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.
Glasnevin Cemetery Museum
Voted Ireland’s number one museum in the 2016 TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards, and a previous winner of Best International Museum at the UK’s Museum and Heritage Awards for Excellence, Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery Museum, opened in 1832, offers a fascinating insight into Irish history.
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.
Glasnevin Cemetery Museum, Finglas Road, Dublin, Ireland, +353 1 882 6550
Courtesy of Glasnevin Cemetery Museum
The Medieval Museum
The Medieval Museum
A key attraction in Ireland’s oldest city, The Medieval Museum lies in the award-winning cultural area of Waterford known as the Viking Triangle. The only medieval museum in the country, it’s home to artefacts such as The Great Charter Roll of Waterford (1373) and Europe’s only complete set of medieval cloth-of-gold vestments. The museum also holds two original medieval chambers within its limits, reached via a spiral staircase dating back to the 13th century.
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
Courtesy of The Blasket Centre Archive/Cartlann Ionaid an Bhlascaoid
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
The Little Museum of Dublin
The Little Museum of Dublin is worth visiting for the location alone – it sits inside a beautifully appointed Georgian townhouse on St. Stephen’s Green – but its exhibitions illuminating the rich history of the city are the real attraction. Current exhibits include one dedicated to the development of the GAA (Gaelic Athletics Association) in Dublin and another that takes a close look at the city’s most famous band, entitled U2: Made in Dublin.
The Little Museum of Dublin, 15 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin, Ireland, +353 1 661 1000
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