With a resume that ranges from Hollywood films to national museums, Montague Heritage Services has proven itself as a successful medieval re-enactment business. Founded by Alan Montague in 1998, this Irish company has grown to over 50 people and has developed a wide range of activities, including providing support to television and film crews, doing live living history events, and supplying authentic-looking materials.
We interview Jessica de Búrca – Montague, the owner of Montague Heritage Services, by email:
Could you tell us about the founder of Montague Heritage Services, Alan Montague, and the vision he had for this company?
Alan was a true renaissance man. Very much self-educated and continuously curious about the origins of all things medieval and beyond. The youngest of three brothers, he was raised in Dublin, Ireland. Quietly confident he had all the elements of a good leader – resourceful, passionate & capable. In 1995 after a chance conversation in college where we were both studying Radio Broadcasting, we decided to collaborate and it was at this point that Alan introduced me to historical re-enactment. Even at this embryonic stage of re-enactment in Ireland, Alan expected more from this pastime and wanted what was a hobby in Ireland to be seen as a credible medium for education and entertainment. So in 1998 he founded Montague Heritage Services with the goal of ‘bringing history to life.’
Alan and I continued to collaborate and eventually married, sadly aged only 36, Alan passed away in June 2009 as the result of cancer. Since then I have continued with the business and it is not only a testament to Alan’s vision but a legacy for our children Tadhg & Ella.
Your company’s work includes numerous television and film appearances – what kind of expertise do you provide?
As the saying goes ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ and anyone in this business has to be prepared to not only teach but also to learn. Over the years we have had the opportunity to diversify as well as specialise depending on what the client requires. We have an extensive database of experts covering a wide spectrum of diverse historical subject matter ranging from Bronze Age pottery through to Early-Modern musketry. We feel that our background in broadcasting gives us an insight and an ability to deliver a polished product. Prior to pre-production we consult with the customer to ascertain their requirements. A comprehensive inventory is drawn up and where necessary a programme of research is implemented. Depending on the project and the needs of the client, we provide Costumed Characters, Craftspeople, Combat Action Crew, Armoury, Costume and Prop Hire. To date we have been fortunate enough to work on several projects which aired on the premier Irish national television station RTÉ, as well as productions for BBC Scotland, S4C (Wales) and Channel 7 (Australia). In addition to English language productions, being a fluent Irish language (Gaeilge) speaker has helped enormously with various projects for TG4, Ireland’s dedicated Irish language television station. Our Combat Action Crew who are trained medieval-weapon fight choreographers have worked on several international projects of note including the film production ‘King Arthur’. We offer a broad range of services to the TV & Film industry but are flexible enough to be hands on allowing us to give a very personal product to each client & project no matter what the scale.
What kind of research is involved by your team when developing crafts and items that have an authentic medieval look to them?
MHS is comprised of hand-picked specialists, archaeologists, historians and craftspeople. Because of our clientele we take pride in qualifying every item produced and presented by us. In order to give proper account of the past we must stay current. We keep abreast of the latest publications, subscribe to journals and periodicals, attend lecture series and stay in touch with the news. In order to better contextualise an item or craft, a site visit might be required so that we can better understand features that can be of use to a display. Over time we have accumulated our own library which is by no means exhaustive and often we would have to visit the state repositories for archive source materials. With craft development, we like to have a go as much as possible and participate in workshops be they experimental or taught by an expert and then strip it back to basics using contemporary tools and materials. It is our firm belief that items should have a lived in look, whether it’s to oil a leather belt, make dull a shiny helmet or to purposely age items of clothing. This is the breakdown process that helps give things a campaigned look and the feeling of usage, making the whole concept of ‘bringing history to life’ far more credible.
Your about to start a new project with The National Museum in Dublin – could you tell us a little about it?
We are very excited about our continued work with The National Museum of Ireland. Our latest event with the National Museum was during National Heritage Week in August. There was a great buzz on the day as it was the first time the Museum had allowed anyone set up among the exhibits where we installed four living history specialists discussing various elements of medieval life composed of a Galloglass, a Monk, a Textile Worker and myself as a sixteenth century Townswoman. Visitors got the opportunity to meet informative characters in period costume using reconstructed artefacts alongside the originals in the glass cases beside them. The curators were extremely impressed with our interactive interpretations and before the day was over they asked if MHS would facilitate their annual Medieval Christmas event. As you can imagine we were pleased with the feedback and that they realised our potential. So on Sunday 5th December we will have eight Heritage Specialists placed about the museum. In addition to those characters listed above we will have a Monier, a Tudor Lady, a Leather Worker and a Trader. In advance of the day there has been much industry in completing new outfits, researching customs of the time and getting to grips with traditional medieval dishes eaten at Christmas. Hopefully it will be a feast for the senses with all the colour and bustle of times past.
We thank Jessica de Búrca – Montague for answering our questions.