilities include baby changing, step-free access, cafe and gift shop. There’s no designated buggy park but the front of house team let me store the Pea-mobile by the entrance.  Admission is EUR 9.50 per adult, EUR 6 for children and under 3’s go free.

Richmond Barracks

Richmond Barracks

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A former British Army barracks built in 1810 amid fears of a Napoleonic invasion, Richmond Barracks is significant for its connection with the events of the 1916 Easter Rebellion. Following Irish Independence in 1922, the barracks took on various uses but was eventually reopened as a Museum in 2016. The Museum also incorporates the historic Goldenbridge Cemetary. I was keen to visit the Barracks for my own interest not because there was anything that seemed especially enticing for Pea. But you know, you can’t book a babysitter for everything, so this was a case of dragging him along and hoping for the best.

Our visit

Visitors to the Barracks can either take a guided or self-guided tour. The guided tour includes to Goldenbridge Cemetary so we chose the guided option. The Museum closes for lunch between 12.45 and 13.45 and we arrived at around 13.40. The next guided tour was due to begin at 14.00, so we headed towards the cafe to kill time before then.

As we walked down the corridor, I had a peek through the window of one of the locked rooms which is set up to resemble a school classroom. I involuntarily shuddered – the colour of the walls, the heavy wooden desks with the inkwells – it took me straight back to primary school. Irish classrooms haven’t really changed much over the years.

We gathered for our tour with our guide Niall. The tour began in the gymnasium – a nice open space for Pea to run around in with minimal risk of injury to himself or disturbance of others. We learned that every person in the country arrested for involvement in the 1916 rebellion – more than 3,000 – was brought to this very gymnasium where they learned of their fate. It was either prison in England or Wales or execution. The gymnasium is used as an exhibition space and the current exhibition, 77 Women, focuses on the women who were detained at Richmond barracks for their involvement in 1916. You can read more about them here, and the background to the centrepiece of the exhibition, a commemorative quilt celebrating the lives of all 77 women. I would have liked to have spent a bit more time looking at the quilt and reading about the women but Pea was being…well, just Pea.

img_7343Pea tearing around the gymnasium

The tour then moved into the main part of the barracks, or at least what remains of the original barracks building. There’s the classroom, which we didn’t access as it was being used for filming purposes the following day. One room is a re-creation of a soldier’s quarters and the remaining two rooms are re-creations of the residential dwellings that became of the site during two different periods.

The final part of the tour was of Goldenbridge Cemetary. The cemetery is only accessed through these tours or pre-booked appointments so it felt very special to gain access. Pea just wanted to play with the gravel on the ground so he stayed with his Dad near the entrance to the cemetery while I did my best to catch up with Niall’s tour.

Goldenbridge was the first Catholic Cemetary in Ireland since the Reformation. The most notable burials are W.T Cosgrave, the first president of the Irish Free State, and his son, Liam Cosgrave, a former Taoiseach. The thing that struck me most about seeing the grave (Liam is buried in the same plot as his father) is how modest it is.

img_7358Goldenbridge Cemetery

The story that will stay with me the longest though is that of 8-year-old Eugene Lynch. Eugene was killed while playing outside the Barracks. His death wasn’t instantaneous. He was taken to his grandmother’s pub and laid on a table where he bled out. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Goldenbridge, only recently discovered and given a headstone after more than 100 years.

I really enjoyed our visit to Richmond Barracks but most likely wouldn’t go back here with Pea until he is a few years older. The museum cafe, The Mess, is very child-friendly and has outdoor seating and a garden which Pea loved running around in so we would definitely come back for that.

Essential info

Richmond Barracks, off Bulfin Road, Inchicore Dublin 8. Open Monday – Friday, 10.00 – 16.00, access on Saturdays and Bank Holidays is only by pre-booked tours for minimum 6 people. Guided tours take place at 11.00 and 14.00 daily and cost EUR8. Self-guided tours cost EUR6. The museum closes for lunch between 12.45 – 13.45 daily, but the cafe is open then. It’s free to access the cafe and garden.

