Home / About Us / News / November 2018 / Publication of new book, Happy Days and Hard Times

Publication of new book, Happy Days and Hard Times

The book is a collection of memories and stories inspired by visitors’ own personal experiences and memories of country life.


The National Museum of Ireland – Country Life is delighted to announce the publication of Happy Days and Hard Times. The book is a collection of memories and stories inspired by visitors’ own personal experiences and memories of country life, copiously illustrated throughout with images of country life and of objects from the Irish Folklife collection.

The book is the result of a project that was started in 2013 by the Museum’s Documentation Officer, Joanne Hamilton, to encourage visitors to the Museum to engage in the process of reminiscence while in the gallery spaces. Using specially designed memory sheets, visitors were invited to record their memories and stories of country life.  These individual memories were then added to a growing archive of personalised accounts. Joanne recognised the potential of the stories and memories she was gathering and set about organising them into a format for publication.

Talking about the project she says:

“The Museum of Country Life is in a unique position as a Museum in that many of the themes and objects that it exhibits are still in living memory for many visitors either directly or perhaps indirectly, through accounts from parents and grandparents. Having overheard visitors regularly engaging in reminiscence whilst talking together in the galleries, I saw the potential to harness this by enabling visitors to record these stories and memories in a simple way. In doing this personal the stories and memories recorded can to contribute to the broader narrative that the Museum of Country Life represents”.

Hamilton says that the first step involved designing memory sheets and designating a memory space in the Museum galleries. The memories and the stories came in a slow but steady stream over the intervening years, including one contributed by well-known Irish singer/songwriter Christy Moore. Joanne says that the accounts she has gathered over the years often demonstrate the impact that the Museum and its collections have on visitors.

She says:

“Early on I became aware that our visitors were making very real and meaningful connections between their own life experiences and what they see on display in the Museum.  Their responses were often quite emotional as they recalled the people, objects and places from their past. What was equally interesting was the differing emotions that similar experiences could elicit depending on who was recalling them. So the simplicity of family life could be recalled fondly by one person while another would remember the hardship or isolation of that life. This diversity is represented by the book’s title, Happy Days and Hard Times.

Acknowledging the public’s valuable contribution to the project, the National Museum of Ireland’s Director Lynn Scarff said:

“this book of memories demonstrates the vast lived experience and knowledge shared by our visitors to the Museum of Country Life in our memory spaces. We in the National Museum of Ireland are deeply indebted to them for their participation and engagement. Their personal recollections have enriched the Museum, animated our collections and increased our knowledge of objects and place”

According to Tony Candon, Manager Keeper of the Museum of Country Life, “our branch of the National Museum of Ireland focuses on the lives of ordinary people mainly in rural Ireland in the last couple of centuries, brought to life through the display of the objects that they made and used.  These are the objects that have inspired the memories of our visitors, now recorded in Happy Days and Hard Times.  I want to pay tribute to Joanne Hamilton for her work in gathering and compiling this selection of memories, which is now being published.”

Happy Days and Hard Times puts visitors centre-stage and is ultimately a very accessible showcase of country life stories and memories, covering subjects from farming, domestic and family life, fairs, summer holidays, to blacksmithing, thatching and other trades. The themes are complemented by the use of both black and white and colour images throughout the book.

Happy Days and Hard Times will be launched by Journalist Valerie Cox on December 3rd  2018 and will be available to purchase from all NMI shops, Price € 12.  It would make a great Christmas present!

Happy Days and Hard Times: Memories inspired by the Museum of Country Life, Compiled by Joanne Hamilton, published by the National Museum of Ireland: Castlebar, 2018, ISBN 9780901777935.

To find out more on the project visit www.museum.ie.