Museums in the Construction of a Diverse and Inclusive Ireland
thesisposted on 30.05.2013, 14:26 by Alan Michael Kirwan
Irish society in the early twentieth-first century is experiencing dramatic social, economic and political upheaval and transformation. Concepts of Irish identity and citizenship are being called into question perhaps more so than at any other time in the nation’s history. Recent large-scale migration into the country and burgeoning minority ethnic communities undermine any essentialising discourse of what it might mean to be Irish. This thesis explores whether Irish museums, as public facing institutions, can act as spaces of intercultural dialogue and by extension meaningfully contribute to the development of a successful multicultural Irish society. It assesses whether display and representational strategies within Irish museums codify particular readings of Irish identity and queries the extent to which such readings might exclude more that they include. In attempting to answer such questions I used a qualitative research methodology that incorporated three case-study museums and the analysis of visitor responses to semi-structured interviews at all case study sites. Significantly, the research sample constitutes the views of both ethnic majority and minority participants. Visitor feedback confirmed that Irish museums are places where knowledge and understanding about diverse cultures and peoples are sought and expected to be found. Recent migrants are making use of museums to discover how such institutions define ‘Irishness’ and to better orient themselves in their new Irish surroundings. Intercultural families are actively utilising Irish museums and their collections to educate their children about their culturally diverse backgrounds and to ensure such origins are cherished and not forgotten. Such findings have important ramifications on the social responsibility of museums in fostering a more pluralistic Irish society. My research suggests however, that Irish museums are not maximising on this potential. While some examples of exceptional good practice exist, a wider vision of intercultural engagement and provision is required from the Irish museum sector.