Natural History Museum to close for major refurbishment

Dead Zoo renovations likely to last for several years, but popular exhibits to be moved elsewhere

An elephant, wrapped up and ready for moving from The Natural History Museum in Dublin which is to close in September to allow for a major refurbishment.

The Natural History Museum in Dublin – fondly known as the Dead Zoo to generations of Irish people – is to close in September to allow for a major refurbishment that is likely to last several years.

While the doors will shut, many of the most popular exhibits will not be out of sight for long and will be crossing the river to a home away from home at Collins Barracks.

The museum building, just off Merrion Square, was built in 1856 and has changed very little over the last 150 years, with accessibility proving to be significant challenge in recent years.

After September 2nd, there will be a “full decant” of the 10,000 specimens currently on display, as well as thousands of others to allow for investigative work to take place. That will decide the scale of the refurbishment required.

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As well as ensuring the building is protected and conserved for future generations, the refurbishment project will also address long-standing issues with accessibility, enhance the museum experience and engage visitors with the museum’s unique collection and role in addressing biodiversity loss and climate change. In 2010, the museum had to close the upper galleries due to their unsuitability for visitor access.

In 2020, the museum closed temporarily to facilitate the removal of the whale skeletons suspended from the roof and the packing and removal of 20,000 specimens, and in order to install an internal platform and environmental seal.

Since the museum reopened in 2022, only the ground floor has been open to the public.

From next spring, a new Dead Zoo Lab will be created in the Riding School at the National Museum of Ireland Collins Barracks site. It will be open for the period of the closure ensuring that the public can still visit some favourite specimens such as Spoticus the Giraffe and the Giant Irish Deer, and also some specimens that haven’t been on display for years such as the collection of Blaschka glass models of marine life.

Paolo Viscardi, keeper at the Natural History Museum, at work on exhibits ahead of its reopening in 2022. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

“A draughty, leaky building that is not accessible to anyone with mobility impairment does not do justice to our wonderful visitors and the incredible collection we have in natural history,” said Lynn Scarff, the director of the National Museum of Ireland. “It is wonderful that we are moving to the next phase of this refurbishment project.”

The keeper of the Dead Zoo, Paolo Viscardi, said he was “delighted that this refurbishment is moving forward. We all love the building, and these works will make the building and collection more accessible and more engaging, as well as conserving the building itself to ensure that it can safely protect the irreplaceable specimens that call it home.”

He said the new Dead Zoo Lab at Collins Barracks “will be a fantastic substitute while the building is closed, and the museum’s learning and community team are also developing new ways to share the collection with the public as part of its year-round extensive outreach programme.”

The Minister for Tourism Catherine Martin said it was “another milestone in the exciting redevelopment of the Natural History Museum. Both, the historic building and the collection it is home to, are much loved by the Irish people, and I am really pleased that the work is progressing on this project which will deliver a modern, safer venue that is more accessible and engaging and will protect both, the building and the collection, for future generation”.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor