Hunt museum opens 'Museum in a Garden' to the public

  • Hunt Museum Garden (Pic: Alan Place)
  • Hunt Museum Garden (Pic: Alan Place)
Enjoying the Giant Chess Board at the opening of the Museum in a Garden, Hunt Museum Limerick was Finn O'Mara, 4, Murroe Co. Limerick. (Pic: Alan Place)

The Hunt Museum, which exhibits one of Ireland’s greatest private collections of Art and Antiquities, has created an exciting new public space for Limerick.  Museum in a Garden takes the Hunt Museum outside its walls to create a public urban garden in the heart of Limerick. The concept behind the garden is to break down barriers to culture and art and encourage greater engagement with the community.

Last year, The Hunt removed the railings around its green space to create the Museum in a Garden. Conceived as an extension to the museum, the garden will feature seven super-sized sculptures replicating artefacts from the museum. First to be installed is Olmec Man, a Mexican artefact that was digitised by TY students and made into a two-metre outdoor replica using 3D printing technologies with help from ESB, Arup, the Limerick School of Art & Design (LSAD) and Monaru.ie.

The beautifully designed river-reflecting sensory garden by Nicola Haines also includes a community garden, a garden chess set, boules and “hills” for children to roll down. Custom-designed benches and personalised cobbles also feature thanks to the support of a public fundraising campaign.

Speaking at the official opening, Jill Cousins, Director, The Hunt Museum, said, “By allowing our objects to escape the museum walls, we hope to intrigue and entertain many more people. It is a work in progress and over the next six months more sculptures will take up residence outside as we hold events in this brand new and exciting space. Everyone was so generous under the Fund a Cobble campaign and JP McManus Golf Pro Am and our volunteers have been numerous and many. Museum in a Garden belongs to us all, to admire the sculptures, picnic, play chess, tend to vegetables or to simply sit still.”

Chair of the Museum, John Moran, said “Great public spaces are where communities come together and barriers and feeling of isolation disappear. Ever since I took over as Chair it has been my ambition to see this formerly somewhat unloved and railed-off space become a true open public space for all the residents of Limerick. My own family was delighted to support this project with a donation to fund the creation of a community garden in memory of my dad, Sean Moran, a builder who loved the river and devoted many years restoring some of Limerick’s old buildings.”

Mayor of Limerick, Cllr Michael Collins, officially opened the Museum in a Garden at a small launch event: “I would like to congratulate the team at the Hunt Museum and everyone who supported this wonderful initiative. Placing culture at the heart of a city’s regeneration gives it a depth of meaning and engages local pride. Museum in a Garden provides a new experience where people can connect with the outdoors while encountering works of art. It will greatly enhance the attractiveness of Limerick as a tourist destination,” he said.

Guest speaker at the official opening, Eanna Ní Lamhna, Biologist and Environmental Consultant, said, “Gardens were originally designed as havens from the outside world. This is indeed a haven and as well as that it is also an extension of the world of the museum. The world of nature is all around and the natural environment of the river is incorporated too. This is a feast, not only for the eye, but also beautiful smells and sounds from the wind to insects and even birds. Take it all in, relax and let the calmness sweep over you.”

Garden Design of Community-Influenced Sensory Garden

Running down to the River Shannon, the garden provides an oasis of calm in the city centre. The garden design was awarded to Nicola Haines following a nationwide competition where her innovative river reflecting, community-influenced sensory garden design won over the judges.

Explaining the concept behind the garden design, Nicola Haines, Tierney Haines Architects, said, “The design draws on the maritime connections of the building and museum collection by creating 'tide lines' of grass and planting that ebb and flow around the garden, creating alcoves of shelter for exhibition space, seating and play. Exhibition alcoves are planted to give a flavour of the origin of sculptures exhibited and provide semiprivate seating, whilst larger spaces create opportunities for growing, learning, games and events. The garden will be an inclusive public garden space which we hope will be loved and used by the local community and visitors alike.”

Built by the Community for the Community

In the spirit of creating a public space, The Sean Moran Community Garden, in the north-east section of the garden, is where vegetables and flowers will be tended by community volunteers with several wheelchair access planters and a sensory garden. Several community groups were involved in its delivery and will continue to maintain it, including St. Mary’s Parish Men’s Shed, Doon Men’s Shed, Southill Men’s Shed, as well as LMHA Le Chéile Men’s Group, Southill Women’s Group and local schools. By getting involved from the start, volunteers have developed a vested interest and sense of pride in the garden project while acquiring new skills and becoming more connected with the museum.

Speaking on behalf of the groups involved in the development and maintenance of the Sean Moran Community Garden, Martina Shanahan, Limerick Mental Health Association (LMHA) said, “The LMHA Men’s shed were delighted to be invited to maintain the garden; it allows us a safe place to meet and work outdoors in a beautiful setting. After Nicola shared her vision with the group, we knew it would offer a very beautiful and communal outdoor space for the community in Limerick.”

Jim Prior, Southill Family Resource Centre, said, “We are excited and delighted to be part of this project. The community garden will provide a space where the 15 plus men's sheds across the city and county can come to contribute to its upkeep and maintenance and allow opportunities for networking between the shed’s projects. Everyone has enjoyed getting hands on and doing something for Limerick while getting to know each other and the Hunt Museum.”

The garden was first established as a priority for the Hunt Museum in 2015. The garden was first opened as a public space in 2016. Then, in 2020, The Hunt Museum removed the railings around its green space to create the 'Museum in a Garden'.

Several key sponsors and partners were involved in the development and delivery of the garden: Arup, ESB, JP McManus Foundation, Kirby Engineering, McMahons Building Supplies, the Moran family, Sadliers Fish & Poultry, UMR Group. Extensive support was given from LSAD-LIT, Limerick City and County Council, Monaru, TLC, Friends of the Hunt Museum, and ACS Construction.

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