Newest Review: ... Broderick has chosen to live in Donegal). If you do opt for Shanks's mare, wear a high-visibility vest over your clothes and walk facing on... more
Doagh Visitor Centre (Donegal)
Member Name: Joker25
Doagh Visitor Centre (Donegal)
Advantages: Cheesy but sweet and informative.
Disadvantages: Difficult to get to without a car. Will likely be dull for very small children.
*This has been on Ciao, where I am tallulahbang. I've changed at least 10 words, though, so it'll be like a whole new read.*
~*~"If it was raining soup, the Irish would go out with forks"~*~
- Brendan Behan -
If you're at all well-versed in your Irish history, you'll know that at one point a few years back (the exact date escapes me just at present, but I'll Wikipedia it before the end of the review) the Irish had a bit of a famine, from which the population has never really recovered. With breathtaking originality, the Irish have taken to calling this 'The Great Famine'. Could this population disaster have been averted if they'd had Smash? Well, yes. But there's no telling the Irish anything, especially where processed mashed potato is concerned.
Most of the country learnt lessons from this: they grew some crops other than potatoes, they shunted the British landlords off to a small and unfriendly corner of the island, and they bought in a truckload of Smash. Then they moved on to bigger and better things (well, you know how it is. You can concentrate on commemorating a famine OR getting a talking turkey entered for Eurovision, but not both).
Donegal, though, is comfortably the maddest of all the counties (although with commendable competition from Kerry and Roscommon), and here they've chosen to celebrate the famine with what is, I believe, the greatest museum in the world. Ever.
~*~"As I walked back to the car, I chatted with an Englishman, who confirmed that, indeed, sheep are dropping into the oceans around Ireland at a regular rate."~*~
- Margeret Lynn McLean -
To get to the Famine Village you'll need to be in the Inishowen area. It's worth the trek north even if you're in the west of the county, as we have the best beaches, feral sheep, the most northerly point in Ireland, the wreck site of La Trinidad Valencera, the highest sand dunes in Europe and roads designed to have the average driver frantically praying to a God unknown for salvation (this, by the way, rather than true faith, is the reason that Ireland is a largely Catholic country).
The Isle of Doagh (pronounced 'doke' rather than 'dough'. My, but Irish is a tricky language) is where you're headed for. With Carndonagh (a town where they actually encourage you to bring dogs into the bank, as the bank manager, by his own admission, gets 'bored with looking at all the money. And, well, dogs are fun, aren't they? The way they run after tennis balls is gas.') as your starting point, take the road for Malin. At the roundabout just outside Carndonagh take the 1st exit and then follow the signs for Ballyliffin. After about 10-15 minutes, you'll see a little brown sign pointing to a road on the right that you think says 'Doagh Famine Museum', but is so overgrown with branches that you totally can't tell for definite until you're past it. At this point you'll probably be thinking that you'll have to drive the couple of miles on into Ballyliffin town to get turned, but you won't. Just reverse up the wrong side of the road until you can make the turning. Stick your hazard lights on: in the eyes of God and the Gardai that makes everything ok.
NB. If you're visiting Donegal, you really need to be able to drive, or have your own chauffeur. The county doesn't have any public transport, as the populace is too sparsely distributed to warrant it. The Famine Museum is easily walkable from Ballyliffin in under an hour, but the roads don't have pavements and are therefore really dangerous for walkers (especially when you factor in that Matthew 'Pedestrian Slayer' Broderick has chosen to live in Donegal). If you do opt for Shanks's mare, wear a high-visibility vest over your clothes and walk facing oncoming traffic.
Once you've made the turn follow the signs for the Famine Village for another 10 minutes or so. This road is steep in places, narrow, precarious, potholed to buggery and absolutely without warning signs. Don't even dream of taking it at less than 40mph, though, for if you do the locals will think you're coming visiting and will welcome you with tea, cake and multitudinous ginger children. Besides, after all I've just told you, you're bound to be gagging to get there.
