This weekend I went on a road trip to Armagh to visit the Navan Centre as I hadn’t been in about 15 years and an article on the archaeology of burial cairns had started me thinking about ancient history. It had been raining all week so I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be walking up a muddy hill, but it turned out to be a really nice sunny day and we even had a picnic lunch outside.
You can walk up the path to the Navan Fort without going into the Navan Centre, as the site is maintained by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. However we wanted to explore the history and heritage of the site, and my husband loves interactive touchscreens so he was in his element! There was a lot of background information about the high kings of Ireland and why Navan was originally built, as well as the archaeological exploration of the site and links with other Celtic peoples. Then we watched a film about characters from ancient Irish history like Cú Chulainn and Medb, which linked the ancient storytelling really well back to the site of Emain Macha or Navan.
Because the weather was so nice and the sky was clear you could see for miles from the top of the mound. I think I would have found it difficult to visualise how the site would have looked in the past if I hadn’t seen the displays in the visitor centre.
After Navan we ate our picnic in the park and went to have a look round Armagh County Museum. I saw on the NMNI website that the exhibition ‘Rites of Passage’ was on and was intrigued by the promise of objects from all around the world used in important celebrations and ceremonies. My favourite pieces were; an Indian horoscope scroll, traditionally given as a gift to a newborn child, and a fabulous pair of tiny wedding shoes with mother of pearl inlays. I also found myself strangely attracted to a ceremonial wooden headdress.
Although Armagh County Museum is part of NMNI the feel of the main exhibitions were more traditional than the Ulster Museum. The collections are displayed in period wooden glass cabinets and have labels produced on a typewriter, which reminded me of visiting museums with my family when I was a child. I particularly enjoyed the costume collections, there were a lot of militia uniforms from as far back as the eighteenth century, enough to give a really good overview of how the cut and design of men’s fashions has changed. I was also very surprised by the women’s clothing collection, and thought it compared favourably with my recent visit to the Reflections costume exhibition in the Ulster Museum. There were a lot of different formal outfits, one of my favourites was an intricate wedding dress, I really liked that the buttons down the front of the skirt added a bit of detail and kept the skirt from looking too plain in comparison with the rest of the dress.
As embroidery is my favourite craft I was impressed by a huge Orange Order embroidery sampler, with hand embroidered symbols of the Order on it as well as other personalisations such as initials of contributors. I thought the chicken was a nice touch, I’m guessing that one of the members had a chicken farm, it’s great that this sampler tells the story and reflects the heritage of the contributors, and not just the politics.