Famine Museum at Strokestown

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Mahon House and Gardens

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

The Mahon estate is a magnificent house that was inhabited by the Mahon family. Thomas Mahon, the first resident of the house, lived there in 1740, and Olive Mahon left the house in the 1980’s. Now, Jim Calory owns the estate and maintains the lavish garden and house. His family formed an interesting circle because during the famine, the Calory family worked for the Mahons. Because of economic problems, the Mahons evicted the Calorys, but 150 years later, Jim Calory (the great grandson) was wealthier than the Mahons and was able to buy the property.

An interesting fact about this museum is that nothing in the house has been replaced or refurnished so all of the original furniture and wallpaper is still there. There are two separate bedrooms because the men and women slept in different beds. Each bed is short because the Irish slept sitting up because it was easier to breathe in the humid air. The dining room has the original wooden table, and after dinner the women would withdraw to the drawing room and the men would stay around the table to smoke and drink. In the drawing room, the women sat around the fire. Like the garden, the drawing room has a false door to pretend that the house is bigger than it really is. The kitchen is a huge room that encompasses a large fireplace for cooking and many shelves to hold various ingredients and pots. On the second level of the kitchen, there is a balcony where the lady of the house would drop her menu down to the cooks. She also watched the servants work and passed orders to them while they cooked.

Surrounding the Mahon family estate lies sumptuous gardens, brimming with hedges and boxwoods, flowers and ponds. Symmetry, a main future of both the house and garden, is laden throughout the Mahon’s gated sanctuary. All objects in the garden that are used to maintain that symmetry, however, do not make the most perfect sense or serve little purpose beyond their balancing characteristics. Two examples of this in the garden are a house window, in addition to a door that leads to nothing, which both add further decoration to the garden, each mirroring an opening in the hedges and an entryway to the garden respectively. This large emphasis on symmetry is, perhaps, one of the most unique aspects of the garden.  The garden is also adorned with a rose garden, green houses, pergolas, stone and gravel walkways, a border garden that has its flowers arranged by color to create a rainbow effect, ponds and pathways formed by hedges.

The theme of symmetry provides tremendous insight into societal ideals of the Mahon family, as symmetry, or the appearance of complete balance depicts order, cleanliness and in a sense, perfection.  It is absolutely astounding as to how the Mahon’s were able to maintain such a luxurious and opulent garden, even during incredibly trying times, such as the Potato Famine. Despite the agricultural blight, the gardens were still well kept and preserved, with the flowers and plants thriving– something that unimaginable to see when one thinks about how gravely the gentry suffered during the potato blight. While not all of the vegetation was able to survive the Famine, it is clear that the Mahon’s did not struggle with providing themselves with crops during the Famine.

Upon visiting the Famine Museum next to the Mahon estate, it is shocking to see the juxtaposition of the estate when it is compared to the little villages on the estate that sprung up around it, and how the Mahons were able to maintain their lifestyle of opulence while the people residing and working on their own land were starving and dying due to lack of basic necessities and malnutrition. While the Mahon’s did experience some economic hardships, these struggles were easily solved by marrying-off a Mahon daughter to a son of a wealthy English family, the Pakenhams.

It is clear that the common man of Ireland, the farmer or anyone who was dependent on agriculture, was maltreated during the famine. Labeled as “bogtrotters” on account of their desperation for food and their eagerness to find food anywhere, the common Irish man was looked down upon by the Irish and English hierarchy and left to fend for themselves. This distinct rift between the classes only intensified the strife encountered due to the potato blight. It is interesting to see how the Irish potato famine compares to modern crises. In both cases, there were wealthy people who were able to maintain their lifestyle throughout the crisis, and there were lower class people who lost all aspects of their previous lives.

Written by Group A – Paige, Madeline, Maddy, Graham, Samantha, Barry

STAY TUNED – Post(s) to come during trip.

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

STAY TUNED – Post(s) to come during trip.