Muriel François Gahan   

Plaque Railway Station Castlebar
Author's Collection
Reading Room Trinity College 1937
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St. Stephen's Green Dublin
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Irish Rural Campaigner

Gahan’s empathy with isolated rural craft workers was to the fore in her endeavours to assist communities from poverty.

Family

Muriel’s Grandfather Frederick Gahan was County Engineer for Donegal with her Grandmother a Jane Townsend.  Her father Frederick George Townsend Gahan followed in his father’s footsteps to become a Civil Engineer while three of his brothers became Church of Ireland Clergymen.  Her father was employed by the Cavan / Leitrim Light Railway Company prior to his employment with the Congested District Board when it was established 1891. [i]

Education

Born in October 1897 in Magherabeg, County Donegal to an English Mother and a Church of Ireland, Unionist and Freemason father.  They lived at Creagh Villa (now Lough Lannagh Holiday Village.)  following the family’s move to Castlebar during 1900 as the town was the H. Q. for the Congested District Board until its dissolution.  She witnessed the extremely rural poverty throughout the county of Mayo while she travelled with her father as he explained the attempts of the CDB to develop crafts for communities.  In Mayo Muriel Gahan had an idyllic childhood for ten years prior her education in St. Winifred’s school during 1910 in Bangor, North Wales at the age of thirteen.  She returned for further studies in Alexandra College in Dublin, (where she encountered her lifelong friend / collaborator Olivia Cruikshank Hughes.)  She remarked later that it was ‘The Alexandra’ that provided her education. ‘They taught us to be leaders’; as she added a mischievous smile; ‘leaders of what, I’m not quite sure.’  [ii]  Her sports choice was field hockey, she played for Maid of the Mountains team.  During 1926, she embarked on a career as a painter / decorator with an all – female firm, The Modern Decorator during 1927. [iii]

Rural Crafts

During 1929 Muriel Gahan joined the United Irishwomen.  (The name changed during 1935 that meant the organisation became known as Irish Countrywomen’s Association.)  Her decision to retire from her job during 1930 enabled her to pursue a new direction; she searched in Mayo for a Weaver to demonstrate the weaving of homespun tweed for the 1930 Spring Show that resulted in the eventual discovery of Patrick Madden of Belmullet in North Mayo.  She opened a shop with other members of United Irishwomen in Dublin – called The Country Shop on St. Stephen’s Green – with the intention of providing employment to isolated rural craft workers, thus provided them with proper prices for their crafts.  During 1932 Muriel Gahan commissioned the first Aran jumper.  Three years later she launched the Irish Homespun Society as an effort to preserve the Country’s traditions.  Several Exhibitions were held during the annual Dublin Spring Show.  She was the driving force behind the Irish Country Markets Limited; a Cooperative society that marketed crafts and produce during 1946.  She acted as Chairwomen until 1975.  [iv]

Arts Council

As a member of the RDS from 1946; she served on its Industries, Arts also general purposes Committee during 1948. Muriel Gahan was a Founding member of the Arts Council in 1951, she was appointed to the Council of the Arts & Crafts Society of Ireland plus the National Savings Committee during1956.  She was elected the First female Vice – President of the RDS in 1976. [v]

An Grianān

She was instrumental in the ICA’s secured funding from Kellogg Foundation of America for the residential training College at Termonfeckin, Co. Louth that opened during 1954.  On 7th April 2,011 the Murial Gahan Museum of Irish History was opened at An Grianān.  The Museum houses several items of Irish History,Craft plus Culture.  [vi]  The ICA President Anne Marie Denninson ‘We are delighted to open the Muriel Gahan Museum here at An Grianān.  Muriel was instrumental in the development of the ICA & we’re pleased to honour her with this collection on the occasion of the opening of the Muriel Gahan Museum.  We are proud to say that the ICA still lives by her Motto: ‘Deeds not Words.’  [vii]

Muriel Gahan received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Dublin during 1978. Her demise occurred  during 1995. [viii]

Tributes

The Muriel Gahan Scholarship of 2,000 Euro is awarded annually at the RDS National Crafts Exhibition.  An Grianān hosts the Muriel Gahan Museum in her honour.

Footnotes

Muriel Gahan is mentioned in the following publications (A) by O ‘Dowd Anne in the Encyclopaedia of Ireland, 2003 Dublin, pages 424 – 25.  [ix]  (B) by Corrigan Vawn in ‘Irish Aran, History, Tradition, Fashion’ 2019 O ‘Brien Press.  [x]  (C) by Mitchell Geraldine in ‘Deeds not Words – the Life of Muriel Gahan’. 1997 Town House, Dublin. [xi]

She is remembered in ‘Maids of the Mountain Hockey club transcript’ 29 October 2014. [xii]

On this site Janet discusses her memories of Muriel Gahan plus The Country Shop.  She remembers Muriel Gahan when she opened an Exhibition by the Guild in its early days at the Bank of Ireland on Leeson Street, Dublin when it was held in conjunction with the Woodturners.  There is an image of Art that was featured in the Shop. [xiii]

An article by Brian Hoban on the life of Muriel Gahan is published online at this site: http://www.mayo-ireland.ie/en/towns-villages/castlebar/history/muriel-gahan.html

Bibliography

[i] A Women of Craft and Creativity (https://www.irishtimes.com/ ) [assessed 17th July 2019]

[ii] A Women of Craft and Creativity (https://www.irishtimes.com/ ) [assessed 17th July 2019]

[iii] Muriel Gahan ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muriel_Gahan) [assessed 19th July 2019]

[iv] A Women of Craft and Creativity (https://www.irishtimes.com/ ) [assessed 17th July 2019]

[v]  A Women of Craft and Creativity (https://www.irishtimes.com/ )  [assessed 17th July 2019]

[vi] Biography of Muriel Gahan (https://www.biographies.net/biography/muriel_gahan/m/0c41w1y [assessed 19th July 2019]

[vii] Muriel Gahan (http://www.mayo-ireland.ie/ )  [assessed 19th July 2019]

[viii] Biography of Muriel Gahan (https://www.biographies.net/biography/muriel_gahan/m/0c41w1y  [assessed 19th July 2019]

[ix]  Muriel Gahan ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muriel_Gahan) [assessed 19th July 2019]

[x]  Muriel Gahan  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muriel_Gahan) [assessed 19th July 2019]

[xi]  A Women of Craft and Creativity (https://www.irishtimes.com/ ) [assessed 17th July 2019]

[xii]  Muriel Gahan ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muriel_Gahan) [assessed 19th July 2019]

[xiii] Muriel Gahan – Pioneer (https://willisweaver2.com/2010/06/13/muriel-gahan-pioneer/ ) [assessed 17th July 2019]

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