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Get Stuffed! The Curator’s Story

Please enjoy the story behind the Get Stuffed exhibition as told by its curator, William T. O’Neill. Thank you to William for working with the museum on this really fascinating and unique collection!

In July 2020 I started working with the People’s Museum of Limerick to try and bring a taxidermy exhibition to a prominent public space in Limerick. This is a strange subject to frame an exhibition around, but I hope that the following few paragraphs will bring new context to the exhibition. These taxidermy exhibitions have occurred before, and some of them are truly strange. However, this one, “Get Stuffed” has a local Limerick story, and is designed to be educational while also leaning into the macabre element that could be perceived by visitors.

When I started working with Brian Hodkinson of the Limerick Museum many moons ago, I stumbled upon a few pieces of taxidermy in the collection online (http://museum.limerick.ie). I was intrigued to see that there were dozens of species of animals in the collection. I asked Brian, the curator at the time, to explain what the story was behind the collection stuffed animals. He said that they belonged to a man from Limerick city called Paul O’Connor. Mr. O’Connor had made these pieces from the 1970s onwards, before donating them to Limerick Museum.

Unfortunately, Mr. O’Connor’s story takes a tragic turn. He donated these to the museum one random Wednesday, and asked that the museum look after them.

The following weekend, Mr. O’Connor passed away from cancer.

After Mr. O’Connor’s death, Brian Hodkinson and his predecessor Larry Walsh had displayed some of the objects in the Limerick Museum, but most of these pieces never got to see the light of day. Unfortunately due to space constraints, the museum could not have the whole collection on display at once.

This summer, I asked the current curator of Limerick Museum, Matthew Potter, if it would be possible to use the O’Connor collection for a natural history exhibition. I spoke to Rose Anne White, the curator of the People’s Museum, to see if they could accommodate the collection, and she was enthusiastic about the project. The People’s Museum was the ideal space for it, and both Matthew and Rose Anne were happy to have this exhibition on display.

If you visit the People’s Museum of Limerick to look at the collection, you will see the passion that Mr. O’Connor had for his work. While many people will look at these pieces of taxidermy and be a little bit freaked out (don’t worry, that is normal!) there’s actually a real art to these pieces.

All of these animals were killed by accident, either killed on the road or by flying into buildings or electric cables, and Mr. O’Connor shaped these animals to look like they are in their natural habitat. The backdrops, the poses, the sense that they are living creatures.

It is clear that these were to be used in an educational way, so while we called this exhibition “Get Stuffed”, and it leans into the Natural History Museum’s “dead zoo” idea, there is a lot more going on in this exhibition than the name implies.

These animals are staged so that people can see how they lived, whether it’s a hen harrier clutching its prey in its talons, puffins huddling together on a cliff-side, or two otters fighting over their dinner at their couch! These animals were positioned so that it could recreate what these animals’ lives were like. It was, first and foremost, an educational exhibition, to show what these creatures do on a daily basis, whether it is hunting, sleeping, or eating. This is how the exhibits were shaped and designed, and I hope that is what people take away from this collection.

I hope it honours Mr. O’Connor’s memory, and his wishes

I want people to enjoy the exhibition, and I wish to thank everyone who helped bring this exhibition to life, including the People’s Museum of Limerick, Limerick Museum, with special thanks to Rose Anne White for being a great person to work with over the past month.

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