National Museum of Ireland: 19th-century vision with 21st-century purpose

THERE may still be a few dinosaurs in Leinster House but, thanks to the vision and purpose of Lawrence Dundas, third Earl and first marquess of Zetland, mayor of Richmond in Yorkshire and Knight of the Thistle, remnants of the real things have enjoyed more tranquil surroundings for the past 125 years.

National Museum of Ireland: 19th-century vision with 21st-century purpose

The National Museum of Ireland is to hold a day of free events today to celebrate the anniversary of the opening of its Kildare St building by Dundas who, in 1890, basked in the dignity of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

The National Museum of Ireland was founded under the Dublin Science and Art Museum Act of 1877. Collections had previously been divided between Leinster House, originally the headquarters of the Royal Dublin Society, and the Natural History Museum in Merrion St.

To provide storage and display space for the Leinster House collections, the government quickly implemented plans to construct a new, custom-built museum on Kildare St.

The museum under construction in 1889.

On August 29, 1890, the new museum, designed by Cork architect Thomas Newenham Deane and built in the Victorian Palladian style, opened its doors to the public. Originally housing the museum’s collections of antiquities, ethnography, folklife, decorative arts and history, it is now dedicated to the display of archaeological material from Ireland and abroad.

At the inaugural opening, Dundas declared his “fervent hope that this National Museum may in the fullest measure fulfil the purpose for which it (has) been raised: that (it) may not only prove a source of recreation and instruction to the general public but may afford such real assistance to Irish students and workers that their inauguration today may hereafter be regarded as making a new growth of the arts and industries of the country”.

Preparations for the opening ceremony of the museum in 1890.

His wish has been fulfilled in more ways than he could have imagined and NMI now houses an enviable collection of artefacts and treasures from all corners of the globe.

Commenting on the anniversary, Raghnall Ó Floinn – director of the National Museum, said: “The collections housed in the Museum’s magnificent Kildare St building have fascinated and enthralled millions of visitors from home and abroad since opening in 1890.”

Two women sitting in the museum’s central court in 1890.

That view was echoed by Siobhan Pierce, education and outreach officer for the NMI Archaeology & Natural History. “Those visionary Victorians who opened the Museum 125 years ago always intended the galleries would amaze and inspire, so for this milestone anniversary we are planning a full day of events for people of all ages,” she said.


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