In this week’s blog Faith Linehan, a recent QUB MA graduate, discusses her public history internship at Hillsborough Castle:
Let me introduce myself, my name is Faith Linehan, I’m from Texas, I love spicy food, history museums, and dogs, and I’ve just completed an MA at Queen’s University Belfast. Why Queen’s? I wanted to study Irish history because that was an area of history that I had never learned much about during my undergrad. But I also wanted to come back to Belfast since I did a Study Abroad semester here back in 2015. When I was registering for courses to take for my MA there was one that really stood out: the Public History Internship. I had no idea what all it entailed, but it sounded interesting and getting practical experience is always helpful in the job hunt. At the first meeting with the module convenor, Dr Olwen Purdue, I got even more excited by the options we could choose from for our internships. The one that most intrigued me most was Hillsborough Castle.
I should probably mention that I have researched the British royal family for years, primarily the older royals from previous centuries, but that fascination carried over into the modern family members. So when I learned that we could potentially work at the royal residence in Northern Ireland I knew I had to try for a position there. Thankfully I was accepted and assigned to the curatorial team.
As one of the official royal residences, Hillsborough Castle is managed by Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) which also manages Hampton Court, Kensington Palace, Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, and Windsor Castle. Hillsborough Castle is unique in the HRP holdings because it is a relatively new feature to the town of Hillsborough, having only been built in the early eighteenth century. It was originally owned by the Hill family before they gifted it to the Northern Ireland government in the 1920s. The Hill family has been in Hillsborough since 1611, hence the name of the town. They have also been active members of British politics, two of the most notable William Hill, who was a Privy Councillor to both Charles II and James II, and Wills Hill, who was the 1st Marquess of Downshire as well as Secretary of State for the (American) Colonies from 1768 to 1772. Apparently, Benjamin Franklin stopped at Hillsborough during one of his trips to England to petition for the colonies’ rights as British citizens. Franklin and Wills did not get along at all, but the story humorously suggests that this visit is what caused Franklin to become a proponent of the Revolution. Now, though, the Castle acts more as a testament to the history of Northern Ireland as it tries to convey the region’s partisan politics in a way that promotes healing rather than divisiveness.
The first time I went to Hillsborough I was surprised to see tarps, construction equipment, and temporary chain-link fencing surrounding the castle. It was not the image I expected. Once I was checked in with security and was escorted to the curatorial team’s office, I learned that all of the activity at the castle was the result of a massive renovation project at the castle – yes, renovation, not restoration – in order to make the castle suit the tastes of the current members of the royal family. Right off the bat I felt welcomed and valued by my team. They gave me a tour of the renovation and explained the historical inspirations behind portions of the renovation as well as the uniquely original ideas. They also told me that they, the curatorial team, were preparing a “wall hang” of political cartoons from the eighteenth century to the Easter Rising of 1916 for the Castle’s grand re-opening in July.
The second day I was at the Castle I received my assignments for the term. I was going to be working on the longhand interpretations for the political cartoons. Essentially I researched all of the cartoons that were going to be used in the wall hang and wrote explanations that were one hundred words or less, and those explanations were going to be put into a room binder for guests at the Castle to peruse. The room binders are there to give information about nearly every piece in a room since the tour guides cannot delve into every item in the Castle due to time constraints. You may also be wondering why I keep using the phrase wall hang instead of exhibition. This is because it is technically not an exhibition since the Castle is a functioning home and not a museum. Anyway, for the next four months I could have meetings at Hillsborough Castle to debrief on what I had researched, and to get updates on new cartoons or changes that needed to be made. In the end I researched forty-three cartoons and as much of the obscure humor they utilized. To show how much context is necessary to understand these cartoons at one point I realized that one of the cartoons we were using was inspired by another cartoon from the late 1600s.
This entire project felt like an exercise in sleuthing. It was probably the most fun project I have ever worked on. If you have any interest at all in working with public history or historical heritage sites I would highly recommend applying for an internship at Hillsborough Castle. The staff there are very kind and welcoming, and they give you actual projects to work on that are relevant to the Castle. I felt like I had accomplished something important, contributed to my team, gained valuable experience, and grew confident in my own abilities. Thanks for reading my reflections on my internship with Hillsborough Castle, and I hope you are inspired to do your own internship there as well!