Being an island the main theme and focus of the Cape Clear Island Museum exhibition is maritime followed by island life and custom of olden time; culture and language. Boatbuilding and Shipwrecks, Hedge Schools, Placenames and Folklore, Archaeology and History, Early Lighthouses, Telegraphs, Postal and Ferry Services, Sailing, Fishing and South Pole and Falkland Island adventures all feature in the exhibition panels and island related artifacts and cabinets in the centre. The story of the pillarstone at the islands North Harbour is reputedly the oldest of Ireland’s Christian monuments and panels about Cill Chiaráin (church ruin) Gallán (Standing Stone) and Tobar Chiaráin (Hoy Well) commemorate Cape Clear island born St. Ciarán. Pastimes, tragic and famine times, school days storytelling times are recalled in a nicely presented fashion.
The following is a sampling of some of the exhibition areas in the museum:
The Fastnet Lighthouse and Fastnet Race Display at the island museum is a 20-minute audio-visual presentation with mounted exhibition panels recording other aspects of both the building of the lighthouses on Cape Clear and the Fastnet Rock. The mounted exhibition on the biennial Flagship Fastnet Race event pays particular attention to the daring rescue operation conducted by the Rescue Service of the RNLI, Coastguard, RAF and Irish Naval service during the tragic 1979 Fastnet Race. It also has the dramatic rescue off Cape Clear and the Fastnet Rock of the crew of the USA owned Rambler 100 yacht during the 2011 Fastnet Race. All who have sailed in the Fastnet Race of any year and all interested in sailing will at any time, be most welcome to visit the Don Cronin sculptured 1979 Fastnet Race Memorial at Cape Clear Museum and the monument at Trá Ciaráin, North Harbour, Cape Clear island.
The Household Exhibition area includes kitchen and other furniture as well as many other artifacts.
Folk & Farm Exhibition
Artefacts include farming implements, quern stones, and a facsimile of the Cape Clear Stone.
Facsimile of the Cape Clear Stone
The Cape Clear Stone was uncovered in the townland of Crathach about 1875 by two islanders, Dónal Thaidhg Ó Siocháin and Conchúr Ó Riagáin who were engaged in clearing stones from a field then in the possesion of Thomas Shipsey. It has markings similar to those in the Passage Grave at Newgrange, Co Meath. It is thought by archaeologists to be evidence of an island passage grave dating back 5,000 years.
The design of the Cape Clear Island Museum flag and logo is based on the artwork of the stone. The stone in Cape Clear Museum is a facsimile of the original which is in Cork City Public Museum.
Sailing Voyages & Fishing Matters
Exhibition panels on the sailing voyages of Connor O’Brien and Cape Clear Islanders, Con and Denis Cadogan in the Baltimore Fishery School built boats, Saoirse (1923) and Ilen (1925).
The bust of Father Davis, founder of the Baltimore Fishery School as well as other artefacts relating to the Fishery School, fishing and netmaking are exhibited.
Exhibition panels and many artifacts tell some of the story of Wooden Boatbuilding in Baltimore and along the Coast of Cork. Generations of islanders worked in Baltimore Boatyards.
West Cork Shipwrecks
Exhibition panels and artifacts tell the story of a number of shipwrecks along the West Cork coastline; among which are items from the Stephen Whitney (1847); Nestorian (1917); Tomas Joseph (1918) and others.
1915 Lusitania Sinking
Having passed by Cape Clear on 7th May 1915 the Lusitania was sunk by a German U-Boat off the Old Head of Kinsale, with the loss of 1200 passengers and crew. Bodies were picked up at sea in fishing nets and others washed ashore at Baltimore and elsewhere along the coast. A lifeboat from the ship arrived in to Sherkin island and a deckchair floated in to Cape Clear. The deckchair and other Lusitania memorabilia are exhibited in the island museum and exhibition panels tell the story of the Cape Clear – Lusitania connections.
The story of SS Minnehaha sunk by a German submarine off Cape Clear (1917) with the loss of 40 lives is told in exhibition panels and in artifacts from the vessel.
The SS Hazelside was sunk by a German U-Boat eleven miles off Cape Clear in September 1939. The Cape Clear owned St. Ultan put to sea and rescued 28 of the crew and brought them safely to Schull.
The story of the Charles J. Haughey owned Taurima II which sank at the Mizen in 1985 is told in exhibition panels.