Armagh County Museum

Armagh County Museum

Interior of museum

Interior of museum

The Armagh County Museum is a museum in Armagh, County Armagh, Northern Ireland. Located on the edge of the tree-lined Mall in the centre of Armagh city, the museum is the oldest County Museum in Ireland, officially opened in 1937. The building was originally established as Charlemont Place National School and the architect may have been Francis Johnston's pupil, William Murray. However the school was not a success and the trustees transferred the lease to Armagh Natural History and Philosophical Society in 1856. They utilised the premises as their reading room, library, lecture hall and museum. It was their museum that formed the foundation of what would become Armagh County Museum’s collection. They employed architect Edward Gardner to convert the one room interior into two ground floor rooms and a broad balcony housing the museum above. The Society and museum expanded during the latter half of the nineteenth century and by 1888 it could boast 275 members paying an annual subscription of five shillings each. In that year the interior layout of the building was described thus: "To economise space, the reading room, by the withdrawal of a partition formed of shutters, becomes the stage of the theatre, and the theatre and museum are one. A good collection of specimens has been secured for the illustration of lectures on natural history. The library is well stocked with books in the following departments: – Antiquities, Astronomy, Arts, Biography, Chemistry, Economics, Geography, Geology,and Mineralogy, History, Mechanics, Metaphysics, Microscopy, Natural History, Natural Philosophy, Poetry, and general literature..." In 1891 Art Rooms were built immediately behind the museum and for some years an Art School flourished under the auspices of the Science & Art department of the South Kensington Museum.

 

In 1930 Armagh County Council took over the building with the primary purpose of using it as a repository for the County Library but by the far sightedness of the Council secretary T.E. Reid they were persuaded to rejuvenate the Philosophical Society's museum. In 1933 the Council commissioned J.A. Sidney Stendall then Assistant Curator at Belfast Municipal Museum & Art Gallery to write a report on the current state of the museum and how it should be developed. He found many of the "curiosities" collected by the Philosophical Society to be of little value to a modern County Museum and advised "that the few scattered ethnographic objects should be likewise jettisoned, including the very dilapidated mummy..." By 1934 they had expended £1,300 "on the reconstruction of the buildings to make them suitable for a central Book Repository and Museum". The same Council minutes recommend that £50 per annun be spent "for the assistance of the Honorary Curator." The Honorary Curator was 46-year-old local historian George Paterson or as he became known through his writing, T.G.F. Paterson. By November 1934 he had been appointed "whole-time curator for three years commencing on the 1st January, 1935, at a salary of £3.0.0 per. week." Several years were spent rationalizing the collection and refitting the display cases as well as making alterations to the building. This was completed by 1937 and on 28 April of that year Viscount Charlemont in his role as Minister of Education for Northern Ireland performed the opening ceremony. The Carnegie U.K. Trust had contributed funds to complete the refurbishment of the museum and in 1938 they contributed a further £162.10s.0d towards further development of the new museum.

Thomas George Farquhar Paterson was born in Canada on 29 February 1888. His father had emigrated there shortly after his marriage but while he was still a child young Paterson returned to Ireland with his family. They settled on the family farm in the town townland of Cornascreeb near Portadown in Co. Armagh. In his early days he often signed his name George Paterson and his friends knew him simply as Tommy but his numerous articles and essays published in newspapers and journals over the years were almost always signed T.G.F. Paterson. Although he was from a farming background young Thomas was apprenticed to a Portadown grocery business, Davidsons. He was later to continue in this line of work in Armagh, working for the old established grocers, Couser’s which catered for the local landed gentry. He possessed no formal academic training but had a passionate curiosity about his surroundings which served him well in his role as museum curator. He brought an energetic spirit to the new museum and quickly began adding to the collection. His wide-ranging interests meant he was ideally suited to the role and soon was acquiring everything from archaeological artefacts to eighteenth century costume. Paterson’s ambition to collect ranged across all the subjects relevant to a regional museum. Uniforms and accoutrements from the period of the Volunteers in the 1780s were acquired as eagerly as harvest knots and rush-light candleholders used by the rural communities of South Armagh. By the late 1950s the museum had expanded to bursting point and Armagh County Council was persuaded to spend money on an expansion programme.

 

Because of the long history of the museum there has been ample time to accumulate a first-class collection. Archaeology: Many of the megalithic sites in South Armagh were subject to excavations undertaken during the 1930s and 40s. As a consequence the museum acquired a lot of the excavation material from sites such as Clontygora and Annaghmare. This material is supplemented by objects from the private collections of the Philosophical Society. Transport: The transport section contains a wealth of material, much of it ephemera such as handbills, posters and railway memorabilia collected by D.R.M. Weatherup during the 1960s when the local rail infrastructure was in decline. Costume: Paterson’s contacts with many of the Armagh landed gentry went back to his early days when he managed Couser’s high class grocers in Armagh during the 1920s. Decades later when many of the "big houses" were closing up many of the people he had done business back then were only too glad to part with the contents of their ancestors’ wardrobes. Good timing and Paterson’s eye for an opportunity ensured the costume collection developed into one of the best in any Irish regional museum.

 

The Museum has disabled access, with a ramp and lift to the first floor. It can be approached by car or on foot. Just opposite the Museum is the Mall which is popular with walkers. There are a number of steps down onto the Mall and an access ramp a few hundred metres to the right of the Museum on exiting. Armagh County Museum has no catering facilities, but there is a wide range of places to eat, all within a short distance of the Museum. These include informal snacks in coffee shops and pubs, to restaurants catering for lunch and evening meals. Assistance dogs are welcome.

 

Location : Armagh County Museum, The Mall East, Armagh, Northern Ireland BT61 9BE

Transport: Portadown (NI Rail) then bus (270). Bus Routes : 40, 69, 69c, 74, 270 and 371b stop nearby.

Opening Times : Monday - Friday, 10:00 to 17:00;  Saturday 10:00 to 13:00 + 14:00 to 17:00

Tickets : Free

Tel: 028 3752 3070