Museum Studies at Leicester

Holly Furlong: Gender rights and the Women's Museum of Ireland

In October 2014 I completed the full time MA in Museum Studies. For my placement, I worked in the Learning and Programmes department of Bath and North East Somerset County Council. The placement in Bath gave me the opportunity to be involved in learning programmes at a variety of sites, including working at the Roman Baths, the Fashion Museum and the Victoria Art Gallery.

As I was coming to the end of the placement, the MA and my time in England, I began the job hunt. My wish list was a museum education/outreach job preferably at home in Ireland. I was lucky to have an interview and be successful for the Learning Team Assistant role at Titanic Belfast while still on placement.

Titanic Belfast is a Visitor Attraction based in Belfast, beside the slipways where the iconic ship was built and launched 1912. Titanic Belfast was another world from museums I had encountered previously, and offered me the opportunity to work within a private organisation; providing a good insight into the business driven environment. I was also delighted that during my time at Titanic Belfast I oversaw our successful application for the Sandford Award for Excellence in Education. 

In summer 2015, I was delighted then to be offered a role as Education Assistant at the National Museum of Ireland, Decorative Arts and History, allowing a move back to my hometown, Dublin. This current role has offered me the opportunity to contribute to Ireland’s ‘Decade of Centenaries’, especially significant during this pinnacle year which marks 100 years since the 1916 Easter Rising. I have been part of the development of the Museum’s public programmes and engagement projects throughout the year, developing events and educational programmes to correspond with our new exhibition Proclaiming A Republic: The 1916 Rising.

Concurrently I have continued my involvement with the Women’s Museum of Ireland. A year prior to my starting in Leicester I had, along with three women been involved in the establishment of the Women’s Museum of Ireland. This launched in March 2013 with a pop-up exhibition Monsters of Creation: Snapshots of Women in Higher Education. At Leicester I had focused my dissertation around the roles Women’s Museums might play in gender rights. The research was fascinating within the academic framework of my dissertation, but it also served a very practical purpose. It was great to talk to these women about what they’ve achieved with their museums and the moves they have been taking to promote gender rights in their museums and exhibitions. 

The Women’s Museum of Ireland is an entirely virtual museum, profiling key Irish women from history. We have collaborated with a variety of groups to run events and pop-up exhibitions. We continually receive requests to visit our museum so last August we launched an ambitious plan to claim Dublin city centre as a museum and create a map locating areas of significance to Irish Women’s History. We sourced information from the public inviting them to send on their suggestions for who should be included.  We had a huge response, being profiled in a number of national newspapers, but most of our support was garnered through social media using #womenofdublin. We have recently finished the difficult task of narrowing down these names and have teamed up with an illustrator to help us put these women back on the map and will soon be launching a crowdfunding campaign. I was very pleased to be able to present at paper on this work at the School’s Global Contemporary conference in April.

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