We’re halfway through our tour of The Little Museum of Dublin and curator Simon O’ Connor stops to acknowledge a vintage Gold Flake advertisement glowing above the fireplace. The outdoor sign takes pride of place on the 1960s wall of nostalgic posters and photographs on display at 15 St Stephen’s Green. Considering Ireland became the first country in the world to introduce an outright smoking ban in workplaces in 2004, today it looks almost brazen, hanging there, indoors and lit up.
But before there is time to be distracted by the rest of the memorabilia on the wall, over on the other side of the room, museum director Trevor White is drawing our attention to a black and white photograph of a rather grand looking house. Seamlessly, he weaves in a story about how the electrician who had shown up to fix the wiring in the cigarette sign had boasted about having something very interesting to offer the museum.
It turns out to be one of the museum’s most remarkable exhibits…
Heads swivel from the Gold Flake sign to Trevor, who begins reciting the letter beside the photograph of the house. It is addressed to one Samuel Beckett. A few oohs and aahs erupt among the group. It turns out the letter had been written as part of a school history project. A teacher had asked her class to find out who used to live in their families’ houses and to write to the former occupants to ask about their memories of the houses. As a young boy, the electrician discovered that none other than Samuel Beckett had once lived in his house and posted off a letter as part of the project. To his delight (and no doubt his teacher’s amazement too), the writer and playwright responded with a lovely letter, even joking at the end about how his ghost would come back to haunt the house one day.
This is just one of many charming back stories behind the pieces that make up the collection at the Little Museum of Dublin.
Every item on display in The Little Museum of Dublin has been donated by a member of the public and in most cases, ordinary Dubliners.
The museum sets out to celebrate 100 years of Dublin history, from 1900 – 2000 and is the perfect place to get a quick overview of Dublin’s social history, especially if you’re short on time. The collection is as eclectic as it gets. You’ll find a lectern from JFK’s visit to Dublin sharing the same space as early newspaper cuttings about a young U2 and a first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses.
Guided tours take place every hour. The museum opens until 8pm on Thursdays when there is a guided tour by curator Simon O’ Connor at 7pm.
15 St Stephen's Green, Dublin, Co. Dublin, Ireland
+353 1 661 1000
Google map: bit.ly/ZrBdlN
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Standing above the Fortyfoot beach in Dún Laoghaire is a Martello tower. Just like its cousins in southern England, it was built in the early nineteenth century as part of Britain's defence system against the promised invasion from Napoleon. In 1904 it was home to James Joyce for a short while and as a result starred in his most famous work, Ulysses.
When I visited the beach at the end of August, entrance to the tower was free, so it seemed churlish to miss such an opportunity to have a look a bit closer at the great man's life. Manuscripts, first editions, drawings, family photos, two death masks and explanations of Joyce's life and works fill the walls and cabinets on the first floor. Half way up the narrow stone staircase of the tower is a single room which has been furnished as it would have been during Joyce's stay. It was sparse and would have been cold in winter, but there was a palpable romanticism about the place.
At the top, where the canon track is still in place, there is a fine view across the bay. I was so inspired by the place that I bought a secondhand copy of Ulysses later that weekend.
James Joyce Tower and Museum, Fortyfoot, Sandycove Point, Dún Laoghaire, Dublin IrelandHarbour, Sandycove
+353 (1) 280 9265
Google map: bit.ly/OCF0bF
Fancy hanging out with Oscar Wilde? Or having some face time with James Joyce? Look no further than Dublin’s Writers Museum. In the elegant surroundings of an 18th century house, you can immerse yourself in the cream of Irish literature.
On the ground floor, two rooms of literary history cover everything from Celtic storytellers right up to the rattle and hum of contemporary writers. George Bernard Shaw, Bram Stoker, Edna O’Brien, Roddy Doyle: they’re all given pride of place. It’s here that James Joyce is described as “the world’s most famous Irishman” (which is one in the eye for Bob Geldof). The museum also features some surprising artefacts. Such as the chair on which Handel composed himself during the very first performance of the Messiah. Or the typewriter that Brendan Behan chucked through the window of McDade’s public house.
