Behind the scenes at the Dublin Natural History Museum

By Juliana Adelman

Cleaning glass and dusting are activities that I avoid in my own house, but for some reason in the context of the Dublin Natural History Museum they seemed like fun.  Last Friday Ciarán Wallace and I spent the day getting a completely different perspective on my favourite Dublin cultural institution.  The museum is to open on the 29th of April after three years and I am glad to say that nothing much will have changed except the paint.  They also have a nice new structurally sound staircase.  Unfortunately the downturn in public finances spelled the end for the museum’s renovation project which would have added disabled access, a cafe, a separate education room and proper toilets.  Despite this disappointment I am delighted to see the museum reopening and am glad it will retain its Victorian character.  I thought I would share some photos from our day of dusting and scrubbing.  I had the bizarre experience of looking at the museum from inside the glass cases while the animals sat outside!  Seeing the specimens out of context confirmed for me the degree to which the display structures of the traditional cabinet museum present a particular message to the viewer.  Although innovative taxidermy towards the close of the nineteenth century posed animals in family groups or in active scenes (the museum has a few bloody examples of animals eating prey), there is no question that animals in glass boxes do not trouble you with their gaze in quite the same way.  Anyway, read on to enjoy a different perspective on the museum. 

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10 Responses to “Behind the scenes at the Dublin Natural History Museum”

  1. puesoccurrences Says:

    The photographs are fantastic Juliana – many thanks for these. And I’m delighted to hear that it’s opening again, even without the improvements. I’ve missed taking a quick stroll in and that distinct smell (formaldehyde?) that hits the nostrils as you come in the door.


  2. Frank Says:

    Yes, I’d like to second that. In a way perhaps, the budget cuts might have been a good thing as it ensured that only minimal changes were made to the appearance of the museum. That said, of course, it is regrettable that certain key aspects of the renovation project highlighted in the article were not implemented, especially adding disabled access. Nevertheless, I am looking forward to making my first visit to the museum as it seems very consoling to have a Victorian space amid all the hustle and bustle of a modern city.

  3. dfallon Says:

    I have to say the short term ‘Dead Zoo’ exhibition at Collins Barracks was more than decent, to the credit of the National Museum. Many children are in for a treat on their first trip to the real deal. I can actually recall the first time I was taken there.

    The Natural History Museum is one of the last truly’old fashioned museums in the city. I consider it and the Garda History Museum perfect examples of how one should present a museum. I’m a fan of simple presentation of information, with an absolute ban on excessive audio visual content.

    I think Frank got it in one, the appeal of the Museum is the fact it offers a throwback to another era in a modern city. It is a beautiful place to kill an hour or whatever else you can afford to in the city.

  4. puesoccurrences Says:

    Thanks for the replies. Just to clarify one thing: the renovations would never have done anything to the integrity of the museum. They were intended to be housed in an extension to the side. At the moment the wheelchair access is limited to the ground floor. I hope some day the government sees the light and invests a fraction of the money in the Natural History Museum that it is willing to put towards the others.

    I agree that children actually prefer the old type of museum to anything with computer screens and other bells and whistles. I am looking forward to bringing my son as soon as it opens!


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