Festival of Museums wants legions of visitors to join in

Auld kirk museum launch of Roman exhibition, Irene McCafferty and Catherine Boyd. Photo by Emma Mitchell.
Auld kirk museum launch of Roman exhibition, Irene McCafferty and Catherine Boyd. Photo by Emma Mitchell.

Think you know museums? Think again! Forget all the cliches of dusty glass cases and think whisky tasting, dancing and cocktails, not to mention meeting Romans, Vikings, Picts or maybe even a few Victorians.

Because all that and more is on offer across Scotland during the Festival of Museums, a three-day event that celebrates the sheer variety and excellence of our museums.

Now in its 11th year, the annual celebration of the magic of heritage, science and history runs from Friday, May 19, until Sunday, May 21.

Its aim is to get people into museums, so the packed programme hopes to spark imaginations and inspire visitors to find out more about their heritage.

This year it’s bigger than ever before, with 25 per cent more events being held compared to last year.

Joanne Orr, chief executive Museums Galleries Scotland, said: “We host the festival to give museums and galleries, big and small alike, the opportunity to do something special – to showcase their collections in unique and creative ways.

“This year is no exception. The action-packed weekend will give visitors an opportunity to celebrate culture, discover history and learn something new, as well as have some fun!

“We want to ignite imaginations and encourage people to explore Scotland’s incredible museums and galleries.”

With the Antonine Wall running through East Dunbartonshire, museum curator Irene McCafferty said it made sense to concentrate on the Romans.

As team leader at Kirkintilloch’s Auld Kirk Museum for the past six years, Irene was ideally placed to take on the project.

Her proposal was submitted to Museums Galleries Scotland to secure the necessary funding for the Auld Kirk Museum event.

She said: “We had to submit our proposal in November last year.

“I proposed having an exhibition with some interactive parts.

“This includes basket making and weaving demonstrations by Joan Campbell from Bishopbriggs.

“There will also be reproduction suits of armour on show, as well as a history of the Antonine Wall.”

Unlike Hadrian’s Wall which was built of stone, the Antonine Wall was a fortification made of ditches and wooden ramparts, so it has not survived as well.

“Much of it has disappeared and where it is still preserved, you need a greater imagination to picture what it would have been like in Roman times,” said Irene.

Roman soldiers, known as the Antonine Guard, will be on hand to let visitors get a close up look at them!

Local writer Catherine Baird will conduct a writing workshop for children, entitled Write Like a Roman.

Irene explained: “She’ll be getting the youngsters to imagine they are in Kirkintilloch building the Antonine Wall.

“They will then write a letter home telling friends and family what life was like in Kirkintilloch in 142AD.

“Catherine will ask them to determine whether they worked as a Roman soldier or an engineer, joiner or labourer, building the wall or digging ditches. Or they could even be a cook busy feeding the workers.”

To help the children the exhibition boasts maps they can study to let them see the various areas troops were drawn from to work in the Roman army in Scotland.

Irene added: “Some of the letters found were written on tree bark and Catherine will aim to recreate this by using wallpaper with a wood design.

“She will also be using the wax tablets belonging to the museum to let the youngsters see how Roman children learned to write.”

The Festival of Museums has grown steadily since it was introduced as an annual event in 2006.

It is open to all museums and galleries, the length and breadth of Scotland.