The first publically owned open-air museum in the British Isles opened at Cregneash, Isle of Man in 1938. Now in the care of Manx National Heritage (MNH) and designated The National Folk Museum, it began with a single cottage and has grown to include a number of houses and farm buildings offering the visitor a glimpse of 19th-century Manx life in a rural crofting village. The museum has also provided a focal point for the preservation and perpetuation of traditional crafts and customs.
Since their inception in Scandinavia in the 1880s, open-air museums have been criticised for presenting a static, sanitised, idealised and reconstructed view of the past. This raises important questions concerning historical accuracy and authenticity, and the ways in which the portrayals of heritage in such museums may influence cultural and national identity. These issues are examined in relation to the development of the museum at Cregneash, important as one of the few open-air museums in the world that is fully in situ. The buildings at Cregneash are examined as both artefacts in their own right and as exhibition spaces for other artefacts. Through the images of the past represented at Cregneash and the portrayal of Cregneash as a ‘national’ museum, MNH is shown to play an important role in the shaping of Manx cultural identity.