Rise in number visiting free galleries and museums

The country’s free galleries and museums welcomed almost 23,000 extra visitors through their doors last year, new figures showed today.

With falling numbers of Irish travelling abroad, more than three million culture vultures enjoyed wallet-friendly domestic attractions such as the National Library and National Concert Hall.

Minister for Tourism Martin Cullen said the roaring trade was partly down to a number of high-profile exhibitions which pulled in the crowds.

“Our museums and galleries continued to provide interesting and educational opportunities to visitors from home and abroad in what was a difficult year,” he added.

“All of our cultural institutions play a significant role in our cultural tourism product and the exceptional quality and diversity of our museum exhibits, our manuscripts, documents, and various artworks on display are critical to the ongoing success of these institutions.

“They also demonstrate how Irish culture continues to be recognised worldwide.”

The most recent figures available show the number of Irish travelling overseas fell for the first time in 18 years in summer 2008 – down 12% on the same period the previous year.

Visits from abroad to Ireland were also down by more than a tenth in the first half of last year, with 400,000 less visitors between January and June.

But Mr Cullen said there was no sign of trips to cultural hotspots declining.

“With the reopening of the Natural History Museum in April and the National Concert Hall continuing to attract the very best in both national and international musical entertainment, it is expected that these visitor numbers can be maintained in 2010,” he added.

The institutions’ own collections were bolstered last year by a number of popular exhibitions such as the Picturing New York photography viewing at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) in Dublin and the National Library’s Yeats show.

Art lovers flocked to the capital’s National Gallery to see the works of Norwegian painter Edvard Munch and landscape artist Thomas Roberts.

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