National Museum – Decorative Arts

National Museum – Decorative Arts

The National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts & History is home to a wide range of objects, which include weaponry, furniture, silver, ceramics and glassware; as well as examples of Folklife and costume.

In December 1988, the decision was taken at government level to close Collins Barracks as a military installation, and following consultation with a number of committees formed for the purpose, plans were made in September 1993 to develop the site as an extra venue for the National Museum of Ireland. This important decision ensured that the earliest purpose-built residential barracks on these islands was restored for Museum use. It also allowed for the display of collections that had been in storage since 1922, when government took over the Museum’s exhibition galleries and curatorial offices in Leinster House.

The first location to be restored architecturally by the Office of Public Works was Clarke Square. The billets on the south and west blocks were fitted with air handling equipment, many windows and fireplaces blocked and barrack rooms transformed into exhibition galleries. The artefacts prepared for display were selected principally from the collections of the Art & Industry division.

On 18 September 1997, the Inaugural Exhibitions were opened by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Síle deValera TD. At present the Museum is working to a planned building programme for the use of the rest of the 18 acres of the site.

The old barracks, which had billets, stables, a riding school, drilling grounds and firing ranges, is currently being transformed sympathetically into galleries for exhibitions, reserve collections, conservation laboratories, libraries and offices. The central square, the buildings of which were demolished in 1890, will become the main entrance to the Museum with visitor facilities, a restaurant and exhibition galleries.

The barracks and central square are named after Michael Collins, the first Commander-in-Chief of the Irish Free State Army, who was killed at Béal na Bláth, Co. Cork four months before the barracks was surrendered to the Free State Army. General Richard Mulcahy, who formally accepted the handover, immediately named the site after Collins.



From her building in 1905 by Colin Archer, the celebrated Norwegian naval architect, to her pivotal role in the 1914 Howth gun-running and her later use as Ireland’s first national sail-training vessel, the yacht has had many incarnations. Her story is intertwined with many of the wider historical events that were to influence and shape the course of Irish history in the 20th century. The exhibition tells the story of the iconic yacht through text panels, contemporary imagery and the display of relevant artefacts mainly from the National Museum of Ireland’s collections.

From 2007 to 2012, a major conservation programme of Asgard was undertaken at Collins Barracks, and this aspect is also fully explored. An expert team, led by Master Shipwright and Ship Conservator John Kearon, set out to conserve Asgard while retaining the structural integrity of the vessel and preserving as much of the existing original material as possible. The historic yacht that is now on exhibition in Collins Barracks is the result of their painstaking work and dedication.

This exhibition will continue indefinitely.

A Dubliner’s Collection of Asian Art – The Albert Bender Exhibition

Albert M. Bender (1866-1941) was born in Dublin in June 1866, the son of Rabbi Philip Bender. By the time he was an adolescent he had emigrated to San Francisco, California where by the turn of the 20th century he was one of the most successful insurance brokers on the west coast of the United States.

In honour of his mother, Augusta Bender, he donated approx. 260 artefacts of mostly Chinese, Japanese and Tibetan origin to the National Museum of Ireland between 1931 and 1936. Although the National Museum had collected Asian applied arts during the late 19th/early 20th centuries, this was the first significant series of donations given to the National Museum during the early years of the Free State.

The material amalgamated by Bender and subsequently donated to the NMI includes one of the rarest sets of the seventeen Arhats (disciples) of Buddha and four Guardians of the Four Quarters of the World from a Tibetan-Chinese temple dating to the first half of the 18th century. Also included are textiles associated with the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Japanese Ukiyo-e (woodblock prints), a Lama Robe from one of the main Buddhist temples in Beijing dating to the 18th century and several decorative arts objects in the areas of metalwork, ceramics and wood.

This exhibition will continue indefinitely.

Eileen Gray

Opened in 2002, the collection is devoted to this Wexford-born designer and includes Gray’s personal memorabilia, lacquering tools, carpets, chairs, tables, screens, lanterns, drawings, her portfolio and reviews of her work. It fulfils one of her greatest wishes, to have her work displayed in her own country.

Wexford born Eileen Gray (1878 – 1976) can rightly be called the “mother of modernism” and is seen as one of the most important architects and designers of the 20th century. From her early lacquer work to design classics like the bibendum chair and the architectural masterpiece of E1027, Eileen Gray’s work is as individual as it is exciting.

This is a permanent exhibition.

Curators’ Choice

This exhibition comprises 25 objects chosen by the National Museum’s own curators in the Art & Industrial Division. Special attention in this gallery is given to the Fonthill Vase – the earliest documented piece of Chinese porcelain in Europe, regarded as one of the Museum’s great international treasures. Amongst the other objects in this exhibition are a Japanese ceremonial bell over 2000 years old and the decorative gauntlets worn by King William at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

This is a permanent exhibition.