 

 

 

Cat Lounge

Cat Lounge

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Cat Lounge in Smithfield, Dublin is Ireland’s first cat cafe. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a cat cafe, these are spaces where cats and kittens freely roam the space, playing, licking themselves and looking aloof. Humans are permitted only if they abide by certain rules, and beverages are available. At Cat Lounge Dublin, children under 10 years old generally are not permitted. However, occasional special sessions for under 10’s have been introduced, and I was damned if I wasn’t taking Pea along to one of them.

Our visit

The Under 10’s sessions start at 10.30am as this is a time when the resident kitties are at their most playful and active. When we arrived for the session the duty ‘Cat Slave’ asked us to read through the house rules before going inside to meet the kitties. In essence – you are not Donald Trumpy, do not grab a pussy. No feeding them human food either or forcing them to sit still for a selfie. The cats determine how much or how little they want to interact with you.

I was so excited about this session that I booked it as soon as I heard about it (a previous session had sold out and I could’ve cried). Almost as soon as I’d booked and paid for it I started to worry about how Pea would be with the cats and if he was really too young for this sort of thing. His only consistent experience with cats is with my mother’s cat the super fluffy, ageing and docile Myrtle. She endures his fumbling petting with a sort of resigned tolerance. I am desperately broody for a feline fur baby though so I thought this would be a nice way of getting Pea used to cats and how to treat them.

He was fine. Absolutely fine with the cats. Initially mildly curious, then mostly indifferent to their presence and only really interested in playing with their toys. There was one incident where he handled a teeny kitten more vigorously than I would have liked and on a few occasions, I had to coax him away from infiltrating the Cats Only Zone.  Otherwise all was okay. Perhaps because of his general indifference towards them, the cats seemed to like Pea and it was mostly relaxing for me too, just sitting with Pea and letting the cats and kittens slink around us. The cats are wonderful, my absolute favourite being Frodo – he was lively and playful and his paws! He has an extra digit, a thumb, basically. All of the cats are adorable but Frodo was a bit special.

img_7648The fabulous Frodo

Essential info

Cat Lounge is at 1 Haymarket Square, Smithfield Dublin 7. Sessions cost EUR 15. For further under 10’s sessions, check the Cat Lounge Facebook page. Tea, coffee and hot chocolate are available from a self-service machine at no extra charge. Access is step free and there’s space in the hallway to store a buggy but it is limited.

*Since drafting this post, Cat Lounge have unfortunately announced they will be closing in August this year*. 

Rathfarnham Castle

Rathfarnham Castle

Rathfarnham Castle is an Elizabethan Castle in South Dublin. There’s a playground on the grounds, managed by Dublin City Council. I learned about Rathfarnham Castle during our tour of Drimnagh Castle – the castle at Rathfarnham was built by Archbishop Adam Loftus, who was one of the owners of Drimnagh Castle.

img_7303View of the Castle from the playground

Our visit

We arrived at the Castle just before midday on a scorching hot June day after a short but sticky bus ride. I’d planned to release Pea into the Castle grounds and playground to tire him out first but we were both a bit grumpy and sweaty from the journey so we headed inside to the Castle instead. Visitors can either take a guided tour or go for a self-guided option. After briefly toying with the possibility of joining the next guided tour with a group of seven-year-old school kids (the heat was clearly getting to me) I decided self-guided might be a better option for us.

This turned out to be a good choice, as we were able to explore the Castle interior at our own – okay, Pea’s – pace. He really only has two speed settings these days – Full Throttle or Asleep. So our tour was essentially just me chasing him down long, wooden floored corridors in large ceilinged rooms, steering him away from items of furniture helpfully labelled ‘I’m an antique’ and trying hopelessly to interest him in the ornate ceiling work, glistening chandeliers and stained glass windows.

img_7261Pea attempting to climb the furniture (not an antique!)

This all probably sounds immensely stressful, and it likely would have been, but for the fact that we didn’t encounter a single other visitor or member of staff during our time. No risk of awkward looks from strangers or being told off by staff (in fairness the front desk staff seemed very relaxed). We were also both cool, Pea was happy just running around and I appreciated the beautiful environment, even if I didn’t get to finish reading a single one of the information sheets in each of the rooms.

Just as we were leaving, the seven-year-olds were beginning their tour – perfect timing! We ventured outside then to try out the playground and have a snack. When Pea started to wilt, I poured him back into the pram and we took a walk around the foresty section of the park until he drifted off to sleep.

