The Little Museum of Dublin
An occasional series on small local museums dedicated to one artist, group or subject. By Huon Mallalieu
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