Doll’s house in search of a home
NOSTALGIA: Tara’s Palace doll’s house and the Fry Model Railway Museum are being evicted from their home in the grounds of Malahide Castle
ONE OF the country’s best known doll’s houses, the exquisite Tara’s Palace at the Museum of Childhood, will soon be out of a home. Both the museum and the Fry Model Railway have been given notice to quit the grounds of Malahide Castle. And, as the March deadline looms both attractions are now faced with the task of having to pack up their exhibits because they no longer fit in with Fingal County Councils long term vision for the demesne.The fate of both museums hangs in the balance. While the Museum of Childhood, which is owned by a trust, is on the lookout for a bigger premises, Dublin Tourism is looking for someone to acquire the Fry Model Railway collection because it says it no longer has the resources to maintain it “but is trying to make sure it stays within the state”.
The museums are located in the courtyard of the castle which will be given a makeover as part of a €10.5 million renovation of the castle and gardens. The renovation will make way for a new more commercial courtyard with a garden museum and interpretation area, and a large shop and restaurant. Avoca Handweavers has been rumoured to be in the frame but Fingal County Council won’t confirm names until, it says, the tendering process for the commercial operators for the retail area is complete.
While Fingal says talks are ongoing with the Museum of Childhood about the possibility of it locating in the new improved courtyard, Nicola O’Connor of the Museum of Childhood says the trust is looking for alternative locations. “Its a bit up in the air, we haven’t packed up yet or put Tara’s Palace into storage. Our chairman Matt McNulty explained to Fingal County Council that if we go and Fry goes, there’s not a huge amount for families to visit and we’re a valuable asset but I think they are probably looking for something more commercial.”
She says while there was talk about the museum returning to the newly renovated courtyard in 2012, “what was on offer wouldnt be big enough for our needs. I think they’d like to have us there still but we’d need the collection to be under one roof and we weren’t going to get that”.
O’Connor remains optimistic about the museum’s future and that it will find a suitable home for the collection of antique toys which, includes Tara’s Palace. The 22-room doll’s house was made in 1980 with miniature paintings by leading Irish artists and mini-furniture masterpieces. On the ground floor, treasures include a model of the Lord Mayor’s coach and a 300-year old doll’s house.
Fingal County Council allowed the museum to stay in the Malahide Castle premises free of charge, and most of the proceeds, after light and heat bills were paid, went to children’s charities. She says being forced to move out of Malahide Castle could be an opportunity to diversify. “We’ve a lot to take into consideration. We might buy or rent something.We need to become more commercial and there’s definitely room for expansion. We run little events for kids around Easter and Halloween, and a couple of birthday parties, but if we had more space, we could offer arts and crafts, a project room for schools, and a little retail outlet for selling dolls houses and souvenirs.”
While it is has been mooted that the two museums should be rehoused together, there is some uncertainty about the fate of the Fry Model Railway collection. Dublin Tourism says it has one or two expressions of interest from parties interested in acquiring it. Paul Hayden from Dublin Tourism says Fingal County Council has said it won’t provide the collection with another property big enough to house the collection.
“It’s a shame Fry is closing, it’s a fantastic exhibition and open to both children and adults but our hands are tied. We are just trying to make sure it stays within the state because we don’t have the resources to upgrade it.” He says the Fry collection attracted around 18,000 visitors between April and September last year, over half of which were in July and August.
Despite its popularity, he says the model railway exhibition is expensive to run. “We have to staff it when it’s open on a seasonal basis, and as it was a working railway there are costs involved. We had an engineer working on it to keep it up and running and people to operate the system. We are going to have to dismantle it and record every engine and hopefully will find a suitable person to acquire it.”
In the Museum of Childhood, Tara’s Palace doll’s house was modelled on Titania’s Palace which was made in Ireland in the early 1900s but later sold to a British buyer in 1967. When it came up for sale again in 1978 at Christie’s an attempt was made to bring it back to Ireland but it was eventually bought by Legoland in Denmark.
Veteran collector of model aircrafts and dinky toys Maurice Bryan says his reaction to the plight of both museums is “despair really. The Fry collection is a unique thing, put together by one man and given to the state after he died, which is the kiss of death for an awful lot of things. If that collection gets broken up, we are losing something that we can’t replace.There are bigger railways in Germany, but they’re not hand-made. To the state, heritage generally means bodhrans and fiddles, it doesn’t know anything else.”