Open season Natural History Museum reopens

 

THE NATURAL History Museum will reopen to the public today almost three years after the collapse of a stone staircase forced its closure.

The museum on Dublin’s Merrion Street, affectionately known as the dead zoo, was formally opened yesterday by Minister for Tourism Mary Hanafin.

The 150-year-old museum was closed in July 2007 after a large section of stone staircase cracked and collapsed leading to the admittance to hospital of 10 people who were part of a group of primary school teachers attending a science appreciation course.

The Office of Public Works and the Department of Arts Sports and Tourism at the time decided to undertake a €15 million refurbishment of the building. However, the plan was put on hold in December 2008 because of Government cutbacks and in early 2009 the decision was taken to carry out basic works to allow the museum to reopen.

Just under €500,000 was spent on upgrading the structure, including replacing the staircase to the first floor, improving visitor safety and providing better access facilities, including a ramp to the front door and wheelchair accessible toilets.

The appearance of the museum remains largely unchanged and most exhibits are back in their original position. However, following a safety audit the balcony levels have not been reopened and will remain inaccessible to visitors until funds can be found for the provision of emergency exit routes and the redesign of the balcony railings.

The exhibits cover the animals of Ireland at ground level and mammals of the world on the first floor. Familiar favourites include the skeletons of 11,000-year-old giant deer, Spoticus the giraffe and whale skeletons suspended from the roof.

National Museum of Ireland director Pat Wallace said he hoped the museum would attract at least 200,000 visitors a year. Ms Hanafin said she was glad the “dead zoo” and the other national museums remained free of charge. “In any other country you would pay big money for facilities like this.”