The Lit­tle Mu­seum of Dublin

An oc­ca­sional series on small lo­cal mu­se­ums ded­i­cated to one artist, group or sub­ject. By Huon Mal­lalieu

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - (www.lit­tle­mu­seum.ie)

A paean to Ir­ish writ­ing and pol­i­tics de­lights Huon Mal­lalieu

FOUNDED in 2011 by Trevor White, a food critic (for­merly for COUN­TRY LIFE’S sta­ble­mate Food & Wine) and some­time mag­a­zine pro­pri­etor who is now the direc­tor, and Si­mon O’con­nor, now the cu­ra­tor, the Lit­tle Mu­seum is reg­u­larly lauded as ‘Dublin’s best mu­seum ex­pe­ri­ence’ and ‘the best free thing to do in Europe’.

Launched with a pub­lic ap­peal for his­toric ob­jects— so far, more than 5,000 arte­facts and doc­u­ments have been do­nated—it’s not so much crowd­funded as, very largely, crowd cre­ated. The Lit­tle Mu­seum pro­vides quite the best in­tro­duc­tion to the 20th-cen­tury his­tory of Dublin and is es­pe­cially valu­able, as ‘our goal is not to sell an ide­ol­ogy, sim­ply to re­mem­ber the past’. It cer­tainly worked for me. My 1950s Dublin boy­hood came flood­ing back with the old names: Find­later, Switzers, The Coun­try Shop, John­ston, Mooney & O’brien, Cantrell & Cochrane, a 1957 poster for the Horse Show. For a later gen­er­a­tion, there’s a dis­play cel­e­brat­ing the band U2.

The mu­seum is open seven days a week, but the rooms on two floors of the five-storey town house on the north side of St Stephen’s Green are not par­tic­u­larly large, so all vis­i­tors are given guided tours and book­ing is re­quired. The guides are well in­formed and witty, ad­ding greatly to the ex­pe­ri­ence. In fact, pro­vided it’s not crowded, it may be pos­si­ble to sit com­fort­ably in the front room, per­haps be­fore a fire, and do some back­ground or fur­ther read­ing. There is also a well-re­puted cafe for brunch or lunch.

The mix­ture of ephe­mera, seem­ing trivia and the se­ri­ously im­por­tant is key to the suc­cess of this ven­ture. Small things not only pique the mem­o­ries of the el­derly, but catch the imag­i­na­tions of younger vis­i­tors. In the morn­ings, there are free civic classes for pri­mary and post-pri­mary school­child­ren that en­cour­age civic pride through his­tory and are much more en­gag­ing than con­ven­tional lessons; these in no way lessen the en­joy­ment of other vis­i­tors.

Per­haps the most im­por­tant item is one of the five orig­i­nal copies of the in­struc­tions given to the Ir­ish del­e­ga­tion to the 1921 An­glo-ir­ish Treaty ne­go­ti­a­tions. The im­pre­cise word­ing was one of the trig­gers of the sub­se­quent civil war. There is also a death mask of James Joyce, which, un­like his body, found its way home to the city of his birth. Shaw, Wilde, W. B. and J. B. Yeats, Beck­ett, the Harrys Ker­noff and Clarke and other writ­ers and artists are here and, in March 2014, the Lit­tle Mu­seum and the Na­tional Li­brary of Ire­land jointly pur­chased the Christy Brown ar­chive for €44,733 at auc­tion.

As well as in­ter­nal tours (in­clud­ing a Singing Tour), the mu­seum of­fers the Green Mile Tour around St Stephen’s Green and hosts lec­tures, con­certs and other events.

The of­fice of leg­endary Ir­ish Times edi­tor Robert Smyl­lie

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