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.
2023 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
- 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.
- Irish wars 1919 to 1923 – An online exhibition which explores a selection of the newly displayed objects which feature in the Soldiers and Chiefs exhibition. The exhibition covers such themes as civil disobedience, imprisonment, hunger strike, propaganda, women in warfare and the effects of the conflict on civilian populations.
- Spoon Garden – During 2020, the Design and Crafts Council Ireland and the National Museum of Ireland jointly commissioned a piece of work, by way of competition, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Crafts people were invited to submit designs for a work that, when finished, would act as a tangible remembrance of that unprecedented period of crisis during the first lockdown. Cork-based silversmith Annemarie Reinhold won the competition with her gardening inspired designs for Spoon Garden, a sculptural work comprising vegetable-shaped silver spoons and silver seedlings, each displayed within its own wooden block.
Current temporary exhibitions:
- Down to Earth – Exploring Ireland’s Geology: An exhibition that tells the story of how scientists have developed their understanding of our planet over the last 175 years. The museum is the holder of a vast geological collection yet little of it has been seen by Museum audiences in over fifty years. A partnership with Geological Survey Ireland is bringing these precious samples back into public display and includes real mineral specimens collected in nineteenth-century Ireland and observed through the lens of modern science.
- 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 – Available as a virtual show only. 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.
- Alison Lowry: Hidden Truths – an artistic response to the legacy of mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries
- Little Houses – an exhibition of artworks created through a collaborative partnership between the Stoneybatter Youth Service and the National Museum. The artworks were created by young people from the community close to Collins Barracks during the series of Lockdowns since March 2020. The exhibition is a visual record of their experiences of the pandemic and its impact on the community, and wider society.
- Studio & State – This exhibition features for the first time Sir John Lavery’s paintings of the Treaty signatories (loaned by the Hugh Lane Gallery) next to contemporary artefacts of the time from the Museum’s own collection. Museum objects include the fountain pen reputedly used by Michael Collins to sign the original Treaty document and propaganda handbills. Studio & State explores events between July 1921, when the Truce was agreed in Dublin, and January 1922, when the Anglo-Irish Treaty was narrowly ratified in Dáil Éireann. The negotiations for and signing of the Treaty were crystallising moments for Ireland in the twentieth century. The Treaty was both a vehicle of peace as well as a catalyst for civil war. Sir John Lavery’s paintings provide an unparalleled record of this pivotal moment.
- Imaging Conflict – 150 images and five original photograph books from the NMI’s collection relating to the Irish revolutionary era of 1913 – 1923, as well as images of Irish men and women in conflicts overseas. The majority of the images have not been on display publicly before.
- An Gorta Mór – An Gorta Mór or the Great Irish Famine has left us with few material objects with a direct verifiable link to this traumatic time. The strength of connection to the Famine story through the objects we can use, varies.
Some may have a direct connection to the Famine years or come from the wider period in general. Others came into the Museum with a Famine association. More may be from a later period, but were similar to objects used at the time.
Tues to Sat: 10am – 5pm
Sun & Mon: 1pm – 5pm
May be open late on Thursdays during busy periods.
Open on Bank Holiday Mondays.
24 Dec 10am – 12pm
Closed Good Friday, 25 & 26 Dec.
Temporary partial closures are not uncommon, so it is advised to check the relevant website for updates.