Plan aims to give museums new lease of life

Rarely seen ethnographic exhibits were on display to mark 15-year refurbishment plan

 The Natural History Museum: the €85 million investment is part of a 15-year cultural plan. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

The Natural History Museum: the €85 million investment is part of a 15-year cultural plan. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

The National Museum of Ireland is the custodian of “four million objects, give or take a million, depending on how you count insects and postage stamps”, its outgoing director Raghnall Ó Floinn said.

But many of them are in storage. The top two floors of the Natural History Museum on Merrion Street, built in 1857 and never refurbished, have been closed to the public for a decade since the notorious stairway collapse.

But this is set to change – and soon, by 2021 . Plans for the “Dead Zoo” include an extension to the side, which will reopen those “lost” floors to the public.

Once completed, it will be able to show marine specimens (including hundreds of 1880s Blaschka glass models of sea creatures) and dinosaur remains, including a 7m long Jurassic sea monster, in storage since the 1960s.

In a room overlooking Clarke Square at the National Museum Collins Barracks, some rarely seen ethnographic exhibits were laid out for display yesterday.

They were on show for unveiling National Museum of Ireland’s (NMI) 15-year “Master Vision Statement” which sets extensive plans for the four museums in its charge.

“The museum is looking far beyond simple expansion, and is focusing on the intangible, or invisible, benefits that investment in culture and heritage can have on our society as a whole,” said Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan.

“It provides a blueprint for strategic and physical developments to enhance this wonderful asset of the Irish people,” she added, saying it would be part of a €1.2 billion spend on Ireland’s culture, language and heritage in coming years.

Interconnected

The NMI’s plan to link Natural History on Merrion Street with Archaeology on Kildare Street, either underground or overground, will see a route going through Leinster House.

The €85 million investment, part of Project 2040’s cultural capital investment, is NMI’s single largest capital funding in its history. The Minister called the plan “a blueprint for strategic and physical developments to enhance this wonderful asset of the Irish people”.

After the Natural History Museum’s refurbishment, Kildare Street will get a makeover, with an improved entrance and expanded exhibition space. NMI director and chairwoman Catherine Heaney stressed improved access as a key focus. “Our research shows the under 20s and the over 75s don’t visit us enough.”

Further down the line in the plans (see museum.ie), Collins Barracks is to be linked to the Liffey, will have new galleries for earth, science and world cultures, and will become a hub for all four museums, including the Museum of Country Life at Turlough Park, Co Mayo.

The ethnographic exhibits shown yesterday have never been displayed. Patrick Boyle from NMI’s conservation department presented hidden treasures: a 19th century carved figure of a woman from the Solomon Islands, an 18th century whaler’s hat, a ceremonial Maori figure, a Fiji breast plate of mother of pearl and killer whale tooth.