Ireland’s many museums focus on aspects of its history, ranging from its prehistoric origins through to the struggle for sovereignty that brought about the founding of the Irish Free State in 1922 – and beyond. Here are just a few of the best.
The National Museum of Ireland
National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology
Ireland’s National Museum consists of four different premises, each with a specific focus. On Dublin’s Kildare Street, The National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology houses a rich collection of prehistoric artefacts from home and abroad, most notably items of Celtic art and a selection of incredibly well-preserved Iron Age ‘bog bodies’ exhumed from Irish peat bogs.
National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology, Kildare Street, Dublin, Ireland, +353 1 677 7444
National Museum of Ireland – Natural History
Close by on Merrion Street, the cabinet-style Natural History Museum – locally known as ‘The Dead Zoo’ – champions zoology and geology through a selection of exhibits that includes the full-size skeletons of long-extinct giant deer that once lived in Ireland.
National Museum of Ireland – Natural History, Merrion Street Upper, Dublin, Ireland, +353 1 6777444
National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts and History
The National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts and History at Collins Barracks has a permanent exhibition posthumously celebrating renowned Irish furniture designer Eileen Gray, examples of pioneering 21st-century Irish craft, and other collections that focus on both Irish and international design. Arguably its most famous item is the Fonthill Vase, the earliest documented piece of Chinese porcelain in Europe. In 2016, temporary exhibitions marking the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising rebellion were added, several of which are still running at the time of writing.
National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts & History, Collins Barracks, Benburb Street, Arran Quay, Dublin, Ireland, +353 1 677 7444
National Museum of Ireland – Country Life
The fourth and final branch of the National Museum of Ireland is based in County Mayo in the west of the country. Opened in 2001, the Museum of Country Life highlights how rural Irish people lived during the period between 1850 and 1950.
National Museum of Ireland – Country Life, Turlough Park, Gortnafolla, Castlebar, County Mayo, Ireland, +353 94 903 1755
It was one of the first burial grounds to open after the repeal of a law forbidding Irish Catholics from burying their dead in their own cemeteries. The very man who fought to repeal that law, political leader Daniel O’Connell, is now buried here, along with other well-known cultural and revolutionary figures such as Michael Collins and Constance Markievicz. The museum’s ‘Milestone Gallery’ contains the life stories of 200 people buried here.
The Hunt Museum
Limerick city’s Hunt Museum consists of a renowned collection of artefacts bequeathed by the historian and antiquarian John Hunt and his wife, Gertrude. Currently based in the Georgian Custom House building by the River Shannon, the museum holds antiquities and artworks that date back as far as Ireland’s Mesolithic era and ancient Egypt. Other notable pieces include works by Jack B. Yeats, Renoir, Picasso, and Irish fashion designer Sybil Connolly.
The Hunt Museum, Rutland Street, Limerick, Ireland, +353 61 312 833
The Blasket Centre
Situated on the Dingle Peninsula’s stunning Slea Head Drive, The Blasket Centre museum contains exhibits relating to the history of the Blasket Islands, populated until the 1950s by a self-sustaining Irish-speaking community. The centre itself has a panoramic view of Great Blasket Island, which was the home of three of the most famous Irish language writers – Peig Sayers, Tomás Ó Criomhthain and Muiris Ó Súilleabháin.
The Blasket Centre, Ballynaraha North, Dingle, County Kerry, Ireland, +353 66 915 6444
The Chester Beatty Library
Throughout his lifetime, early 20th-century mining mogul Sir Alfred Chester Beatty travelled the globe amassing a world-class collection of Islamic and Far Eastern rarities, from Arabic texts and muraqqa albums to Japanese picture scrolls. His most precious possessions also include biblical papyri and prints by European artists such as Albrecht Dürer. Located on the grounds of Dublin Castle, the Chester Beatty Library is the only Irish museum to date to earn the title of European Museum of the Year (it won in 2002.)
The Chester Beatty Library, Clock Tower Building, Dublin Castle, Dublin, Ireland, +353 1 407 0750
Céide Fields Visitor Centre
The world’s oldest known field systems can be found in County Mayo, along with an award-winning visitor centre, complete with enlightening exhibitions and an audio-visual show. Guided tours, 45–60 minutes, are also available of the surrounding landscape, where stone-age houses, stone walls, and tombs have been kept in incredible condition, buried beneath a peat bog. After a tour, visitors can warm up in the museum’s tea rooms.
Céide Fields, Ballycastle, County Mayo, Ireland, +353 96 43325
Opened in 2012, the vast Titanic Belfast is one of Ireland’s newer attractions but has already been hugely successful, attracting more than 800,000 visitors during its first year and being named Europe’s Leading Visitor Attraction at the prestigious World Travel Awards in 2016.
Built on the site where the ship itself was constructed prior to its ill-fated 1912 maiden voyage, the impressive, angular exhibition space holds within it nine interactive galleries, all reflecting on the history of one of the most famous maritime disasters in the world.
Titanic Belfast, 1 Olympic Way, Queens Road, Titanic Quarter, Belfast, Northern Ireland, +44 28 9076 6386
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