National Museum of Ireland

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National Museum of Ireland
Ard-Mhúsaem na hÉireann
The word "museum" in stylised lower-case text, with the name of the museum in Irish and English below.
The current logo of the museum
Established14 August 1877
LocationDublin and Castlebar, Ireland
TypeNational museum
Collection sizeAlmost 4,000,000 items
VisitorsAll branches: 1,315,776 (2016) [1]
DirectorLynn Scarff Edit this at Wikidata
National Museum of Ireland network

The National Museum of Ireland (Irish: Ard-Mhúsaem na hÉireann) is Ireland's leading museum institution, with a strong emphasis on national and some international archaeology, Irish history, Irish art, culture, and natural history. It has three branches in Dublin, the archaeology and natural history museums adjacent on Kildare Street and Merrion Square, and a newer Decorative Arts and History branch at the former Collins Barracks, and the Country Life museum in County Mayo.



The National Museum of Ireland descends from the amalgamation of parts of the collections of a number of Dublin cultural institutions from the 18th and 19th centuries, including primarily the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) and the Royal Irish Academy (RIA). The earliest parts of the collections are largely geological and mineralogical specimens, which the RDS collected as a means to improve the knowledge and use of such resources in Ireland. The establishment of the museum collections is generally deemed to have begun with the purchase of the collection of Nathanael Gottfried Leske in 1792.[2]

One of the earliest iterations of the RDS museum was at Hawkins Street House, where the Leskean Cabinet was displayed along with a collection of casts and busts.[3] This exhibition was open to the public between noon and 3pm, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Aside from the exhibition, there was a lecture hall, laboratory and library. From here, the museum moved to Leinster House in 1815 when the RDS purchased it from the 3rd Duke of Leinster. Here the Leskean Cabinet continued to be displayed, along with newly accessioned collections from professor of mineralogy and geology, Charles Lewis Giescke, curiosities, and the Hibernicum which was a display of minerals and geological specimens from the island of Ireland.[4]

Name and new building[edit]

Giescke was the first to refer to the museum as the "National Museum of Ireland", in 1832, in his catalogue of the entomology and ornithology specimens. After Giescke's death in 1833, John Scouler was appointed curator in 1834. During this time the collections were open to the public two days a week from noon to 3pm, and to students at all times.

By this time the need for a new museum was deemed to be critical. This led to the construction of the building which now houses the Natural History Museum on Merrion Street. With the planned expansion and development of the museum, Scouler requested that a curator or Director be employed by the RDS. This led to the appointment of Alexander Carte in 1851. Carte overhauled and reorganised the collections, overseeing acquisitions from Sir Francis McClintock, Sir William Wilde, and Sir Richard Griffith.[4]

The museum took part in the International Exhibition of Art-Industry of 1853, exhibiting objects in the Hall of Antiquities, along with the RIA. Following this the museum opened five days a week to the public.[4]

National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology, Kildare Street

The Science and Art Museum was established in 1877, becoming the National Museum of Science and Art in 1900, and the National Museum of Ireland after independence. It also included the collection of the Museum of Irish Industry, which had been founded in 1847.[5] The collections of both the RIA and RDS formed the basis for the Archaeology and History section of the Museum at Kildare Street. This is the site originally opened in 1890 as the Dublin Museum of Science and Art, in the building designed by Sir Thomas Newenham Deane and his son, Thomas Manly Deane. Until 1922, the museum complex also included Leinster House, now the home of the Oireachtas.

After independence[edit]

The museum operated in the buildings at Kildare Street and Merrion Square until the late 20th century projects at Collins Barracks and County Mayo. As of 1975, the visitable collections were summarised as "Primary: Irish antiquities and history, fine arts (excluding painting and sculpture) and natural history (excluding botany), and additionally: Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities, Far Eastern art and ceramics, and ethnography and zoology," with an additional collection of folk life material not on display. The museum published occasional works focusing on particular parts of the collection, archaeological acquisitions and one volume on the role of the museum.[6]


See also Category:Collection of the National Museum of Ireland The museum operates at four locations, each with a thematic focus:


The National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology on Kildare Street has displays on prehistoric Ireland, including early work in gold, church treasures and objects from the Viking and medieval periods. The Kingship and Sacrifice exhibition includes well preserved bog bodies and Ralaghan Man.[7] There are special displays of items from Egypt, Cyprus and the Roman world, and special exhibitions are regularly mounted.

This section includes famous examples of early medieval Celtic metalwork in Ireland such as the Ardagh Chalice, the Tara Brooch, and the Derrynaflan Hoard. Prehistoric pieces include the Iron Age Broighter Gold and over 50 gold lunulas (not all on display), and other Bronze Age jewellery. Many of these pieces were found in the 19th century by poor people or agricultural labourers, when population expansion led to the cultivation of land which had not been touched since the Middle Ages. Indeed, without the intervention of George Petrie of the Royal Irish Academy and like-minded individuals from the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, most of the metalwork would have been melted down for the intrinsic value of its materials, as did frequently happen despite their efforts. Contemporary Irish are more tuned to their heritage, as can be seen in the example of the Irish Bog Psalter, which was discovered and reported by an alert machine operator in July 2006.

The museum is home to the mummy of an egyptian woman named Tentdinebu.[8]

Decorative Arts and History[edit]

Main courtyard of Collins Barracks

National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts and History, including the Great Seal of the Irish Free State, is the part of the collection kept at the large Collins Barracks site, a former military barracks named after Michael Collins in 1922. This site, opened in 1997, also holds the Museum's administrative centre, a shop and a coffee shop.

