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The famine museum in Strokestown started with a tour of a household that was once owned by the Mahons, a rich family from the 1700’s. Mr. Mahon was a landowner who held a very powerful position in his community. The family’s enormous wealth is evident as you explore the house. The rooms are decorated with beautiful wooden dressers and tables, and even some of the wallpaper was still in tact. In the men’s quarters, ropes that hung from the ceiling which were pulled on whenever anyone needed a drink or something to eat. Servants were on call at all times, but were shunned from the house and lived in a different area of the property. When called on, the servants had to go through a tunnel that connected to the house.

The men and women of the house had different areas where they would spend time throughout the day and after dinner. The women had a “drawing room” that was perfect for sitting by the fire and socializing with any guests that were visiting. After dinner, the men would remain in the dining room to converse with each other about politics and agriculture. One shocking piece of information that our tour guide shared with us was that during these intense conversations, the men would be so paranoid about leaving (for fear that someone would sell or buy land behind their back) that they would keep a pot in the room in case they needed to relieve themselves! As you entered Mr. Mahon’s bedroom upstairs, you learned that he and his wife did not sleep together, their rooms were on opposite sides of the hallway. The reason for this was because Mr. Mahon was in constant danger of being killed by tenant farmers who may have been upset with him, so it was safer for them to sleep separately. Between Mr. and Mrs. Mahon’s rooms were a study room, baby room and playroom for their children. It seems as though the Mahon children were the center of attention in the house as their playroom had many toys. The kitchen is larger than a modern day kitchen, with lofty ceilings and many cooking tools.

The juxtaposition between the outside world and inside the Mahon household became obvious after going through the famine museum. On one end of the spectrum, the Mahon family was living in an opulent household with much more property than they needed. The other end of the spectrum was represented by the desolate images of the majority of the Irish population before and during the famine. Going into the museum after seeing such opulence was interesting, yet shocking. You do learn however that even a family who was as wealthy as the Mahon’s was impacted in some way by the famine. They were forced to change their lifestyle by downsizing their property and selling some of their belongings, such as famous paintings. A trip to the famine museum is beneficial because you learn more about one of the most important time periods in Irish history… The Great Famine.

 

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