Take the stairs to the first floor and brace yourself before entering the first room. The Gallery of Writers is an eye-popping space with enough plasterwork, gold leaf and crystal to have Kirsty and Phil hyperventilating. Populated with portraits and busts of Irish writers, it also offers impressive views of Parnell Square through its big windows.
Next door, a small library contains first editions of evocative titles - Gulliver’s Travels, Dracula, Waiting for Godot. And if that lot doesn’t inspire you, the bookshop downstairs has plenty more to quicken the pulse of any reader. After all that, you’ll need a coffee break, and the museum’s bright and airy café offers the ideal pit stop. There’s also a nice little garden area, although during my visit I managed to resist its charms since it was submerged beneath six tons of snow.
The visitors’ book positively sizzles with enthusiastic compliments. One of them says: "In poetry, romanticism and spirit, Ireland stands head and shoulders above the rest of us mere mortals."
I can only agree. This hugely-enjoyable museum is a fitting showcase for Dublin’s wordy-wise elite and a splendid way to spend time in their company.
I'm kind of a bum when travelling: I like to do all the free things, because they're free. You should spend money on the plane ticket, and that is all. Also, free things are the things the locals do, and so give you more of a feel for the place.
Anyway, the Hugh Lane is awesome, and admission to the gallery is completely free. Some great modern art. It also, amusingly, houses the (reconstructed) studio of Francis Bacon, with all its contents in disarray.
Here's a list of other FREE things/places in Dublin to see:
First built in 1904, this renovated pint-shaped factory building homes a showcase of the history behind the internationally renowned Guinness brand.
During the visit you will know more about the beer's ingredients, the brewery process, the Guinness family, the original site's lease document, the brand and advertising (Pelican, etc...), the Guinness book of records and other curious facts like the barrel-making process or ancient Guinness ships for transportation.
And at the end of the tour, there's nothing better than downing a good old pint at their Gravity Bar! Located at the top of the building, the nearly 360 degrees view from it is awesome and definitely a highlight of the tour.
As you can imagine, it's a really popular site for tourists and is now more branding-led now it's not owned by the Guinness family any more. A bit pricey, yes, but slightly cheaper if you book online, and definitely worth going if you also consider Guinness to be one of the biggest Irish icons to date.
Also, if you're in the area for a while, why not pop into the old prison? It's at a stone's throw from the factory and was a hidden gem of my Dublin visit.
Open 7 days a week from 9.30am – 5pm (last admission is at 5pm).
Late opening during July and August until 7pm (last admission is at 7pm).
The Chester Beatty Library is a wonderful collection of old manuscripts and artefacts of Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and a few of its offshoots.
The importance of the items and the background on them is very impressive, and the museum hosts a very elegant and complete display of the works (beautiful garden enclosed within the old Dublin Castle as well).
The Chester Beatty Library.
Tel: (+353 1) 407 0750
Fax: (+353 1) 407 0760
The Chester Beatty Library and Galleries are situated in the gardens of Dublin Castle in the heart of the city centre. They are a two minute's walk from Dame Street via the Palace Street Gate of the Castle and close to Christchurch Cathedral (enter via the Ship Street Gate of the Castle). Nearest DART Station: Tara Street.
13, 16, 19 & 123 (from O'Connell St)
October - April: Tuesday - Friday 10.00am-5.00pm
May - September: Monday - Friday 10.00am-5.00pm
Saturday, 11.00am - 5.00pm
Sunday, 1.00pm - 5.00pm
(Closed 1 January, Good Friday, 24, 25 and 26 December, Monday public holidays)
Known locally as the Dead Zoo, the museum itself is a museum piece, with stuffed animals in glass cases, and hunting trophies everywhere and draws upon draws of butterflies and insects. The whole place is exactly like a normal Victorian museum. But without sideburned attendants.
Merrion Square West
Ireland's National Gallery (not to be confused with the nearby National Museum sites!), tucked away near the Dail (Parliament) buildings, is home to a collection that's quite simply staggering.