Out of Storage

This double-height gallery is designed to give the visitor an impression of the range of museum artefacts in the reserve collections of the National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts and History, from large pieces of medieval wooden sculpture to delicate pieces of finely-worked lace. The vast array of objects on display is interpreted through interactive multimedia elements.

This is a permanent exhibition.

Irish Silver

One of the largest collections of Irish silver in the world, this exhibition traces the development of the silversmith’s craft from the early 17th century to the present day. It addresses the evolution of design and examines the mining, assaying, and crafting of this precious metal. It illustrates the various uses of silver – religious, domestic and ceremonial and by means of vignettes seeks to place the objects in their historical and economic context.

This is a permanent exhibition.

Reconstructed Romms: Four Centuries of Furnishings

The material is displayed in a series of room settings, from the 17th century with oak furniture and panelling, through the refined splendour of Georgian Ireland to the high style of the 19th century. The exhibition also shows some of the international furniture collection, not exhibited for many decades. The galleries are visually enhanced by objects, such as textiles, silverware, glass and ceramics, from other collections. The 20th century furniture gallery looks at Irish modernism from 1900 to the present day.

On display is Irish furniture from various design movements, Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, Deco bedroom, to the thoroughly modernist style of the 1950s. It also displays the work of some of Ireland’s best contemporary furniture designers and leading wood turners. Through accounts of times past, touching objects and reading about life during the periods in question, this exhibition traces the development of furniture in Ireland from 1600 through to the present day. It has accompanying interactive gallery which invites visitors to touch, examine, explore and learn about chair design over the past two hundred years.

This is a permanent exhibition.

Airgead, A Thousand Years of Irish Coins & Currency

This exhibition tells the story of coins and money in Ireland from the 10th century to the present day – ranging from medieval coins and coin-hoards to modern banknotes. Related material such as tokens and medals are also displayed. The exhibition also traces the development of paper money from the 18th century to the present, finishing with credit cards and Internet banking.

This is a permanent exhibition.

The Way We Wore – 250 Years of Irish Clothing and Jewellery

This exhibition displays clothing and jewellery worn in Ireland principally from the 1760s to the 1960s. Although many still think of ‘Irish Dress’ in the context of woollens worn in the West of Ireland, this exhibition shows that in the past the majority of Irish people, even those who wore locally woven fabrics (silk, linen, wool and cotton) dressed in styles which competed with the fashion conscious of Europe. The exhibition of jewellery features some of the materials from which jewellery has been made, the variety of reasons for wearing jewellery and the range of styles which people have bought and worn over the last few centuries.

This is a permanent exhibition.

What’s In Store?

For the first time in the history of The National Museum, artefacts normally kept in storage will be visible and accessible to everyone. This storage facility is part of an effort to make publicly accessible some of the most important collections from the Museum. The entire national collections of glass, silver, pewter, brass, enamel and Asian applied arts are shown.

What’s in Store? is a fascinating array of artefacts that is guaranteed to captivate the imagination of young and old alike. The National Museum is pleased to provide this increased access to our history and heritage in the form of this modern visible storage facility.

This is a permanent exhibition.

The Easter Rising: Understanding 1916

This exhibition examines the decade of disturbance between 1913 and 1923, from the Dublin Lockout, through the Easter Rising to the end of the Civil War.

The social, economic and cultural background to the Rising is explored, concentrating on the political dimension and the personalities involved. The exhibition describes the main events of Easter Week, outlining the locations of the garrisons and incorporating biographical details of the leaders. An original copy of the Proclamation of the Republic, as read by Pádraig Pearse outside the General Post Office on Easter Monday, occupies a central position in the exhibition.

The change in public opinion to one of support for the Rising, triggered by the execution of sixteen of the leaders, is examined. In the immediate aftermath of the Rising, thousands of insurgents were interned in various prisons, and examples of the nationalistic artworks produced by these prisoners are exhibited. The War of Independence (1919 – 21), culminating in the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and the Civil War (1922 – 23), are also examined.

There is also a unique opportunity to view the beautifully illuminated manuscript Leabhar na hAiséirghe (Book of the Resurrection), created by the artist-scribe Art O’Murnaghan between 1922 and 1951 to commemorate those who had died in the struggle for independence, and to celebrate the “resurgent spirit of the nation”.

This is a permanent exhibition.

Irish Country Furniture

This exhibition contains the furniture typically found in the traditional rural Irish home. It shows both the range of styles from different areas of the country, the functional nature of each piece, and the skill of native Irish craftsmen. The display also highlights the evolution and development of traditional furniture and furnishings as Ireland’s social and economic circumstances changed through the 19th and 20th centuries.

