Dublin should have a municipal museum, several councillors argued at Monday’s meeting of their arts committee. A council official said he plans to look seriously at whether and how that could happen.
Dublin used to have a civic museum, but it closed for renovations and has never reopened. At Monday’s meeting, People Before Profit Councillor John Lyons called for it to be revived.
A new museum about the city could add to the cultural experience of tourists and Dubliners alike, Lyons said. “It’s something that the city of Dublin deserves,” he said.
The Old Museum
The Dublin Civic Museum was established in 1952, and was located at the City Assembly House on South William Street.
Back in 2001, Dublin City Council, the Office of Public Works, and the National Museum of Ireland looked at the possibility of relocating the Dublin Civic Museum.
In 2003, the museum closed its doors, originally for essential maintenance work. Its collection and artefacts were removed.
The council looked at reopening it elsewhere, but the two sites it looked at were unsuitable, Acting City Librarian Brendan Teeling said at Monday’s meeting.
The museum’s old home on South William Street was restored and is now home to the Irish Georgian Society.
And the exhibits from the Dublin Civic Museum are in storage, Teeling said. “Time has moved on.”
The Little Museum
These days, Dublin has the Little Museum of Dublin, which was launched in 2011 – and which some at Monday’s meeting argued does a better job than the old Civic Museum ever did.
“There wasn’t really all that much there,” said Labour Councillor Mary Freehill. “I think the Little Museum has kind of taken over in a way.”
At Monday’s meeting, Sarah Costigan, deputy director of the Little Museum of Dublin, said that the museum works closely in partnership with the city council.
However, Social Democrats Councillor Gary Gannon said he still supports Lyons’ idea to establish a separate municipal museum.
The Little Museum of Dublin “is absolutely wonderful”, Gannon said. “Each time I come out thinking, ‘I wish we had a Big Museum of Dublin.'”
Gannon says the Little Museum does not capture some aspects of the city, though. “I think there is real space in this city now to look at our histories and present them in new and enlightening ways.”
Also, the Little Museum of Dublin is a commercial enterprise, said Lyons. A civic museum for Dublin should be free of charge, for visitors and Dubliners, he said.
If a new municipal museum were established, it would need to be a lot better than its previous incarnation, independent Councillor Vincent Jackson said. “It was the worst-looking yoke I’d ever seen.”
Containing glass cabinets “with a document here and a document there”, he compared it to a miniature version of the outdated Natural History Museum.
Nelson’s head – recovered when Nelson’s Pillar was blown up in 1966, now on display at Pearse Street Library – was the museum’s only impressive exhibit, says Jackson.
There were other items, however, that are still stored off-site by the council. Among items listed as being held at the Civic Museum on South William Street are a bust of journalist Ulick O’Connor, a Howth Tram Line Sign and the Lord Mayor’s Wand of Peace.
“The was nothing any other museum in the world would want to hold onto,” says Jackson.
At the meeting, Lyons called for Teeling to do a feasibility study for a new museum.
“I think we can tell the story of Dublin in a civic way, incorporating so much of the rich history,” Lyons said. “I think the best way to do that is to establish a new civic museum.”
Teeling said he plans to undertake that study. He will look at cities with civic museums, and plans to contact the National Museum of Ireland to further Lyons’ proposal.
“I think we need to engage with other cultural institutions and see if there’s an appetite for a museum.” said Teeling. “It’s a big undertaking. So it will take time.”