Sorry for the silence. It was a long winter – a never-ending cycle of illnesses – and we struggled to get out of the suburbs. Plus, I have been chastened by the difficulty of pursuing cultural endeavours with two boys in tow: the baby is no longer a baby; the three-year old has started Montessori a few days a week, forcing us into something like a routine. But we celebrated the beginning of spring with a trip to the National Museum of Ireland; Decorative Arts and History at Collins Barracks.
Situated between the Phoenix Park and the shopping hub of the north inner city, it would be easy to bypass Collins Barracks in pursuit of outdoor activities or material ones. But it is a brilliant place for a cultural pitstop. The site is an old barracks, which was closed in 1988 and reconfigured as a museum that opened to the public in 1997. The exhibitions are housed across several buildings in the old barracks, surrounding a central square where the soldiers used to perform their drills (perfect for a post-cultural run around.)
Most people will probably arrive at the museum by LUAS, and the tram stops directly outside. We would have needed to take at least two forms of public transport to get there so we drove and there is a large carpark, where 3 hours of parking costs 2 euro. All of the buildings are buggy-accessible and there are lifts at the corner of each wing.
The museum has an online events calendar that flags family and child-specific events. There are regular Hands on History events, held once a month on Saturdays on a drop-in basis. There are occasional workshops based on special exhibitions. There used to be a Toddler Tour, which was designed more for adults than children really, but I can’t find details online anymore. There is a dedicated Family Activity Area, with the usual colouring sheets etc, and take-home trail sheets are available online and at reception.
Accessibility of Exhibitions:
Collins Barracks houses the national collection for Decorative Arts and History. There are several permanent exhibitions dedicated to furniture and costume. There are some gorgeous items, particularly Eileen Gray’s modernist furniture, but they are probably a bit dry for children’s tastes. Still, fashionable Mums will definitely want to pop along to the Ib Jorgenson exhibit while at the museum. There is an exhibition dedicated to the Asgard ship, and another on Irish silver, which would be great for school projects for older kids.
For us, however, the big draw was Soldiers and Chiefs. Sprawling across a labyrinth of corridors and rooms, it boasts brilliant scenes of Irish soldiery from times gone by. My 3-year old, who has a collection of sticks at the front door to represent every possible type of weapon, was gobsmacked by the array of Muskets, blunderbusses, spears, cannons, pistols, pikes etc. Most of the artefacts are placed in dramatic scenes: statues dressed in peasant gear squat behind boulders pointing their guns at you. This makes for a very immediate engagement with the historical material, and this approach is followed throughout the collection. There is an area for target practice, where you can hold an pretend to shoot a gun, although the triggers on all of the rifles were broken. My son thought this was amazing; admittedly, this particular attraction will not be to everyone’s taste. There is also a dress-up area in a mock-up of soldiers’ sleeping quarters, where you can try on the outfits of various military personnel and medics, though it was rather lightly stocked on the day we visited. For a country that has held its military neutrality throughout the twentieth century, it is well-stocked with artefacts relating to the Second World War: a small bomber plane hangs from the ceiling near the back of the exhibition, and there are even life-size tanks, though you can’t climb into them.
We were lucky enough to see a platoon of real soldiers marching down from Arbour Hill to the courtyard for drills as we were leaving: it is worth checking the calendar of events in advance if similar displays are planned as it brought the whole exhibition into focus for us.
Good changing facilities, though the cubicle at the reception desk is pretty tight for space; luckily there are plenty of security staff to watch your buggy while you go in without it.
There is a Brambles Cafe on site (good coffee, mediocre food) and picnic tables outside if you are still at the toddler-tupperware stage. Commendably, the museum and cafe make it known online that it is a breastfeeding friendly environment.
***** Five Stars from us