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12 February 2021: National Museum of Ireland and Mayo County Council welcome installation of ‘Straw Sister’ artwork

'Straw Sister' by Maria McKinney is an On Sight artwork at the NMI - Country Life. Image: Keith Heneghan

The National Museum of Ireland (NMI) and Mayo County Council have welcomed the installation of a thought-provoking new sculptural artwork by Maria McKinney at the NMI - Country Life in Turlough Park, Castlebar. 

The work is called ‘Straw Sister’ and is crafted from interwoven synthetic AI (artificial insemination) straws, commonly used in modern agricultural processes.

The artist drew inspiration for ‘Straw Sister’ from vernacular straw crafts in the National Folklife Collection, and a consideration of ancient fertility customs alongside contemporary agricultural practices. 

‘Straw Sister’ was commissioned for On Sight – an annual arts project funded by the National Museum of Ireland - Country Life and Mayo County Council’s Arts Service, in partnership with the Arts Council and support from Mayo Artsquad.

‘Straw Sister’ aims to connect traditional objects, customs and crafts with contemporary realities. When AI was first developed in the first half of the 20th century, a straw of oat was used as the receptacle for the bull specimen. Nowadays, these synthetic straws are made in highly hygienic environments and stored in liquid nitrogen but are still a symbolic carrier - a vessel of contemporary values and meaning.

‘Straw Sister’ builds on McKinney’s previous work for the highly acclaimed ‘Sire’ project which looked at the use of genomics in modern cattle breeding, and included artworks made from AI straws.

Speaking about ‘Straw Sister’, Ms McKinney said: 

I am delighted to see this work installed in the galleries of the National Museum of Ireland - Country Life. The collections held there have provided great inspiration for my practice. ‘Straw Sister’ aims to reconnect the present-day farming practice of Artificial Insemination (AI) with rural artefacts whose function is thought to have stemmed from fertility customs and I am excited to share this with the public. A combination of natural wheat and synthetic AI straws have been intricately hand woven to create the sculpture. My aim with this work is to make visible a normally hidden, though widespread contemporary fertility ritual.”

Liam Doherty, coordinator of the On Sight project for the NMI, said: 

Maria McKinney’s installation offers a fresh perspective on the Irish Folklife Collection at the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life. We endeavour to provide exhibitions that will engage the visitor and Maria’s work, with its underpinning of creativity, science and tradition fits in ideally with this goal.”

Also welcoming ‘Straw Sister’, Peter Duggan Chief Executive (Interim) with Mayo County Council, said:

Mayo County Council are delighted to have been involved with On Sight 2020, and to have supported artist Maria McKinney to create ‘Straw Sister’, a vibrant installation and video in response to the collection in the National Museum of Ireland - Country Life.”

‘Straw Sister’ is now installed at the exhibition galleries in the NMI – Country Life but due to current COVID-19 public health guidance, access to the public is not possible at present. The Museum looks forward in time to welcoming visitors to view Maria McKinney’s installation in person. Until then, the artwork can be viewed through an accompanying film at:

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Further media queries to: Frances Toner, Marketing Executive, National Museum of Ireland – Country Life, T: +353 94 90 31773 / +353 87 7987439, E:


Notes to Editor:

About the artist

Maria McKinney is an artist from Donegal. She is currently the recipient of a Per Cent for Art Commission from Wexford County Council and is a member of Temple Bar Studios, Dublin.
Her work is represented in the collections of The Arts Council of Ireland, The Museum of English Rural Life Reading, Europol, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Office of Public Works, and Bank of Ireland.
Recent exhibitions include a solo at the Museum of English Rural Life, Reading, UK, and group shows in the Gregg Museum, North Carolina, USA; Bozar, Brussels; Sunderland Museum, UK, and Pace University Gallery, New York, USA.

About Mayo County Council Arts Service

Mayo County Council Arts Service is a functional unit within the County Council structure. Through the Arts Service, support is provided to artists, writers, musicians, dramatists, dancers, community arts workers and arts organisations working in Mayo. The Arts Service responds to identified needs of those who make and present art, together with those who are involved in the numerous other capacities within the arts sector. Services are delivered based on the principles of quality, access, inclusion and long-term value.
Mayo Arts Service Facebook :
Mayo Arts Service Twitter: @MayoArtsOffice

About Mayo Artsquad

Since its inception in 1997, Mayo Artsquad has been successfully training Community Employment Participants while engaging and supporting communities through its work. The scheme was initially delivered in partnership with FÁS and now operates in partnership with the Department of Social Protection.

About National Museum of Ireland

The National Museum of Ireland has four public sites, and a Collections Repository:
National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology (Kildare Street, Dublin 2)
National Museum of Ireland - Natural History (Merrion Street,  Dublin 2)
National Museum of Ireland - Decorative Arts & History (Collins Barracks, Dublin 7)
National Museum of Ireland - Country Life (Turlough Park, Castlebar, Co. Mayo)

Due to COVID-19 Level 5 restrictions, and in line with the Government's National Framework for Living with COVID-19, the National Museum of Ireland is closed to visitors until further notice. During this time, we invite you to connect with us online through our range of resources, activities, tours, galleries and exhibitions at

Instagram:  @nationalmuseumofireland

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