The First Museum for the History of Exploration Opens in Ireland - Atlas Obscura
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The First Museum for the History of Exploration Opens in Ireland

Despite the fact that much of history was guided by explorers venturing out into the uncharted and bringing back evidence of a world beyond their own, there is no museum dedicated just to exploration. Now a stately castle in Ireland is being transformed in the first museum for the intrepid history of exploration, as well as a base for future expeditions.

article-imageCharleville Castle 

The Explorers Museum, announced last month, will be housed in Charleville Castle in Tullamore, Ireland, about an hour and a half outside of Dublin. The museum is the brainchild of co-founders Lorie Karnath, 37th president of the Explorers Club, and Tim Lavery, director of the World Explorers Bureau. Set up as a non-profit, the Explorers Museum is aimed at giving recognition to the history of expeditions, with exhibitions in a gallery space, as well as serving as a base from which new ventures could be launched. 

Appropriately, the 18th century castle was once the home of Everest expedition leader and Himalayan amateur botanist Colonel Charles Kenneth Howard-Bury, and the imposing structure is set amidst an ancient oak forest with trees as old as 900 years. The coat of arms for the Explorers Museum mixes this history with its own ambitions, with a dragon and boar flanking a shield where climbing axes cross in front of a mountain that peaks between the moon and a star. 

Explorers Museum co-founder Lorie Karnath answered some of our questions about the new exploration center:  

How did the Explorers Museum come about?

Although many of the artifacts, dioramas and art in museums today are the direct result of exploration, the explorers themselves who have been responsible for these are rarely heralded, if even acknowledged. Exploration over and over has expanded humankind’s boundaries, and yet many of the daring men and woman who are the impetus for these great shifts in knowledge and thinking are largely forgotten.

To better understand our planet and beyond it is important to appreciate the individual contributions and challenges faced by those who have dared to contemplate the unknown and have served to make this familiar. Many explorers, even those who achieve recognition as household names in their time, are often too soon unsung. The intent of the establishment of the Explorers Museum is to distinguish the achievements of earlier heroes as well as identify current and up and coming feats of exploration that change the world as we know it.

article-imageLorie Karnath in the castle entranceway


Why is this the time to open an Explorers Museum? Some might say that the age of exploration has passed.

It is certain that the landscape of exploration has changed dramatically since the development of widespread technologies. In an era dominated by satellites, air travel, and worldwide connectivity, the shifting frontiers of exploration are ever-expanding. While it is true that the exploration realm today is replete with a wide technological roster, it is precisely such capabilities that are enabling new forms of discovery and even new definitions of what the scope of exploration entails. That some today might believe that the age of exploration has passed, serves to further emphasize the need to found a museum dedicated to the recognition of explorers and exploration and the discoveries that result from this.

At present we have entered a new “golden” age of exploration, or perhaps better described as the “lanthanides” era of exploration, due to the advent of the numerous constantly evolving technological tools that exist. Such technological advancements are helping us not only learn new things about places and species that at one point or another were believed to be fully discovered, such new means of evaluation are even helping to overturn previous known “facts.” 

It is clear that technology has and will continue to play an increasingly important role in exploration and discovery, and as explorers we must continue to adapt and keep up-to-date as new gear, tools, and methods are developed. As we continue to grow and expand our worldwide associations and exchanges without the burdens of borders and protocol that hamper most organizations, it appears increasingly clear that technology will provide exploration the ability to continue to play an ever greater role going forward, one that will help to determine how best to balance resources and sustain environments. Undoubtedly exploration will remain central in fostering these discoveries.

Even with this plethora of new devices, exploration remains a challenging endeavor. Although technical advances have facilitated access to many previously unattainable regions, the extremely volatile natural environments of some of the Earth’s (and beyond), more remote spots pose substantial logistical problems for some areas and these remain capricious and elusive. There is still much to explore.

article-imageCo-founders Lorie Karnath and Tim Lavery in the William Morris room  of the castle, the intended primary exhibition space.


The Charleville Castle seems like a stunning place for the museum, but also very ambitious. Why go for a castle rather than, say, a shiny new building more designed for your needs?

The idea of a museum is to share an experience with the viewer. I have often wondered about organizations dedicated towards inciting enthusiasm for exploration and field research that ensconce themselves in “shiny” or not buildings, located in urban centers. The Charleville Castle is the perfect venue for the Museum of Exploration, the visit to the site in itself inspires the spirit of adventure, exploration, and discovery.

This castle located in the midst of a primordial woods, which were once the hunting grounds of druids, is the former home of explorer/naturalist Charles Howard-Bury — it served as the base for many of his expeditions. At the same time the terms and definitions of a museum are changing. It is perhaps particularly apt that the Explorers Museum is exploring new ways of conducting museum work, new forms of research, collections, exhibitions, and public service for curation. Our program will have both actual and virtual components. We are working on a virtual collection including some 3D objects, which tell inspiring stories that can be shared with many more than any walk-in museum could accommodate.

However, it is real objects that draw people because of their inspirational value. No virtual representation is ever as powerful as the real thing. In the choice of Charleville Castle as the exhibition space, one traverses the courtyard where tents were set up in preparation for the first Everest Reconnaissance Expedition, walks the halls where maps were spread to plan itineraries, so the visitor is able to experience the real thing before even viewing the exhibit underway. It is not just the objects themselves that are the focus of attention, but the everlasting life of the person or people associated with these that stimulate and provoke. It is these stories that we intend to tell.

I know that it’s in its initial stages, but what could you tell us about upcoming exhibitions/projects of the museum?

In its first year the museum projects will tie in closely to Charles Howard-Bury, the former resident of the castle. As Howard-Bury was a noted naturalist and adept alpinist, there will be significant focus on mountain exploration in particular. Near term we will be recognizing some young explorers and their recent expeditions that in fact retraced one of the Howard-Bury expeditions. An exhibit is planned for late summer that will highlight much Howard-Bury’s contributions to the realm of exploration, as well as other historical mountain achievements. The event will also celebrate a number of present day explorers who through exploration have been particularly instrumental in expanding our knowledge and understanding of mountains.

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More on the Explorers Museum and updates on their activities can be found on their site and their Facebook.