Once you've found it (which you will, easily. There's feck all else there, apart from some free range cattle and a couple of beaches) park in the car park across from the thatched cottages, and saunter over.
~*~"Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy."~*~
- W.B. Yeats -
What can you expect from the Famine Village Museum?
Well, a total lack of Smash, that's for damn sure. Also, the museum will teach you the following important points:
- Every well known phrase in the world comes from Ireland
- There are few good things in the world that didn't originate in Ireland
- Irish people are, all things considered, awfully like Jesus
Once in the first thatched cottage, you will be welcomed by a madly over-friendly woman who will want to know where you've travelled from, if you've been to Donegal before, whether you agree that it's God's own county (for the love of God, agree), and whether she is related to you ('Are you Bridie's youngest? Sinead's? Now, you're awful like my cousin Caroline around the eyes, but of course she's been dead these last 5 years.') You'll pay Euro7 (about a fiver, roughly) and believe me when I tell you, it'd be cheap at 3 times the price.
The Mrs Doyle of the Famine Village world will then usher you through to the courtyard, offer you tea, and encourage you to have a look round the little gift shop before the tour begins. Now, I'm a total sucker for rubbish gift shops anyway, but by Christ, this one surpassed even my wildest expectations. It's a veritable symphony of pointlessness.
Once enough people have gathered, the tour will begin. When I was there in August that took about 10 minutes. You may have a longer wait if it's not peak season. The opportunity to people-watch will more than make up for it, though, as I saw a father and 2 boys all dressed in matching tracksuits, loads of elderly people in wheelchairs (who, criminally, in my opinion, passed up the chance to have a race) and a hyperactive ginger child who repeatedly ran into a wall and fell over (Darwinism).
~*~"This is one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever."~*~
- Sigmund Freud (speaking about the Irish) -
To be honest, the tour is kind of secondary to what you're really going for: the displays (I wish Dooyoo let reviewers upload photos, because, believe me, these are the worst models you'll ever see. They look like they were made by a blind, mental child.) Despite this, the man who gives the tour is knowledgeable, and a reasonably good public speaker. He was born and raised in the cottages that make up the Famine Village and obviously knows the local area and history very well.
The initial part of the tour deals with life and death on the Inishowen peninsula, and it is here that you will learn that every saying in the world comes from Ireland. A few examples:
Dead ringer - Irish.
Saved by the bell - Irish
Snuffed it - Irish
(as an aside, some advice for life: just accept from the get go that everything in the world, and particularly all the good things, are Irish. It'll make life easier)
At this stage you'll be seated on benches in what looks like a schoolroom, facing a life-sized display of an Irish wake, complete with phenomenally unrealistic models. I highly recommend having a camera with a zoom lens for this bit, because these are memories you're going to want to treasure forever.
This bit is genuinely quite interesting, and elucidated some points I was a bit unsure of. As an example, the tour guide explained that the whole nation starved despite being surrounded by waters teeming with fish because of heavy reliance on a single crop, and a catastrophic storm of a few years earlier which had destroyed 90% of the island's boats and made the Irish wary about going to sea.
~*~"Irish Alzheimer's: you forget everything except the grudges."~*~
- Judy Collins -
The next part of the tour deals with how the Irish buried their dead (by using coffins with hinged bases so they were reusable. That's the kind of enterprising spirit that won us Eurovision three years in a row), and the aftermath of the famine. I was impressed with this part, as it would be the easy thing, historically, to blame English landlords for the slow recovery rate of the people and the land, and an awful lot of Irish narrative claims the English took advantage of the Irish in this period and used them as slave labour in return for food. Tour guide man was at pains to explain that the English employed the Irish to build roads and walls to engender a sense of worth; to feed their tenants at the same time every day would have eventually resulted in the English landlords effectively farming people. Don't get me wrong: I'm not labouring under the delusion that the English landlords were all about the spirit of kinship, rather that the people of Inishowen were not badly treated, and that it's refreshing to have a version of history that strives for truth.
