By Lisa Marie Griffith
In my last post I mentioned that I visited Cuba this summer. The one museum I had as a ‘must see’ was the Carnival Museum in Santiago de Cuba. The earliest written record of Carnival being celebrated in Santiago dates to 1679 and the festivities centered around dancing and drinking to mark and celebrate the summer season. Its believed the practice probably came from Spain where Carnivals were held from the sixteenth century. Carnival in Santiago is one of the biggest celebration of its kind in the Caribbean.
The Carnival Museum exhibits costumes, masks and musical instruments which were used in the parades and festivities and brings visitors through the history of the festivity in Santiago documenting periods when the Carnival was prohibited or when certain groups were not allowed to take part. Photographs are not allowed in the museum so I was limited to photographing some of the murals on the walls outside.
The museum draws a huge number of tourists and the museum made me think of St. Patrick’s Day Festival. I have to admit that I was really impressed this year by the Dublin parade which had a literary theme to celebrate the city being awarded the title of a UNESCO literary city. The parade centred around an interpretation of Roddy Doyle’s Brilliant. In this book the children of Dublin chase the black dog of depression out of the city, getting the city’s funny bone- how appropriate! Each entry to the parade took a different chapter of the book and the whole story was brought to light and interpreted in numerous unique and creative ways.
The popularity of the annual St Patrick’s Day Parade (first held by teh Free State in 1931) prompted the government to establish formerly the St Patrick’s festival in 1995. Every year communities throughout Ireland come together and submit hugely creative entries to the themed parade on 17 of March. In addition schools, music and dance troupes from home and abroad march alongside them. The festival is celebrated throughout the world with similar parades. Like Carnival, we have established a tradition which is copied and replicated throughout the world. The festival acts as a showcase for who we are at any given year and of course attracts thousands of people to Ireland each March. There are also a huge number of tourists who come to Ireland year round who have an interest in the parade and our festivities.
The Carnival Museum made me aware of the potential we have in Ireland for the creation of a cultural institution that would commemorate and protect artefacts, floats, picture and other historic ephemera which is linked with St Patrick’s festival. When the festival was first started it took just 5 months to plan but today the festival takes 18 months to organise and you can already find details of events for the 2012 parade here.
Surely the product of so much of our heritage and of all that hard work deserves a home! Could a suburban site or unused office block be transformed into a home for costumes, floats, and photographs which document the festival in former years? While cost is an issue for any endeavour of this kind surely the donation of festival artefacts and an internship or volunteer scheme would vastly undercut the cost of establishing such a museum. In addition the revenue the museum itself could generate would help support the running and maintenance of such an institution.
Visitors come to Ireland for a variety of different reasons. Some are interested in seeing their ancestral home, some are interested in socializing, drinking and having fun or discovering about our history. A Parade Museum would interest all of those groups. Perhaps more importantly, I think a museum of this sort would interest Irish people. Every Irish person has a story about their own local parade whether it is marching in or watching on a wet Irish day, coming to the capital to see the largest parade or watching it on tv. While there may be parades around the world on 17 March what we have is a unique and authentic celebration of what it is to be Irish, a symbol of who we are at any given moment but in a wholly positive way and a museum would enshrine that. With so much financial worry surrounding us today I think this would be a fantastic way to look to our innovation to sell us, and to preserve an important part of our culture.