Recording 300 years of Irish history
When Jim Callery purchased the private country estate of Strokestown Park in 1979 he didn’t just preserve a piece of local history, he planted the seeds for a museum that tells the story of one of Ireland’s most tragic periods.
At its height, Strokestown Park’s 27,000 acres of land in Roscommon were rented out and worked by Irish tenant farmers. When the Great Famine of 1845-1852 struck, landlord Denis Mahon, largely based in London and oblivious to local unrest, forced his tenants to emigrate, and many ended up on some of the worst of the coffin ships. Mahon paid the ultimate price for his ignorance when he became the first landlord to be assassinated during the Famine period, during which more than a million people died of starvation.
Jim Callery’s ancestors had been tenants at the once prestigious Strokestown Park, but by the time it came into his hands it was in a state of advancing decay.
Jim sustained the property almost entirely by private philanthropy for over 35 years with the help of his Westward Group motor business. He spent millions of his own money, along with help from European Union funds, to restore the house and gardens to create a museum to the Irish Famine.
His dedication to what many would have considered a lost cause resulted in over 300 years of history being preserved in the house, along with thousands of estate documents which provide an extraordinary perspective on Irish history.
Strokestown House wins an EU prize for Cultural Heritage
The Strokestown estate is now a flourishing hive of activity that provides education, employment and enjoyment for the surrounding region. The restoration has been the largest act of private philanthropy for cultural heritage in the history of modern Ireland and in 2017 Jim was announced as a winner in the 2017 European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Awards for Dedicated Service.
The prize is considered to be Europe’s highest honour in the cultural heritage field.