Childhood lasts more than one lifetime

Pictured from left, Jasper Smith, Michael Whelan, Majella McAllister and Ellen Gunning.

By Kathrin Kobus

Everybody knows that a clear-out of old things is a good idea. You might sit down, take out items that have been hidden away for years or decades. Suddenly childhood is back like yesterday.
You need the space in the attic, but to just dump precious memories in a bin is painful. Majella McAllister had another idea to preserve and share memories of a bygone childhood with the larger public.

The Childhood Museum Project got underway in 2014, firstly with a place for the second-hand shop which gave her an office room to develop the idea into a proper project. Little steps, in the form of small local exhibitions, followed until three years later the first Museum Event Day occurred.
It was in 2018 the project really took off. “Year four [2018] we had our second event day, the first of our travelling exhibitions (Dublin, Galway, Derry, Belfast and Cork) on Children in War and our monthly exhibitions in the Bank of Ireland, Dún Laoghaire.”

In a case of serendipity, her path crossed with Ellen Gunning, who happened to walk past the aforementioned second-hand shop in Dun Laoghaire. She didn’t buy but gave: family albums, not photo collections with pictures of weddings or christenings but handcrafted family chronicles by aunties and uncles, who the children might not have seen throughout the year.
That way, the life of the wider family circle was recorded and shared with sketches and stories, little poems. “The museum recently did an exhibition of the childhood albums of my mother and her sister and brothers. The albums were all from the 1920s to 1950s and have always been in the family home at 85, Ringsend Road. Originally, the albums were given to my mother, her sister and two brothers, when they were children growing up in that house with her parents. I do remember how we read these albums as children. After my mother died, my father re-married and left Ringsend Road,” Said Ellen Gunning.

NewsFour met with her and her father Michael last December and our conversation switched quickly from the albums to life stories that lay behind them. Michael Whelan opened up more about his childhood, growing up in Ringsend, leaving school at 14, finding first jobs as a messenger boy for chemists in Dublin 4 and later began hauling bottles at the Irish Glass Bottle factory up in Sean Moore Road. He would stay there till retirement.

Quietly and calmly, Michael recalled meeting his future wife, Ellen Gunning’s mother, “We met, and we got married.”

He also recalls snippets of life from a time when wages were paid in shillings and pence, daily or weekly, clothes came from a pawn shop or were hand-me-downs in large families. There are also memories about performances of the choir from the Irish Glass Bottle factory, about changed place names like the chaparral spot where now the Irishtown House is located, his old school in Thorncastle Street, the Dr Beckett Choir, names of the local traders, shop owners who gave you the first job…

Stories like this are the essence of what Majella McAllister is keen to uncover, connecting pictures in sepia or monochrome, objects like the albums donated by Ellen Gunning with the lives of the people behind them and bringing past and present children together and bridging the generations’ gap.

The Childhood Museum Project is not a toy museum and not a library, the charitable status is something that will be decided in the next few weeks, with a big decision pending for March, according to Majella McAllister. “All our history should be accessible; good, bad and the mundane.” Plus on your next trip to Dún Laoghaire, the local Bank of Ireland branch has ongoing displays.

Contact: or on Facebook The Museum of Childhood Project Ireland