Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Welcome to...National Museum Ireland

Well I haven't tried this before, at least not in blog form, so here it is a museum review!

I visited the National Museum Ireland in January and concentrated my efforts on the Archaeology building, it was a duel purpose, I wanted to see the lovely Broighter Boat; but I was writing an assessed article about the British Museum and her Britishness too.  I have no doubt that researching national identities affected my perspective of the museum and its' displays, but, it does provide this review with a little bit of focus.

The outside of NMI is nothing to write home about, it is classical in appearance and seems understated until you walk into the reception area.  A beautiful mosaic floor greets you with a spectacular dome above; it provides a wow before you even see an artefact!  (Sadly I cannot share a photo as they are only allowed for personal use, hopefully I will receive some permissions soon and I will edit them in!)

As you walk through the main doors into the galleries you cannot miss the array of Irish gold which forms the centre of the ground floor...it has another wow factor and I still haven't really seen anything.  I always have a prehistory agenda, so I knew I would get to all that gold, but it could wait a little longer...I had pottery to see.

The outer boundary of the gallery follows Ireland's prehistory, it is clearly presented in simple cases, designed to allow you to truly appreciate examples of everything, rather than full to bursting.  Labelling can be a little hit and miss, it is always there, but aretefacts are not always numbered, which is a shame as the information is well structured and easily understood.  I spent a great amount of time admiring some beautiful lithics, before the gallery relating to the Hill of Tara began to take my attention.  Having been fortunate enough to visit Tara in 2009 it was a particularly rewarding gallery.  It clearly explains and demonstrates the multi-period nature of Tara from prehistory to present, but is careful to avoid politics.  This is something I feel deserves praise, it would have been easy to detract from the world significance and indeed the Irish significance of Tara by providing politics and the curators should be applauded for the manner in which it is handled.

After my visit to Tara I went back on myself a little to see the astonishing log boat, it is covered, but, not in a case.  I am undecided as to how I feel about this, but, on the whole I think it is positive.  The wall behind the boat details discovery, use, preservation and methods of excavation; successfully identifying the stages of boats life.

A particularly impressive gallery is that of the Iron Age, it covers life and death throughout the period in an accessible manner.  The sensitive subject of human remains is dealt with particularly well, the gallery is now home to four bog bodies.  Each is cleverly surrounded in a chamber, with information placed on the outer wall, thus leaving it open to the individual to decide whether or not to view them.  I did, but, was shocked at how many did not.  The display is peaceful and respectful, there are no gimmicks, sounds, additions, simply the encased individual in low lighting.  I have mixed views on the display of human remains, but, this is a tactful display which many better funded museums could learn a lot from.

The mass of gold artefacts are generally parts of, if not entire, hoards.  They are of course impressive and the workmanship is amazing; I am sure metal smiths of modern times would appreciate the complexity far more than I, but I was blown away!  The most impressive pieces, including the beautiful Broighter Boat are tucked away in the Treasury, this gallery alone made for a worthwhile trip.  The gallery name suggests that it is simply a treasure trove, however, this is not the case.  Aretfacts and periods are very well represented and ample interpretation is provided. 

The upper galleries are a little different, there is a taste of Ancient Egypt and Ancient Cyprus makes a worthy appearance too.  Although taking away from the Irish story the artefacts are impressive and the mummies are displayed with their outer lids open, but, enclosed within inner layer, again a well thought out display.  The remainder of the upper gallery houses the Vikings, a popular aspect of Dublin's history, but, possibly under-represented within this museum.  This is possibly due to the overlap with the National History Museum though.  There is a small section on Christianity and the loss of Pagan traditions, but this is far smaller than I thought it would be, again likely to be due to the overlap.

So what did I think? I loved it!  I left feeling very away of Ireland and her proud history.  The layout of galleries is suggestive of a prehistoric bias, obviously I enjoy this, but, I think it is largely related to the multi-site nature of Ireland's National Museum family.  I did note that there is nothing representing Northern Ireland, but, considering they too have a National Museum I was not shocked.  Gaelic is included within all signage and adds to the experience of an outsider, at least in my opinion.  There are family activities dotted around the museum, but I was pleased by the lack of interactives, as I feel they often detract from the artefacts.  The museum is not perfect, but, it is not far off so I would happily give it a 9/10 and recommend it to anyone that is planning a visit to Dublin.  I saw every gallery at comfortable speed in about 2 hours.

So that is that, first one done! Thought it best to start on a pleasant one...as ever share your thoughts in all the usual ways. 

Happy Discovering

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