The National Museum (Collins Barracks) houses the national Decorative Arts and History collection, charting Ireland’s economic, social, political and military progress through the ages. Displays range from silver, Asian Art, ceramic and glassware pieces to weaponry, furniture, and examples of folk life and costume.
A very interesting complex of buildings in its own right, the museum at Collins Barracks is extensive and warrants at least a half-day visit. A full day’s outing for visitors to Dublin could include an initial tour of the superbly atmospheric Kilmainham Gaol (only ten minutes away from Collins Barracks), followed by lunch in Brambles Café (on site at the National Museum), and concluding with a leisurely afternoon taking in the attractions listed below.
2019 permanent exhibitions include:
- A Dubliner’s Collection of Asian Art – The Albert Bender Exhibition (a highly important Asian art collection given to the National Museum during the 1930s by the great Irish-American Albert Bender)
- The Asgard – discover the historic Asgard yacht, learn about the 1914 Howth gun running episode and the Irish Volunteers, and meet Erskine Childers and Roger Casement
- Reconstructed Rooms: Four Centuries of Furnishings
- Eileen Gray – Regarded as one of the most influential 20th Century designers and architects, Eileen Gray (an Irish woman) was renowned in France as a designer in lacquer furniture and interiors. She began to experiment with architectural forms in the late 1920s. Hers was a new approach to shape, line, the use of colour, materials and textures; and the human sensibility of her work continues to inspire designers today.
- The Way We Wore (250 years of Irish clothing and jewellery)
- Out of Storage – this double-height gallery is designed to give the visitor an impression of the range of artefacts in the reserve collections of the National Museum. The 500 pieces displayed were chosen to reflect the collecting policies of the Museum through the years.
- Irish Silver – this exhibition traces the development of the silversmith’s craft from the early 17th Century to the present day. It addresses the evolution of design and examines the mining, assaying, and crafting of this precious metal. It also illustrates the various uses of silver – religious, domestic and ceremonial – and by means of vignettes seeks to place the objects in their historical and economic context.
- Reconstructed Rooms: Four centuries of furnishings from the Georgian era to contemporary Irish furniture design
- Curator’s Choice: 25 special objects from the Museum’s collections chosen by the Museum’s own curators. Particularly noteworthy are the Fonthill Vase (the earliest documented piece of Chinese porcelain in Europe), a 2,000 year old Japanese ceremonial bell , and the decorative gauntlets worn by King William at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
- Airgead – 1,000 Years of Irish Coins & Currency
- Irish Country Furniture – this exhibition displays the furniture typically found in the traditional rural Irish home (including a re-construction of a country kitchen). It shows a range of styles from different areas of the country, the functional nature of each piece, and the skill of native Irish craftsmen. The display also highlights the evolution and development of traditional furniture and furnishings as Ireland’s social and economic circumstances changed through the 19th and 20th centuries.
- Soldiers & Chiefs (The Irish at War at Home & Abroad, 1550-2001). This very extensive exhibition uses original artefacts, letters, replicas and audio accounts to show the influence of Irish military participation over the centuries in a host of wars, both at home and abroad.
Current temporary exhibitions:
- War in the Mud – the Irish soldier in Belgium in Summer 1917 (on the Western Front)
- Contemporary Collection of Design & Craft – an exhibition illustrating the best of Irish contemporary craft and design from both home and abroad
- 21st Century Irish Craft – an exhibition showcasing the best of Irish ceramics, glass, furniture, wood turning, jewellery, accessories and silverware
- Recovered voices: the Stories of the Irish at War, 1914-15 (About 21,000 Irishmen were already serving in the British Army when war broke out in 1914. ‘Recovered Voices’ explores what happened to them and the other 47,000 who joined in the first few years of the war. From the lush green fields of France in the summer of 1914, through that first Christmas in the trenches, to the sun dried beaches of Turkey in 1915, this exhibition unveils the complexity of Ireland’s part in World War One).
- Ib Jorgensen: A Fashion Retrospective – From the 1950s to the 1990s, Jorgensen was one of Ireland’s leading fashion designers, attracting a clientele from amongst the wealthiest and most stylish women in the country.
- Proclaiming a Republic: The 1916 Rising – On show is one of the largest display of materials from the 1916 period. Many of these objects have never been on public display before while others, such as the Irish Republic flag which flew over the GPO, have been specially conserved. The exhibition explores the background to the 1916 Rising and introduces the visitor to the nuances of contemporary political events – the rise of the Catholic élite; the push for Home Rule along with the counter-moves of unionism; the increasingly nationalistic tone of the arts and cultural movements of the period; and the political growth of republicanism. The exhibition also enables visitors to come in closer contact with the people and events of Easter Week through the everyday personal belongings of the participants – the clothing worn by the rebels and the British Army as they moved through the 1916 battlefield; the watches used to time the rebel despatches; the bullets and bayonets deployed; and first aid kits used to ease the plight of the injured and the dying. Alongside the rebels, the personal stories of civilians caught in the crossfire are represented with poignant and moving items such as a crucifix perforated by a stray bullet. The last letters of those sentenced to death are displayed: written in their own handwriting are the final thoughts, emotions and reflections of the leaders of Easter Week. The exhibition also provides accounts of the rebels’ families as they dealt with the aftermath of the Courts Martial, the executions and the imprisonments.
- Alison Lowry: Hidden Truths – an artistic response to the legacy of mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries
- Marching on the Road to Freedom: Dáil Éireann 1919 – an exhibition commemorating the centenary of the first meeting of Dáil Éireann one hundred years ago
- Jurassic Skies – When Dinosaurs Took to the Air: an exhibition exploring how dinosaurs took to the air and the origin of birds (in collaboration with the National Museum of Wales)
- Light on Earth – an exhibition celebrating the sculptural lighting of internationally renowned Irish artist Niamh Barry
Open Tues-Sat: 10.00 am-5.00 pm
Open Sun & Mon: 1.00 pm-5.00 pm
Closed Good Friday and 25 December
Collins Barracks, Benburb Street, Dublin 7.
Tel: 01 677 7444.
Click here to consult the calendar of special events (when the page opens, click on the PDF documents at the top of the page).