Essential info

Rathfarnham Castle, Rathfarnham Dublin 14. Open daily May – September, 09.30 – 17.30. From October – April the Castle is open Wednesday – Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays from 10.30 – 17.00. Admission is 5 EUR per adult. Free admission on the first Wednesday of every month. There’s step-free access and a tearoom with baby changing, accessible toilet and selection of kids toys. Playground, tea room and exterior grounds can all be accessed free of charge.

Toddler Takeover at Dráoicht

Toddler Takeover at Dráoicht

Dráiocht is an arts centre Blanchardstown, Dublin with a programme of music, comedy, theatre and family events. The centre has a particularly strong youth arts programme including regular, affordable early years workshops. The Toddler Takeover is an annual event in which the whole of the centre is dedicated to creative activities for ages 1-4.

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Our visit

I was really taken by the early years workshops on offer at Dráoicht but unfortunately for me are scheduled on a working day. When I spotted the Toddler Takeover it just seemed to good to miss and as it was a whole day event and not just a short workshop it seemed justified to book a day off work so Pea and I could enjoy this.

There are optional workshops that could be pre-booked for a small fee. We could choose between Shadow Makers or Drawing with Ribbon. I decided to only book Shadow Makers so that we would have time to enjoy the ‘Roam free’ areas too. Blanchardstown is quite out of the way for us, and getting there necessitated two buses. It took a lot longer than I expected, and Pea skipped his usual naptime, preferring instead to finally succumb to sleep a mere 5 minutes before we arrived at the theatre. I did a little recce of the downstairs area before getting lunch in the cafe and then did the unthinkable – I woke the sleeping child. He took it well enough, and we went upstairs for Shadow Makers with time to spare.

Workshops were advertised as being suitable for 18 months upwards – Pea was a week shy of 18 months at the time and the content was a little too advanced for him. The idea of the workshop was to use a selection of craft materials to create ‘magical beasts and captivating creatures’ which would then be used to make shadow play. We weren’t really given any instruction or much assistance as to what to make and it felt a bit rushed as the whole workshop was only 30 minutes. I did my best to assemble something vaguely suitable while trying to prevent Pea from stabbing himself or another child with scissors. Once we were finished with our creations, we were invited to join everyone else to make a shadow show. This part was lovely and much more relaxed. And then it was all over, and we went off to explore everything else.

img_6859Pea strutting in the main auditorium at Dráoicht

There was so much to explore! The first-floor lobby had a train set and a cardboard train that the kids could crawl inside. In one part of the lobby, there was just a collection of white cardboard boxes of varying shapes and sizes – Pea busied himself picking these up and ferrying them to other parts of the room then back again. It never ceases to amaze me how much joy he can get from something so simple. When he tired of this, we went downstairs to check out the bits we’d missed.

The main auditorium was amazing! Bathed in beautiful, calming pinkish light and with a selection of cardboard dens dotted around the room. The dens were large enough for both Pea and I to fit inside and there were even cushions in there! A live band were playing and the whole thing was just lush and lovely. Throughout the room, there were arts and crafts items and opportunities to paint, draw or make. I loved it in here, and could have stayed all day. In fact I could have probably fallen asleep inside one of the dens, so lovely and chilled out was the whole vibe!

I dragged us away to check out one final room before we had to go. A bright, light-filled room on the ground floor with an exhibition of pencil drawings on the wall. Taped to the floor were large cutouts of the shapes in the drawings – a bed, a dress etc – and crayons, charcoal, chalk and coloured acetate paper next to each one. Children could fill in the cutouts with any combination of materials, which I thought was a genius idea. There were more cardboard structures in the centre of the room, and these had been decorated by drawings and scribblings of previous children.

img_6836Pea tries his hand at some colouring in

In the main foyer I noticed that the benches had blacks taped along the bottom creating a kind of curtain effect. We looked under the curtains – there was a set of wooden stacking blocks set up under there!

