Museums and Galleries of Dublin City
By Arran Henderson. (Dublin Guide, Art Historian and Teacher at Horner School)
There is a quadrangle of Dublin’s four main cultural sites, very near Horner School, located between Merion Square and Kildare street. These are:
National Art Gallery, (Art)
Natural History Museum (Dead Animals!)
National Library (Books and Archives)
National Museum (archeology)
The National Gallery (main façade on Merrion Square, but current entrance on Clare Street) is the largest and most important collection of art in Ireland. It has works by all the most important schools of art, including Italian, French, Dutch, Flemish, German and Spanish old master paintings, as well as British and even some American art, all between the 15th to the early 20th century. It also holds the most important collection of Irish art in the world, including painters like Francis Danby; William Orpen and Jack B Yeats (brother of the famous Nobel- winning poet WB Yeats). Among the international collection, the highlights include works by Goya, Picasso, Jan Vermeer, and the stunning “The Taking of Christ” by Caravaggio. Our teacher Arran Henderson leads a guided tour here in the gallery, generally once a month.
The Natural History Museum, (on Merrion Square) was established in 1856, It’s often called “the dead zoo” by Dubliners, and is a 19th century collection of plant; bird; fish and animal specimens, housed in a lovely old Victorian museum. The ground floor holds specimens of Irish wildlife, while upstairs there are animals from around the world, including African lions and rhino, Indian tigers and elephants; bears from Canada and South America and even the huge skeleton of great blue whale, the biggest animal in the world.
The collection has barely changed in the last 170 years, which has led many people to observe, this is “a museum which should be in a museum”. If you’d like to see an article about the Bird collection of the museum, by our teacher Arran, just click here here.
The National Library (Kildare Street) is a place of study for many academics, students and others, and also holds the states collection of archives. The main reading room, with its high, domed ceilings, is a very beautiful place, although this is reserved for readers, it’s sometimes possible to have a look. The exhibition centre is always open to the public, and is free. The current show is a very good exhibition on the famous Irish, early-20th century poet, W.B Yeats and is well worth a look.
The National Museum (Kildare Street) is the main state collection of archeology fro Pre-history to the 17tn century. There is actually more than one centre of National Museum in Ireland, and even another centre in Dublin (at Collins Barracks (see below) but the Kildare Street Museum is the one Dubliners mean when they say the national Museum. It concentrates on archeology, from ancient Neolithic Ireland, through the Iron Sage, and Bronze Age, through Viking and Norman Ireland, and right through to the 17th century. Highlights include the beautiful, (and technically amazing) Gold jewelry from the Irish Bronze age period, and an enormous “dug-out” canoe, nearly 30 meters long! Also do not miss the very spooky “Bog Bodies” exhibition! This is of dead bodies, preserved in Ireland’s bogs. Historians and archeologists believe these bodies are of chieftains and local kings, ritually murdered. Imagine “CSI Ireland”, from a thousand years ago, then go and have a look.
Other important Museums and galleries.
The Hugh Lane. (Parnell Square North) also known as the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, concentrates on art from 1880 onwards, and has some very good work by French painters Monet; Edouard Manet; Degas, sculptor August Rodin and others.
It also has work by later, important 20th century artists like Joseph Beuys and Francis Bacon. In fact, the Hugh Lane gallery has the entire studio of Francis Bacon, since they brought it over from London, and then perfectly re-created it here in Dublin! Anyone interested in art, from 1880 to the modern day, should visit “the Hugh Lane” while they are in Dublin. You will also discover it is in a lovely 18th century aristocratic townhouse, (a palazzo) with a very nice café and bookshop.
Collins Barracks. Collins Barracks is the other main arm of the National Museum in Dublin. Unlike the Kildare street museum, which holds old archeological artifacts from ancient history, this museum concentrates on applied and decorative arts, like coins, silver, ceramics, clothes, design and furniture. It is located in a former army barracks, which was once the biggest purpose-built barracks in the world. For that reason, there is another museum here, the Military Museum, dedicated to the Irish army, and also to Irish soldiers who fought in other armies (British, French, Spanish and others) across the world, from Cuba to China, with exhibits of their uniforms, history and weapons.
Irish Museum of Modern Art. (Kilmanham Area) IMMA is the short name of the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Obviously this is a collection of 20th century and contemporary art, but it is housed inside the lovely 17th century Kilmanham Royal Hospital, a former hospitals for old soldiers built in a quadrangle in the 1680s, and modeled on the famous les Invalides in Paris. Apart from the modern art collection, bookshop and café, the Royal Hospital has a lovely baroque chapel, formal planted gardens, exterior exhibition spaces and extensive grounds to walk in.
Kilmanham Gaol. (also Kilmanham Area, near IMMA) “Gaol” is just the old spelling for “jail” and this was Dublin’s main jail from about the 1780s until 1922. Famous prisoners here include the 1798 United Irishmen rebels; the 19th century “Liberator” Daniel O’Connell; the political leader Charles Stuart Parnell and many patriots who fought in the 1916 Eater Rising, 14 of whom, like Patrick Pearce and James Connelly were also executed here, in the sad and gloomy “Stone Breakers Yard” (another leader, Roger Casement was later also executed over in London). Anyone interested in understanding the sometimes tragic, sometimes inspirational story of Ireland should visit this place, because there’s nowhere better to get a feel and understanding of Irish history.
Arran Henderson is also a contributing author at