A country rich in ancient history, Ireland is truly rich with museums in its modern day. Here are the top spots to visit on your next vacation or this summer on staycation.
Editor's Note: Each year, since 1977, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) has organized International Museum Day to raise awareness about the fact that, “Museums are an important means of cultural exchange, enrichment of cultures and development of mutual understanding, cooperation and peace among peoples.”
From a small museum that showcases every aspect of Michael Collins’ life to archaeology and Vikings to 18th-century farming knick-knacks and GAA. Here is a list of ten museums you must visit in Ireland, each intriguing for all ages.
1. National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology
This archaeology museum is great for children and adults alike – the collections give a wonderfully accurate sense of Ireland’s rich history and countryside, especially of life by the bogs. Home to over two million artifacts, the museum is the national repository for all archaeological artifacts found in Ireland.
2. The Little Museum of Dublin
Located in Dublin’s Saint Stephen’s Green, the Little Museum is a hidden gem. It is located on the first floor of an 18th-century Georgian townhouse and captures the history of modern Dublin like no other. A civic museum (or ‘people’s museum’), it chronicles the history of the city in the 20th century.
Even if you aren’t a huge fan of Gaelic sports, touring the iconic Croke Park and GAA Museum is sure to be memorable. You can follow in the footsteps of Ireland’s sporting legends in a stadium flooded with history. In a unique and interactive experience, the museum’s new galleries illustrate the story and journey of Gaelic games from ancient times to the present day, and there is an interactive games zone, where you can test your own sporting skills. Fun for all ages.
This fun and educational museum is hidden in south Roscommon, the land of beautiful lakes and rivers. Its collection has displays of farm and folk life in Ireland from the 18th century to the recent past. The museum is privately owned and run by the Finneran family and has 6,000 items from over 35 years. Restored horse-drawn machinery, butter-making equipment, laundry memorabilia, old and rare washing machines, old-style sheep shears, radios, gramophones, 1930s old-style thatched bar and grocery, a large collection of 78 rpm records and much more.
The exhibition in Dublin’s Dún Laoghaire tells a survival story like no other: Irish-born explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition of 1914-1917. On display are over 150 photographs taken by the Expedition photographer Frank Hurley, a full-size exact replica of the James Caird, which is the lifeboat that proved critical to the rescue, and much more. You’ll be able to fully understand and relive this story of extraordinary leadership.
The Waterford Treasures contains three museums within short walking distance from each other in the Viking Triangle in Waterford, Ireland’s oldest city. The museums tell the 1100-year-old story of the city from its foundation in 914 by Viking sea pirates – the stone fortress of Reginald’s Tower houses the Viking Treasures, and the Bishop’s Palace is home to the treasures of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. As Ireland’s only medieval museum, it showcases all of the spectacular treasures from the Middle Ages.
This museum, housed in the original terminal building in Foynes, Co. Limerick, recalls the nostalgic era in which Foynes was the center of the aviation world from 1937 – 1945. The story is told through a range of exciting exhibitions and graphic illustrations. There is also an authentic 1940s cinema, as well as a Radio and Weather room, complete with transmitters, receivers, and authentic Morse code equipment. It also has the only full-sized replica of the B314 flying boat.
The visitor center at the Mizen Head signal station (Ireland’s most southwesterly point) includes a dynamic new center, the keepers’ quarters below, and numerous enchanting surprises along the path and over the bridge. The original keepers’ rooms have been retained so visitors can recall the life of the men of Irish lights, and there are many fascinating displays and films to enjoy, as well as beautiful views of the south and west coasts. An award-winning maritime museum.
A true staple of Dublin’s River Liffey, this museum is one of the city’s most popular attractions. By day, it’s a living history museum of 19th-century emigration – the ship made many voyages during the Great Hunger from Ireland to North America and Canada. It’s a beautiful ship and the tour is sure to fascinate and intrigue all ages, and you can hear all about the ship’s tribulations and why it was considered to be “lucky.” On the lower deck, there are life-size wax statues modeled after the actual passengers who made the treacherous journey during the Great Hunger.
The Michael Collins Center is in Clonakilty, Co. Cork – owners Tim and Dolores Crowley have been interpreting the Big Fella’s life since 1997, and have organized in-depth tours and displays. The tour starts in their cottage/theater with a film exploring Collins’s childhood and schoolboy days. The guide then takes visitors through Collins’ life in the 1916 Rebellion with large slides, photos, and film clips. The presentation ends with a guided tour of the ambush trail where he was shot – there is a life-size replica of the Rolls Royce and Collins himself.
* Originally published in October 2014, updated in 2022.
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