Our pivot towards education

A small group of school children sit facing a teacher in the Museum's long-term exhibition

Museum Volunteer Caitriona O'Sullivan and a group of local school children.

Our tourism background

When Clare Museum was established in 2000, access to the galleries was via Ennis Tourist Office which had been opened in the building the previous year.  The new museum was to be a tourist attraction for Ennis, a town which was often by-passed by tourists who came to the county to visit the Burren, Bunratty Folk Park or the Cliffs of Moher.  The museum provided visitors with an introduction to the county.

Tourism numbers began to soar when the admission fee, a barrier for visitors, was removed in early 2004.  The following year, at the height of the Celtic Tiger, the museum attracted some 42,000 visitors, the best year yet.  While it was recognised that the museum was a fantastic educational resource, the museum was never resourced sufficiently to exploit that potential with educational activities limited in these early years to guided tours for schools and online quizzes based on photographs of objects on the museum website.  Even these limited activities fell by the wayside following the cutbacks between 2008 and 2013.

Volatility of tourism

By 2010, overseas visits to Ireland had dropped by 10%, a combination of the international economic crisis and the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud in April which caused enormous disruption.  Visitors to Clare Museum dropped to 23,000 that year.  In the years that followed, and without the resources of the Celtic Tiger era, the museum slowly recovered its visitor figures to between 30,000 and 35,000 visitors per year up to the end of 2019. Some of this success was down to increased museum activities, but the continued association with the Ennis Tourist Office was essential.

In March 2020, the museum and the tourist office closed because of the pandemic.  Sporadic opening and a reduction in group visits, overseas tourists and museum activities led to a collapse in visitor numbers once again.  As society began to slowly return to normal, news was received that Fáilte Ireland would not be opening the Tourist Information Office all year round, and that it would be closed to the public from October to May inclusive, going forward.  This would have a significant impact on the ability of the museum to recover as there would be fewer visitors coming to the tourist office and therefore the museum.

Prior to the pandemic, there had been some fresh thinking and experimentation around education.  Combined with the changes in the tourist office, it was clear there was an opportunity for a change of strategy: the development of the museum as an educational resource. To this end, Teresa Carmody O’Shea has been appointed Education and Outreach Officer at Clare Museum.

The museum as an Educational resource

A small group of school children sit facing a teacher in the Museum's long-term exhibition

Museum Volunteer Caitriona O’Sullivan and a group of local school children.

A museum’s greatest educational resource is its collection. There is a long history of museums serving their communities by being educational resources.  For example, in the 19th century, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery contributed economically to its community by providing access to applied knowledge and objects of industrial art for the education of workmen in the design and production of marketable goods.  In the 21st century, Clare Museum now has a dedicated staff member that can provide support to educators in a way that is sustainable for the museum.

Going forward, Teresa, our Education Officer, will be involved with helping to shape the museum’s education policy in the future.  While the museum has always been engaged in education, Teresa is the first full time Education Officer the museum has had. She will organise school visits to the museum, liaise with third level institutions, help with the organisation of public lectures for life-long learners and outreach to communities around the county.  She will also be involved with the curator creating temporary exhibitions and changing some long-term exhibits.  Teresa’s appointment allows the museum to provide a consistent educational service to its community.

Happily, a successful pivot towards education can help to make closure of the tourist office for most of the year less impactful on visitor numbers.  If the local community embrace the museum more through education, and the museum becomes more integrated into the community as a result, the local population will help to promote the museum to tourists.  This is called word of mouth marketing.

Word of mouth marketing, a recommendation made in person, is very effective. The tourism segment most likely to visit a museum is the independent culture seeker, a segment that is seeking an authentic experience.  What is more authentic than visiting a museum that is a cultural institution in a local community, used and recommended by the people of that community? The World Tourism Organisation broadly define cultural tourism as the movements of persons who satisfy the human need for diversity, tending to raise the cultural level of the individual and giving rise to new knowledge, experience and encounters. Cultural tourism is commonly associated with education in this way, some describing it more narrowly as educational cultural tourism.

Therefore, independent cultural seekers are just the kind of visitors that the museum should be seeking to attract.  These culture seekers tend to hire cars, are relatively wealthy, spending more money and staying longer than any other tourist segment.  The pivot towards education will add a string to Clare Museum’s bow, and in time is likely to reduce the impact of the loss of the tourist office over the course of a year by increasing visits from the tourism segment most likely to visit.

Meet Teresa our Education Officer

Teresa Carmody O’Shea is a native of Ennis, County Clare. She previously worked in Clare County Library with responsibility for marketing, PR, social media and outreach and for the adults’ programme of events in the libraries. In 2019, Teresa took a career break to focus on raising her family of four and has now returned to work for Clare County Council as Clare Museum’s Education and Outreach Officer.

Clare Museum’s Education Officer, Teresa Carmody O’Shea.

Teresa says of her new post,

I am delighted to be returning to this new and challenging role and look forward to working with the museum’s curator and attendant, in coming up with exciting new ways of integrating the museum into the local community, particularly with the many educational organisations around the county and beyond.

Teresa will be aiming to engage with everyone from junior infants right up to third level and adult learners to ensure that we are doing all we can to complement and enhance their learning experience.



Fáilte Ireland (2012), ‘Tourism Facts 2010‘ [Accessed, 14th March 2023]

Stainton, Hayley (2023), ‘What is cultural tourism and why is it growing‘ [Accessed, 14th March 2023]


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