John Hunt

The concept of 'The Craggaunowen Project' was the idea of the late John Hunt, who was an advisor to Sotheby's on Medieval Art and was, described by the art magazine The Connoisseur as "one of the best medievalists in Europe". John Hunt bought the land at Craggaunowen; following his excavation of Lough Gur. He then set about the restoration of the castle and began the construction of a modern museum display, including the reconstructed ‘crannog’ and ‘ring fort’. He eventually donated the site to the Irish people.

The Hunt Family Bio - Taken from The Hunt Museum web site

The Hunt FamilyJohn Hunt was born in London in 1900. He studied both medicine and architecture before starting a career as an antique dealer. He opened a shop in Bury Street, London, and became established as an authority on medieval art. Gertrude Hartman was born in Mannheim in 1903; she met John Hunt in London in the early 1930s. They were brought together through their mutual interest in art and antiques and were married in 1933. The 1930s were a good time for antique collectors as European museums were preoccupied with restoring their buildings after the Great War and American museums had not yet entered the market. At the end of the 1930s their work moved away from that of shop-based dealers to a role as advisors to major collections.

The Hunts assisted in the formation of such international collections as that of Sir William Burrell in Glasgow, the collection of William Randolph Hearst and that of the Aga Khan. They also worked as advisors for Sotheby’s, London. It was in this period, the 1930s and 1940s that the Hunts set about the formation of their own collection. About 1939 the couple moved to Lough Gur in Co. Limerick, where Professor Seán Ó Riordáin, University College Cork, had begun an excavation programme on the archaeological sites there. During the 1940s and 1950s, John Hunt indulged his abiding interest in archaeology, working on numerous excavations there. At Lough Gur he made the first reconstruction of a Neolithic house. This prototype helped in the later reconstruction of such a house at the Hunts' own experimental centre at Craggaunowen, Co. Clare, which was opened to the public in 1975. John Hunt encouraged Lord Gort to restore Bunratty Castle during the 1950s. In advising him on the refurbishment of the castle, John Hunt shared his great knowledge of the medieval period to ensure the historical accuracy of the project.

Interior of the Hunts' home, Lough Gur, c.1945In 1956 the Hunts moved to Drumleck in Howth, Co. Dublin. This move allowed them room to display their ever growing collection which occupied every available space in the house. Objects were not displayed chronologically or according to type as the Hunts believed that they could see objects with a keener eye if they were removed from their context.

In the 1970s John and Gertrude, aware of the scale of their collection and wishing to keep it together, began to look for a permanent location for it to be housed. Initially, it was thought that it could be housed in Craggaunowen but this proved too expensive. Then Dr Edward Walsh, President of the National Institute of Higher Education (now the University of Limerick), offered to house a substantial part of the collection at the Institute. The Hunt Museum at Plassey was officially opened in 1978. The collection remained in the University until 1997 when it moved to its present location in the restored 18th century Customs House in Limerick city. John Hunt died in 1976, his wife Gertrude in March 1995, without either of them living to see the realisation of their dream. Their two children, John Jr. and Trudy, have continued in their parents' philanthropic attitude, donating the remainder of the collection to the Museum. The Hunt Museum stands as a fitting tribute to John and Gertrude Hunt who assembled this unique collection to be enjoyed for posterity by every one.