National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts & History
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Lonely Planet review
No wonder the British army were so reluctant to pull out of Ireland when they were occupying this magnificent space, the oldest army barracks in Europe. The collection features fashion, furniture, weaponry, folk life, silver, ceramics and glassware in an attempt to offer a birds-eye view of Ireland's social, economic and military history over the last millennium.
But you cannot ignore the surroundings, as magnificent as any structure you'll see in Ireland. The building was completed in 1704 according to the design of Thomas Burgh, whose CV also includes the Old Library in Trinity College and St Michan’s Church. Its central square held six entire regiments and is a truly awesome space, surrounded by arcaded colonnades and blocks linked by walking bridges. Following the handover to the new Irish government in 1922, the barracks was renamed to honour Michael Collins, a hero of the struggle for independence, who was killed that year in the Civil War; to this day most Dubliners refer to the museum as the Collins Barracks .
Decorative arts is a tough thing to get right, especially if you want to offer a broad appeal, but the well-designed displays, interactive multimedia and a dizzying array of disparate artefacts make for an interesting and valiant effort. On the 1st floor is the museum’s Irish silver collection, one of the largest collections of silver in the world; on the 2nd floor you’ll find Irish period furniture and scientific instruments, while the 3rd floor has simple and sturdy Irish country furniture. Modern-furniture-and-design lovers will enjoy the exhibition on iconic Irish designer Eileen Gray (1878–1976), one of the museum’s highlights. One of the most influential designers of the 20th century, Gray’s life and work are documented in the exhibit, which shows examples of her most famous pieces. The fascinating Way We Wore exhibit displays Irish clothing and jewellery from the past 250 years. An intriguing socio-cultural study, it highlights the symbolism jewellery and clothing had in bestowing messages of mourning, love and identity.
An exhibition chronicling Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising is on the ground floor. Visceral memorabilia, such as first-hand accounts of the violence of the Black & Tans and post-Rising hunger strikes, the handwritten death certificates of the republican prisoners and their postcards from Holloway prison, bring to life this poignant period of Irish history.
Some of the best pieces are gathered in the Curator’s Choice exhibition , which is a collection of 25 objects hand-picked by different curators, and displayed alongside an account of why they were chosen.