There are over fifty rooms which take you through the ages of Irish art, from 17th century painters to the extraordinary work of Jack B Yeats - WB's brother. There's plenty of Italian Renaissance painting and Dutch masters to keep you going as well, and some great modern Irish portraiture. Add a fantastically-stocked shop and two great cafes to the mix and well, you've got the makings of a whole day's worth of wonder, and occasional repose.
National Gallery of Ireland
Merrion Square West
The Life and Work of William Butler Yeats is a wonderful exhibition for anybody seriously interested in the story of this great poet. You can listen to many of the poems being recited, including one read by Yeats himself. The medal he got for the Nobel Prize is among the hundreds of exhibits on display.
Admission is free along with other famous buildings in the neighbourhood such as the National Gallery and National Museum.
The National Library, Kildare St, Dublin.
About 200 yards from Grafton St, the main shoppping street. See details in www.nli.ie
Four is devoted to the development of an uninhibited artistic exploration of ideas, discourses and new trends in contemporary art and its practices. It sees its function as promoting, supporting and bringing contemporary art, curators and the artists who take part in its evolution to the public's attention.
11 Burgh Quay, Dublin 2, near the Tara Street Dart station;
tel: 00 353 (0) 86 365 1256;
The museum has impressive archaeological remains, such as jewellery, armour and so on. Ireland has 5,000 years of history.
Kildere Street next to the government buildings. It takes about three minutes from Pearse St DART on foot. Admission is free. Opening times: 10am - 5pm
No 8 Merrion Square is the headquarters of the Institute of Architects. It has a bookshop on the entrance level. The door opens magically in front of you when you walk up to it - just go in and turn left into the reception and say you want to look at the books.
Often there are architectural exhibitions in the basement level. It's a great way to see the inside of one of the big houses on Merrion Square.
On the same side of the square, No 45 Merrion Square is the Irish
Architectural Archive - well worth a visit for anyone interested in
Irish architecture, and you get to see even more of the interior of an even larger 18th-century Georgian house.
This is a real gem. The building itself is a museum piece, it's like stepping back in time to the Victorian era, you really expect to meet Conan-Doyle, Holmes or Watson peering at some exhibit around the next cabinet.
National Museum of Ireland - Natural History, Merrion Street, Dublin 2; www.museum.ie/naturalhistory/findus.asp
Maybe it's all too, erm, "literary," but the trip down to Sandycove on the DART is a must. You can dive into the water at the legendary Forty Foot though, since women are now allowed at this gentlemen's bathing spot you need to keep those togs on. And right above you is the Martello Tower where Ulysses begins, preserved as a slightly overpriced but totally entertaining little museum. The ability to stand atop that stone tower, as Stephen did that long ago Dublin morning and look out on the bay is a wonderful thing for those who love Joyce's work.
Take the DART south from Dublin to Sandycove, walk down Adelaide Road to the water, turn right (east) and follow the shore to the Forty Foot (at Sandycove Point)
Probably Dublin's finest museum in this writer’s humble opinion. It’s housed in the magnificent Royal Hospital in Kilmainham and boasts regular touring exhibitions, from Andy Warhol and Anthony Gormley to Yoko Ono and Joseph Beuys and all points in between.
The galleries are airy and spacious, sensitive to installation requirements and free of any overt pretentiousness. In other words, you don't have to have a deep understanding of art to enjoy the place. There is a good (if pricey) coffee shop on site.
The grounds surrounding the gallery are suitable for leisurely walking; the main avenue leads you directly to Kilmainham Gaol (about 10 minutes walk). War Memorial Gardens are nearby and the National Museum is one Luas hop away from nearby Heuston Station. Essentially, it forms the heart of the emerging museum district, and the Guinness brewery is close to hand also.
West of the city centre, 10 minutes walk from Heuston Station (Luas and Intercity services). Tour buses from the city centre include a visit on their routes, and regular bus services from city centre (nos. 68, 69, 78A, 79); www.modernart.ie/
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