We had a really gorgeous day here. I was so impressed by the creativity and attention to detail on display – the various cardboard structures from the train to the dens were wonderful and I loved that the appeared designed to invite the kids to draw and doodle on them. It’s such a shame that Dráiocht is so out of the way for us as I’d love to take Pea some more of their events but we’ll make the effort to go to the Toddler Takeover each year until he outgrows it.

Essential info

Dráoicht, The Blanchardstown Centre, Dublin 15. Toddler Takeover is an annual event and is free, but workshops attract a small fee (5EUR in 2018). Throughout the year, early years arts workshops are available. Baby changing facilities available, step-free access and a cafe on the premises.

 

 

 

 

Trinity College Zoological Museum

Trinity College Zoological Museum

img_79871The Zoological Museum at Trinity College is Ireland’s oldest museum. It’s open to the public in the summer months only and staffed by students from Trinity’s zoology school. Specimens on show include Prince Tom, the ‘Royal’ elephant, the jaws of a Great White Shark and Ireland’s last Great Auk. The Google reviews for this place suggested that there was some kind of interactive element and that was enough to convince me that this would be an appropriate place to take a rambunctious 18-month-old.

Our visit

We combined this with a return visit to the Science Gallery for the new exhibition Life at the Edges. That was not really any more toddler appropriate than last time, but I brought in reinforcement in the form of Daddy Pea and Aunty Pea so it was all considerably more manageable on this occasion.

The Zoological Museum is on the first floor of the Zoology building. When you get to the first floor there’s a big colourful ‘I Visited the Zoological Museum’ banner so you know you are firmly in a nipper-friendly zone. Pea bounded up to a stuffed critter of some kind (a gazelle maybe?). One of the museum staff members came out and said it was fine for him to touch the gazelle, whose name is Dave. You know you’re in safe territory when the staff are so chilled out about toddlers groping the exhibits.

While I was paying for our tickets, Pea became quite enamoured by the museum mascot, a large stuffed toy giraffe. Very helpfully, he was given a smaller version and allowed to carry that around the museum. I’ll never know how many tantrums that simple act spared us, but I’m grateful.

Inside the museum, you can look at all sorts of ex-beasties behind glass. The first thing that caught our attention being the horseshoe crab. It’s displayed in a cabinet with scorpions and spiders which they’re more closely related to than actual crabs. One of the things I love about places like this is the encounters with all sorts of weird and wonderful critters. Fun fact for you – horseshoe crabs have blue blood.

We looked at badgers, sloths, armadillos and an anteater (I rather liked him) amongst other creatures. Pea really couldn’t have cared less about any of this, he was just happy running around cuddling his giraffe and pressing his nose against the glass cabinets.

img_7972Hello Dave

The best thing about this museum is the handling collection. A long table in the middle of the main room includes a selection of items such as animal skins, fossilised bones, teeth, the jawbone of a guitarfish. Seriously, that’s a thing, I didn’t make it up. Visitors are encouraged to interact with these items and ask questions – nothing is labelled so you can try to guess what you are looking at. There are even some live creatures in tanks – I definitely spotted a very large snail – but we didn’t really interact with these. The staff struck a good balance between talking to us about some of the exhibits and just letting us do our own thing. As well as the handling collection, there was an activity table with a jigsaw puzzle to interest older kids.

I’m so glad we called in here as it was one of those rare activities that appeals to both me and Pea. I’m always interested in anything animal related (I mean, I prefer them cute and cuddly and alive as opposed to dead behind glass or slimy and in a tank but you can’t have everything) and for Pea, just being able to totter around and poke at things is all he needs. It’s tiny in comparison to the similar and better known National Museum – Natural History and nowhere near as slick but all the more charming for that. You can’t really touch up anything at the National. We will definitely try to fit in another visit before the end of the summer and I look forward to taking Pea back here each year when he’ll increasingly get more benefit from it.

Essential info

The Zoological Museum is at Trinity College, Dublin 2. Admission is EUR3 per adult, we weren’t charged for Pea. It’s open daily from 1st June to 31st August only from 10.00-16.00. There’s no step-free access so if visiting with a buggy-bound beastie of your own assistance may be needed. I didn’t spot loos, but the Science Gallery nearby does have toilets and baby change facilities if needed. There’s a cafe at the Science Gallery and there’s also The Perch cafe opposite the entrance to the Book of Kells.