This section has displays of furniture, silver, ceramics and glassware, as well as examples of folk life and costume, and money and weapons. A Chinese porcelain vase from about 1300 AD, the Fonthill vase, is one of the features. The Soldiers & Chiefs exhibition features military artefacts and memorabilia tracing Ireland's military history from 1550 to the present. Special exhibitions are mounted regularly; in summer 2007, for example, replicas of six Irish High Crosses that were subsequently shown internationally.

Natural History Museum[edit]

The Natural History Museum, which is part of the National Museum, although often thought of as distinct, is on Merrion Street in Dublin and houses specimens of animals from around the world. It is also known as the Dead Zoo by locals. Its collection and Victorian appearance have not changed significantly since the early 20th century.

Country Life[edit]

Landlord's old house next to the Museum of Country Life

Country Life is the most recent part of the museum to be opened. It is located just outside Turlough village, on the N5 eight kilometres east of Castlebar, in County Mayo, and was opened in 2001.

The museum is focused on ordinary life from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century, with much of the material coming from rural Ireland in the 1930s. There are displays on the home, the natural environment, communities and forces for change.


The Museum is overseen by a board of directors, of whom two are nominated by the Royal Irish Academy and one by the Royal Dublin Society, both of which have contributed significantly to the institution; the remainder are appointed by the relevant minister.

It is led operationally by a Director, under whom are a Head of Collections and Learning and a Head of Operations. Reporting to the Head of Collections and Learning are the Keepers of Antiquities, Art & Industry, Natural History, and Folklife, the Registrar, and the Heads of Conservation, Education, Design and Photography. Within Operations are the Heads of Facilities, Human Resources, Finance, Corporate Affairs, Marketing, Commercial Development and ICT.[9]

List of directors[edit]


The museum is one of many holding Benin Bronzes, taken from their place of origin, Benin City, Nigeria, in 1897. It has confirmed that it will be taking action to repatriate these back to their city of origin.[21]


  1. ^ "National Museum of Ireland annual report 2016" (PDF). 22 December 2017. Archived (PDF) from the original on 7 May 2018. Retrieved 6 May 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e O'Riordan, C.E. (1983). The Natural History Museum Dublin. Dublin: Stationery Office.
  3. ^ "1796 - Dublin Society, Hawkins St., Dublin - Architecture of Dublin City. , Lost Buildings of Ireland - Archiseek - Irish Architecture". Archiseek - Irish Architecture. 7 May 2012. Archived from the original on 5 April 2019. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  4. ^ a b c Marie., Bourke (2011). The story of Irish museums, 1790-2000 : culture, identity and education. Cork: Cork University Press. ISBN 9781859184752. OCLC 698911816.
  5. ^ "Collections & Research" Archived 29 November 2018 at the Wayback Machine, NMI
  6. ^ Outline Guide to the Principal Collections (and list of publications, postcards and transparencies). Dublin: Ard-Mhusaem na hEireann / National Museum of Ireland. 1975. pp. 1–4, 7–8.
  7. ^ "Kingship and Sacrifice Archived 10 July 2021 at the Wayback Machine". National Museum of Ireland, 2012. Retrieved 4 September 2021
  8. ^ King, Anthony (26 April 2012). "Unravelling mummies' secrets". The Irish Times. Retrieved 12 January 2024.
  9. ^ "Staff Information: Organisation Chart". National Museum of Ireland. Archived from the original on 30 June 2018. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  10. ^ "The National Museum of Science and Art - Irish Artists". Archived from the original on 14 September 2016. Retrieved 23 June 2018.
  11. ^ Almqvist, Bo; Delaney, James. "Dr. A. T. Lucas (1911–86)". Folklore of Ireland Society, 1986/1987. JSTOR 20522289
  12. ^ Hilliard, Mark (5 May 2017). "Tributes paid to former director of National Museum of Ireland". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 6 July 2017. Retrieved 24 June 2018.
  13. ^ "PAT WALLACE THE CV". Irish Independent. 19 June 2005. Archived from the original on 24 January 2018. Retrieved 23 January 2018.
  14. ^ "Tribute paid to Dr. Patrick Wallace, Director of National Museum of Ireland". National Museum of Ireland. 29 February 2012. Archived from the original on 24 January 2018. Retrieved 23 January 2018.
  15. ^ Clarke, Vivienne (18 October 2016). "National Museum curators 'weeping' over Seanad relocation". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 12 July 2019. Retrieved 16 January 2021.
  16. ^ Battersby, Eileen (9 May 1996). "Among the ancients". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 25 September 2021. Retrieved 28 May 2021.
  17. ^ "Eamonn P Kelly". Retrieved 23 May 2021
  18. ^ National Museum of Ireland Annual Report 2012. Dublin, Ireland: National Museum of Ireland. 2013. pp. 3, 36.
  19. ^ "R Ó Floinn Appointment - Director". National Museum of Ireland. 3 July 2013. Archived from the original on 24 January 2018. Retrieved 23 January 2018.
  20. ^ "Ms Lynn Scarff appointed as new Director of the National Museum of Ireland". National Museum of Ireland. January 2018. Archived from the original on 21 January 2018. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  21. ^ Lister-Fell, Frankie. "More Museums take steps to return Benin bronzes back to Nigeria". Museums Association. Archived from the original on 6 August 2021. Retrieved 6 August 2021.

Selected references[edit]

  • Short Histories of Irish Barracks by Patrick Denis O'Donnell, in An Cosantóir (Journal of the Irish Defence Forces), 1969–1973.
  • Dublin's Collins Barracks over the years, by Patrick Denis O'Donnell in Hollybough, December 1994.
  • Dublin Barracks – A Brief History of Collins Barracks, by Mairead Dunleavy, National Museum of Ireland, 2002 (largely based on work by PD O'Donnell, as acknowledged in Preface and Acknowledgements).

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]