Cuts keep half of 'Dead Zoo' exhibits out of public view


UP TO half the 10,000 items in the Museum of Natural History’s possession are in storage or otherwise unavailable for public viewing because of a freeze on funding further refurbishment work.

The museum, located on Merrion Street in Dublin and popularly known as the “Dead Zoo”, has had more than 300,000 visitors since it reopened a year ago following repairs, doubling its previous annual attendance.

However, some of its best known exhibits, including a dodo skeleton and a piece of moon rock given to the State by the US, will not be on public view for the foreseeable future.

“The museum is too small to cope with the range of exhibits we want to show the public,” said its keeper, Nigel Monaghan. “It’s all down to budget. It is one of the difficulties of any museum.”

Mr Monaghan said the museum, which opened in 1857, needs a new roof, along with emergency exits and access to the upper levels for wheelchair users.

In July 2007, a stone staircase in the building collapsed, injuring 11 people who belonged to a group of primary school teachers attending a science appreciation course. The museum was closed and a €15 million refurbishment plan was agreed.

That was put on hold in December 2008 because of government cutbacks but in 2009 €450,000 was spent on restoration to enable the museum to reopen, with added facilities such as ramp access to the front door, wheelchair-accessible toilets and a ground floor education space. Public access was restricted to two of the museum’s four floors.

While the Merrion Street building was closed, some exhibits were put on display at the National Museum’s Collins Barracks facility. Items such as the dodo normally housed on the upper balconies are back in the museum but not accessible to the public.

“The dodo is back where it lives but people can’t get to it; and, although the moon rock and meteorites were on display in Collins Barracks, they now live in storage,” said Mr Monaghan.

Under the development plan, the museum intended to build an extension in an adjacent laneway, with fire exits and a lift providing access to the upper balconies.

In a statement, the Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht said the refurbishment and reopening of the museum was “a great success”.

The Office of Public Works said that at the request of the department it was examining “the feasibility of a more limited development at the natural history museum which, at minimum cost, would provide safe access to and circulation around the upper balconies through a new, enclosed lift and stairs at the southern end of the building”.

It added: “It is not possible at this point to comment on whether and when funding would be available for such a scheme.”