Last Saturday afternoon after our visit to the Chester Beatty library we took a short walk around the corner to the main part of Dublin castle. I had never visited before, I had learned in my Irish history classes at university that Dublin castle was where the administration of the country took place under English rule so it had never occurred to me to visit. I was pleasantly surprised at the exterior of the castle buildings, and that they had survived the civil war and were still in use, as lot of other buildings in former colonial countries have been destroyed. I liked the mix of the age of the buildings, from the Norman tower, now housing as the Garda Museum, to the nineteenth century Coach House, now a conference centre.
Jenny from the castle explained that our workshop entitled ‘Dublin castle under attack’ would involve us evaluating the State Apartments and discussing our thoughts. We were encouraged to talk about our expectations and prejudices before seeing the castle. I had noticed that there were large numbers of people in the castle courtyard and Jenny told us that the State Apartments are currently undergoing a change from guided tours to mostly self guided tours with information in several other languages to try to help the flow of visitors.
As I walked around the apartments I noticed a strange lack of signage about what each room was used for, and was a bit confused by the King’s Bedroom and Queen’s Bedroom, as I knew the British Royal family hadn’t ever lived here and there were no beds and barely any furniture. The information leaflet did give lots of information about the paintings in each room though and the photographs of each room helped me identify where I was. However it did gloss over the majority of the history of Dublin castle skipping from the Norman castle to Irish independence in 1922. I found this very strange as this was the heyday of the castle’s usage by the Lord Lieutenants and Viceroys, ruling Ireland on behalf of the British crown. Although this is a contested history i think it is an important area to cover in the information for visitors, as it would place the castle in its historical context and allow people to understand how the apartments were used. I found it very confusing and I have a Masters in Irish History!
The general consensus in the group was that the signage didn’t really work, the ‘No Entry’ signs could have been a little more polite, ‘This way please’ would give the same message in a nicer tone.
With a guided tour it’s possible to avoid directional signs and information panels because the information is conveyed by the tour guide, but the castle has already addressed this with new signs on order. I hope the idea of the ‘then and now’ photographs on the signs stay as that really helps with visualisation of what the rooms looked like when they were in use.
We also discussed the lack of objects on display and that it hasn’t been possible to display smaller items due to security concerns, so hopefully with the updating of the exhibits provision could be made for displaying relevant objects. We were also unable to visit the ‘Dublin Castle through the ages’ exhibition, or the medieval undercroft of the castle. In my opinion it would make sense to integrate the exhibition into the rooms as there was plenty of empty space. It would make the exhibition more accessible to be part of the main Apartments rather than being housed separately, and would provide another insight into the usage and history of the castle. It’s a huge transitional period to go from guided tours to visitors self guided tours and the castle is doing well under the pressure of large visitor numbers and time constraints. I’m excited to see what the finished product will be when the signage is in place and hopefully a few of our group’s suggestions will be taken forward.