National Museum of Ireland

The National Museum of Ireland in Dublin is a museum devoted to archeology, primarily Irish history. The museum is relatively easy to locate right next to the Irish parliament buildings. The entrance is tucked away from the road, so if there is a crowd around the front entrance it can be quite challenging to get in. The building was built in the late 1800s and is a beautiful piece of architecture worthy of visiting in its own right. The museum is compact enough that you can see the whole thing in about 1.5 – 2 hours.

The sections that I visited were Prehistoric Ireland, The Treasury, Kingship and Sacrifice, Medieval Ireland and Viking Ireland which comprise most of the collection. The prehistoric exhibit travels through the Stone age up through the Bronze age from basic stone tools to the ever impressive gold jewelry that has been found in hoards across the country. This is located in the very first room that you enter when arriving at the museum and is a great introduction to the vast collection of artifacts from Ireland’s history. The Treasury exhibit highlights the changes and development of Irish art from Pagan Iron age style known as La Tène to the Viking influenced 12th century pieces. Kingship and Sacrifice charts the excavations at Tara, the historic coronation site for the High Kings of Ireland and the famous bog men that have been found in the peat bogs in Ireland. Medieval Ireland examines the life of the Irish under English rule starting in the 12th century. The Irish had lost much of their power to the ruling English nobles as England expanded the territory it held. The Vikings played an important role in the shaping of Irish history through the founding of Dublin and the introduction of new styles of art and the expansion of trade routes. While the narrative has been that the Irish pushed back the Vikings from Ireland, the truth is actually that the Viking people were absorbed into Irish culture over time.

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The museum  has some interactive elements for children in their exhibits, but are by no means particularly child friendly. There are a great deal of artifacts to look at and discover, but children are not going to be interested in Christian iconography and pottery. The museum is not very accessible with many stairs to navigate between rooms. The displays themselves in many cases were missing items that had been moved to other exhibits or that were on loan, giving a distinct ‘technical difficulties please stand by’ feel.  A good quick afternoon trip that will show you much of the impressive material culture of Ireland.

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