National Museum of Ireland. Museum in Ireland, Europe

National Museum of Ireland

Museum in Ireland, Europe

National Museum of Ireland, Decorative Arts and History - Collins Barracks Photo © William Murphy

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National Museum of Ireland

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The National Museum of Ireland is, as the name clearly states, the national museum of Ireland. It consists of four separate museums, three of which are located in Dublin and one in County Mayo. The museum focuses on history, culture, Irish art and archaeology.

The museum’s purpose is to protect, collect, preserve, and promote all examples of Ireland’s material and cultural heritage and natural history. The four branches are Archaeology, Natural History, Decorative Arts & History in Dublin, and Country Life in County Mayo.

History

In 1877, the Museum of Science and Art was founded in Dublin by the Parliament. This decision transferred all collection and buildings of the Royal Dublin Society to the state. The existing collections were then expanded by adding other significant collections of from the Royal Irish Academy (Wikipedia Article) and Trinity College Dublin. The new museum was managed by the Department of Science and Art, which also managed the South Kensington Museums in London – Ireland was still part of Great Britain at the time.

The state showed its support of the new institution by building a brand new building on Dublin’s Kildare Street. It opened to the public in 1890 and housed artifacts, such as coins, medals, Irish antiquities, collections of the Geological Survey of Ireland, and material from Captain Cook’s voyages. Other things on display were minerals, plants and ethnographical collections. The old museum of the Royal Dublin Society, located in Leinster House, held the natural history collections, with a main focus on animal life and geology.

Management of the museum was transferred to the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction in 1900, and in 1908 its name was changed from the Dublin Museum of Science and Art to the National Museum of Science and Art. After the establishment of the Irish Free State (Wikipedia Article) in 1922, Leinster House was chosen as the seat of the new Parliament and new space for the collections had to be found. Several exhibition halls on Kildare Street solved that problem temporarily. Now the Natural History Department of the museum is located on Merrion Street in Dublin. The Archaeology collection is still exhibited on Kildare Street.

Finding more space for exhibitions and storage, and staff to curate and care for the collections were the main challenges of the 20th century. In 1988 the Irish government closed down Collins Barracks in Dublin, a complex of 18th- and 19th-century buildings where soldiers had been stationed for three-hundred years. The buildings became part of the museum in 1994 and is now home to the Decorative Arts & History Department of the National Museum of Ireland.

The museum’s County Life branch in Turlough Park in County Mayo was opened in 2001.

Visiting the National Museum of Ireland

All branches of the National Museum of Ireland are free to visit.

Natural History

The National History Museum is located on Merrion Street and houses a huge zoological collection. The extensive collection hasn’t changed much in the past century and is sometimes called ‘a museum of a museum’. This branch of the National Museum of Ireland opened in 1856 and consists of around 10,000 exhibits of stuffed animals from all around the world. It is a truly unique collection, mostly because it is so old.

The museum’s ground floor houses the Irish Room, which is the home of Irish animals, mounted skeletons, etcetera. The first floor contains mammals from other parts of the world. Notable ones are a Tasmanian tiger and a pygmy hippopotamus.

Archaeology

Collections include golden artifacts, valuable church treasures, items from Viking and Medieval periods, magnificent examples of early Celtic metalworks, as well as items from Ancient Egypt, Cyprus, and Rome. The spectacular Archaeology branch is renowned around the world and houses no less than two million artifacts.

Decorative Arts and History

This fascinating collection is found at Collins Barracks, where you can also find the museum’s headquarters, a café, and a shop. Highlights in this huge museum are the Great Seal of the Irish Free State, the 14th-century Chinese porcelain Fonthill Vase, furniture, silver, weaponry, ceramics, and glassware.

There is also an exhibition that features Ireland’s military history from about 1550 to the present.

Country Life

The Country Life branch is the youngest part of the museum, opened in 2001, and houses the national folk life collections. Exhibitions teach visitors about traditional Irish craft and the everyday life in rural Ireland in the century that followed the Great Famine (Wikipedia Article).

Similar Landmarks

There are a few other great museums to be found in Dublin. The Chester Beatty Library is home to hundreds of thousands of prints, books, manuscripts and rolls; Dublin Castle can be visited for an insight into the life of the highest upper class; Trinity College Dublin is one of the world’s oldest and most beautiful colleges; and Kilmainham Gaol exhibits the harsh life in prison and the Irish struggle for independence.

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Author: bramreusen. Last updated: Dec 17, 2014

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