Nuacht, Scéalta | 16 Márta 2021

What Culture Means to Me by Zoë Coleman

Zoe in Glenveagh National Park Summer 2020

Zoe in Glenveagh National Park Summer 2020

  • Roinn

How do you define culture?

‘Culture’ can be an intangible thing - that each of us struggles to explain or put down in words.

So, we want to hear from people of all ages and all walks of life about what culture means to them. Is it a space or place? A feeling, a moment or a connection with people? We’re gathering voices from across the city to help us express through a series of short blog posts how culture can play an active role in our everyday lives.

Below, Zoë Coleman, Venue Coordinator for Richmond Barracks, tells us about childhood weekends soundtracked by The Cranberries, early trips to museums, and her enduring love of history.

From museums to Macnas

My earliest experiences of culture were through visiting regional museums in the north-west of Ireland as a child: The Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh, Co, Antrim, King House in Boyle, Co. Roscommon and the Museum of Country Life in Castlebar, Co. Mayo. Seeing everyday artefacts of daily life from days gone by, instilled in me an inquisitive spirit and a growing awareness of a collective national identity. These museums of everyday life encouraged visitors to immerse ourselves in our cultural heritage, through embracing the tangible (housing, furniture and dress) and intangible aspects (folk customs, music, storytelling and song) of our culture.

On summer holidays to Galway, that coincided with the Galway Arts Festival, I’d grip my Dad’s hand tightly amongst the crowds on Eyre Square, equal parts terrified and fascinated by the Macnas parade. The backdrop of my childhood played out to a golden era of Irish cultural export and the soundtrack to weekend day trips was The Cranberries, I recall my Dad browsing the racks in Zhivago on Shop Street to buy their first album on cassette. The following year Riverdance jigged onto screens across Europe. Regional festivals and museums were my formative experiences of culture - culture opened up a brightly coloured world to me - it was about community celebration and collaboration, placemaking and participating in joyful, collective experiences.

Discovering ancestors

I grew up with only one grandparent, so I didn’t feel that same connection with the generations that came before me - the modest Mayo shopkeeper with a large family on my Dad’s side and my maternal family that emigrated by necessity to Birmingham, with my nana returning to marry a Roscommon farmer. Visiting historic places awakened in me a fascination and an appreciation for how our ancestors lived, and their celebratory customs and traditions, which were so rich in a time of comparative economic stagnation. To this day, historic buildings still stir that childlike curiosity within me, they are sites of memory for the communities that evolved around and with them. They can be places of commemoration but they can also be participatory spaces, welcoming and fostering local engagement, serving as gateways to culture, for everyone.

Historical Dublin

College took me to Dublin, and I’ve lived here for the best part of a decade. I love this vibrant, historical city made up of diverse neighbourhoods and communities, all with their own customs and stories, constantly expanding to welcome new citizens, even blow-ins from outside beyond the Pale like myself! Now that we can’t be together for the time being, technology has enabled us to experience culture across our city, county and country and empowered even more people to get involved, giving them a platform and bringing us closer together in this time of crisis.


One of the newest members of the team, Zoë Coleman joined the Dublin City Council Culture Company in January 2021 as Venue Coordinator for Richmond Barracks. She has previously worked for a number of cultural organisations including the Irish Georgian Society, the Royal Irish Academy, The Model, Sligo and the British Council at the Venice Biennale of Architecture.