While describing the after-effects of the famine, tour guide man cross-referenced historical famines, as well as more recent ones in Africa and India. This information was pertinent and current, so it would seem that every effort is made to make the tour information useful and accurate.
~*~"When I told the people of Northern Ireland that I was an atheist, a woman in the audience stood up and said, 'Yes, but is it the God of the Catholics or the God of the Protestants in whom you don't believe?"~*~
- Quentin Crisp-
The next bit is about religion, and the lengths the Irish will go to in order to get a bit of praying in. At this point tour guide man departed, and a ginger teenager took over. This boy was well versed in his Irish history, certainty that the Irish are the originators of everything and ability to answer random questions. However, he had the unfortunate oratorical habit of closing his eyes and swaying his head slightly as he reeled off information, making him look an awful lot like a pale, ginger Stevie Wonder.
To be honest, I zoned out slightly here, as I was just enchanted by the displays. When I returned to the fold he'd moved on to the 20th century and how priests (and later Republicans) were hidden. There's a model of a safe house, which you can go through, room by room, and try to work out where the concealed doorways are. The effect is kind of ruined by the fact that the locations of all the doorways are so blindingly obvious that they couldn't be easier to find if they were marked with a large sign that said 'This Is A Door'.
Once out of there and you'll find that the guided part of the tour is over. You're free to stay as long as you want, though, and there are lots of rooms dedicated to various periods and genres of Irish history. Noticeable efforts have been made to be even-handed, so there is an Orange Lodge room and an Irish Traveller display as well as a Mass Rock display. Printed information as well as accurate and recent statistics are printed and displayed everywhere.
To finish up you head back the way you came (giving you another opportunity to be bowled over by the spectacularly rubbish mannequins) and walk down to your starting point. On the way you can go into any of the smaller thatched cottages, which I found pretty interesting. There's a little room dedicated to artefacts, with no real thought given to order or suitability (which is all part of the charm). Worryingly, though, I found the same model of radio, typewriter and television that we had in our house when I was a child. At 30, I am too bloody young to have facets of my life included in museums.
Right before the end is the house that the original tour guide grew up in, where an entire family were raised in a two room cottage. Lastly, you'll be offered more tea and a biscuit as well as the opportunity to part with cash for tat. Just before you manage to escape out the door, the Mrs Doyle on reception will impress upon you that this place turns into Ireland's Lapland come November, and that you'll need to book a couple of months in advance if you're even thinking of bringing your little'un.
From famine to Santa. Only in Ireland.
Even if you linger over the exhibits the whole experience won't take more than a couple of hours. Not so short that you feel ripped-off, not so long that you feel bored.
~*~"It was a bold man who ate the first oyster."~*~
- Jonathan Swift -
*Eating and drinking*
Beyond the tireless exhortations to have a cup of tea, there are no facilities for refreshments. If you go in the morning I'd recommend bringing a picnic and eating it on Doagh strand, which is accessible from the car park (although it's a steep and rocky path, so care is needed). The beach is impeccably clean, has lots of soft sand and is sheltered enough for swimming if you're brave or insane.
If the weather is rubbish (which it will be. It's Ireland, after all) it's a short drive to Ballyliffin where there's a reasonable selection of eateries.
~*~"Ireland is a peculiar society in the sense that it was a nineteenth century society up to about 1970 and then it almost bypassed the twentieth century."~*~
- John McGahern -
Hmm. Depends on how gung-ho you are, I 'spose. I can't remember seeing any disabled toilets. There is a path that leads round the various displays, but it is uneven and steep in places. That said, there were quite a few elderly people in wheelchairs when I was there, although they did have people to push them round. There was one old lady of 100 in a wheelchair who they thoughtfully positioned right beside the display of the coffin, presumably so she could get decorating ideas.
~*~"Other people have a nationality. The Irish and the Jews have a psychosis."~*~
- Brendan Behan -
Told you I'd Wikipedia it. The Irish famine: 1845 - 1852
Summary: The greatest museum. Ever.
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