The full range of furniture and domestic fittings required to furnish a country home is presented to the visitor in its social context, including dressers, beds, seating and hearth furniture.

Central to the display at Collins Barracks is a re-construction of a country kitchen. Throughout Ireland’s smaller rural dwellings and farmhouses, the hearth was the central point of the home. It was the functional and social centre of the house where the cooking, eating, socialising and storytelling took place. This re-construction contains chairs, a settlebed, storage furniture such as a meal bin and food cupboard, a dresser, a kitchen table and hearth furniture, along with examples of cooking and eating utensils, to illustrate how an Irish country kitchen was arranged, and the importance of this area of the house as the heart of the home.

Pride of place in the traditional country kitchen was reserved for the dresser, which was used to display the wealth, and therefore social status, of the household. The exhibition has several fine examples of dressers from around the country, each displaying ceramic wares such as willow pattern platters, sponge ware and transfer pattern mugs and plates, earthenware bowls and jugs, and bowls turned from wood. The work of craftsmen such as the travelling tinsmith is shown, and the gallery’s display of domestic iron objects such as the elaborate candle and rushlight holders and oatcake toasters show not only the skill of the local blacksmith, but the desire for beautifully designed and crafted objects in the home.

Variations in styles of furniture such as bedding and storage and domestic wares can also be seen in detail, with smaller areas of the gallery dedicated to showing a range of each type. The display of chairs and stools in particular shows the variations in design, technique and materials found in seating around Ireland.

This is a permanent exhibition.

Soldiers and Chiefs: The Irish at War at Home and Abroad, 1550-2001

This exhibition uses original artefacts, letters, and replicas and audio accounts to show how soldiering and war have affected the lives of Irish people. There are three main themes, Irish soldiers at home, Irish soldiers aboard and Irish soldiers in the 20th century, which are explored through the eyes of the average Irish soldier, and from that of civilians caught up in war and conflict here in Ireland. Our collection of military artefacts, and recent donations, including more unusual items such as the sword of one of Napoleons soldiers, playing cards taken from a pirate ship, Christmas cards and chocolate boxes from the trenches, a child’s gas mask, uniforms, rifles and the flag of the Irish Republic will be on display to bring alive the military and social history of these Irish soldiers. The new 3 storey purpose built exhibition space houses planes and armoured vehicles leant by the Irish Defence Force and Aer Corp and are displayed with objects in our collection, to tell the tales of the men who flew, drove and serviced the vehicles in Ireland and on UN Peacekeeping duty. Bring along your family to explore the histories of the soldiers and their families in this exciting new exhibition.

This is a permanent exhibition.

Franciscan Faith: Sacred Art in Ireland 1600-1750

This exhibition coincides with the 400th anniversary of the founding, in 1607, of the illustrious Franciscan college at Louvain in the Spanish Netherlands, now Belgium. It includes religious silver and other material from several of the Franciscan houses, displayed together for the first time. Indeed, many of the pieces have never previously been publicly exhibited.

Noting and commemorating the work of the Franciscan Order in Ireland, it traces the history of the Franciscans and their houses during the turbulent period of the 17th Century and the penal laws of the 18th Century. It does so in the main through the medium of religious silver, chalices, monstrances, processional crosses and other religious items that were protected and revered amid the upheavals and uncertainty of the time. One of the earliest and most important exhibits is a processional cross, c. 1500 AD, from Multyfarnham in Co. Westmeath, one of the most important Franciscan friaries.

This is a temporary exhibition.

1913 Lockout: Impact & Aftermath

The exhibition 1913 Lockout: Impact & Aftermath draws on objects from the Museum’s own collections to tell the story of the Lockout.

It documents life in Dublin in 1913, the key players and events surrounding the Lockout and its aftermath as well as the formation of the Citizen Army, the women’s suffrage movement and the rise of trade unions.

Central to the exhibition will be the original Starry Plough flag which made its first appearance with the Irish Citizen Army in April 1914 in Dublin. The flag then flew over the Imperial Hotel on O’Connell Street during the 1916 Rising. It will be displayed here for the first time in 25 years after recent conservation funded by the members of the Labour Party. The exhibition will also include the Larkin Banner, on loan from the Irish Labour History Society.

This is a temporary exhibition, ending June 2014.

National Museum – Decorative Arts
Collins Barracks
Benburb Street, Dublin 7
Telephone: +353 1 6777444
Opening hours / start times:
Tuesday 10:00 - 17:00
Wednesday 10:00 - 17:00
Thursday 10:00 - 17:00
Friday 10:00 - 17:00
Saturday 10:00 - 17:00
Sunday 14:00 - 17:00
Admission / price: Free

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