Over the centuries, Ireland has carved out for itself a reputation as country of knowledge and learning. The ‘Land of Saints and Scholars’ was a term coined for Ireland and its early scholars of who travelled abroad to spread their knowledge and the teachings of the Roman Catholic religion.
These were mainly monks, such as Saint Columcille, who spent their time in monasteries scattered all over the country learning scripture, writing and creating works of art in fine metals. The results of their endeavours such as the world famous Book of Kells and the Ardagh Chalice are a testament to their skills and dedication.
Ireland has a diversity of cultural attractions to offer the visitor from ancient to modern times.
All around the 32 counties are museums, galleries and theatres that carry on the tradition of Ireland as a country that embraces the arts of our own culture and of many other countries and traditions. Modern Ireland continues to produce talented people in the arts and humanities who carry their ability onto the world stage. When on holiday in Ireland take time out to visit some of the venues listed below for a glimpse into the scholarly past of Ireland. It is worth seeing what a small country has achieved in such disciplines as writing, art, drama, poetry and sculpture.
Theatres, Museums and Galleries of Ireland
The Abbey Theatre also known as the National Theatre of Irelandis the most famous theatre in Ireland. It is situated in Abbey Street in the centre of Dublin. The Abbey first opened its doors to the public on 27 December 1904, and despite losing its original building to a fire in 1951, has remained active to the present day. The Abbey was the first state-subsidized theatre in the English-speaking world; from 1925 onwards, it received an annual subsidy from the Irish Free State. In its early years, the theatre was closely associated with the writers of nationalist allegiance, many of whom were involved in its foundation and most of whom had plays staged there. The Abbey served as a nursery for many of the leading playwrights and actors of the 20th century, including William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory Augusta, Sean O’Casey and John Millington Synge. In addition, through its extensive programme of touring abroad and its high visibility to foreign, particularly North American, audiences, it has become an important part of cultural and heritage tourism in Ireland.
The Gate Theatre, in Dublin, was founded in 1928 by Hilton Edwards and Michael Mac Liammoir. The inspirational duo initially used the Abbey Theatre’s Peacock studio theatre space to stage important works by European and American dramatists. The theatre later moved to 1 Cavendish Row where leading Irish architect, Michael Scott, undertook the revisions necessary to the room to convert it into a theatre. Edwards/McLiammoir Productions presented European plays in sharp contrast to the Irish county kitchen fare available at the Abbey Theatre bringing the Irish Premieres of Ibsen and other such dramatists to the Irish public in a visionary manner that was their trademark. In December 1983, the directorship of the Gate was handed to Michael Colgan who still runs it. In 1991, the Gate became the first theatre in history to launch a full retrospective of the nineteen stage plays of Samuel Beckett. The Gate also featured three separate festivals of the works of Harold Pinter, the first theatre in Europe to do such retrospectives.
The Ambassador Theatre is located at the northern end of O’Connell Street at the junction on Parnell Square, Dublin. The building was constructed as part of the Rotunda Hospital in 1764 as an assembly hall and social rooms. It is considered more of a cinema than a theatre, although both plays and films were performed throughout the decades there. In the 1950s, the cinema was redesigned, increasing the capacity to 1,200. Added to the main hall was a balcony (containing 500 seats) with private boxes. A new entrance area was also constructed. The cinema was re-opened on 23 September 1954 as The Ambassador. It became a gala event venue, holding screenings of many films for the first time. Of note was the screening of The Blue Max in 1966, which was shot in Ireland. It was never really a commercial success however, and on 27 th September 1999, after 45 years, the cinema closed. It was rescued by entertainment promoters MCD Promotions, who leased the building and it now hosts a variety of events including theatre productions and concerts, all of which use extensive amplification.
The National Concert Hall (NCH) is located on Earlsfort Terrace inDublin, close to St. Stephen’s Green, and is the principal national venue for classical concerts. Originally built for the Dublin International Exhibition of 1865, the structure was converted into the central building of University College Dublin (UCD) at the foundation of the National University of Ireland in 1908. When UCD began to relocate to a new campus at Belfield in the 1960s, part of the building was converted, and reopened as the NCH in 1981. Today the NCH is one of Ireland’s National Cultural Institutions, under the aegis of the Irish Government’s Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism and, as such, is grant-aided by the Irish Government. The NCH is a statutory corporate body, with a management team, and a Government-appointed Board. In 2006, the Concert Hall celebrated its 25th anniversary with a number of gala concerts and events.
The Irish Museum of Modern Art (also known as IMMA), is Ireland’s leading national institution exhibiting and collecting modern and contemporary art. The museum opened in May 1991 and is located in Royal Hospital Kilmainham, a striking and imposing17th-century building to the west of Dublin’s city centre. The Museum concentrates on acquiring contemporary art by living artist and buys only from primary markets: studios and galleries. It also accepts donations of art dating from 1940 onwards. With generous private gifts, it has made progress towards a representative collection of art of that period. Given its youth, the museum has a reasonable collection and it mounts selective exhibitions of its own collection.
The Hugh Lane Dublin City Gallery is an art gallery funded by Dublin City Council and located in Charlemont House in Dublin. Previously called the “Municipal Gallery of Modern Art“, it has been renamed the “Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane”, but is still often simply known as “The Hugh Lane”. The gallery was founded by Hugh Lane, an English born art collector, on Harcourt Street in 1908, and is the first known public gallery of modern art in the world. Since relocated to Parnell Street, the museum has a permanent collection and hosts exhibitions, mostly by contemporary Irish artists.
The James Joyce Centre is a museum dedicated to promoting an understanding of the life and works of James Joyce. The Centre is situated in a restored 18th-century Georgian townhouse at 35 North Great George’s Street, Dublin, dating from a time when the north inner city of Dublin was at the height of its grandeur. It presents many artifacts and manuscripts associated with the great writer.
The Pearse Museum is dedicated to the memory of Patrick Pearse and his brother, William. Patrick Pearse was an educationalist and nationalist who was executed for his part in the 1916 Rising. The museum is situated in the suburb of Rathfarnham on the south side ofDublin City. It was formerly the home of Pearse’s experimental school, St. Enda’s. The Museum contains reconstructions of many of the original rooms, including Pearse’s study, the family sitting room, the school art gallery, the school museum and one of the dormitories. The museum is an 18th century house situated in scenic parkland. . The museum is open seven days a week and admission is free.
The National Gallery of Ireland is the most important and most visited attractions in Ireland. The gallery houses the Irish national collection of Irish and European art. It is located in the centre of Dublinwith one entrance on Merrion Square, beside Leinster House, and another on Clare Street. It was founded in 1854 and opened its doors ten years later. The Gallery has an extensive, representative collection of Irish painting and is also notable for its Italian Baroque and Dutch Masters collection. The current director of the gallery is Raymond Keaveney. Entry to the gallery is free and an experience not to be missed.
The National Library of Ireland is the primary central library of Ireland, located in Dublin. The library is a reference library and, as such, does not lend. It has a large quantity of Irish and Irish-related material, which can be consulted without charge; this includes books, maps, manuscripts, music, newspapers, periodicals and photographs. Included in their collections is material issued by private, as well as government publishers. The Chief Herald of Ireland and National Photographic Archive are attached to the library. Genealogy records can also be accessed there.
The Dublin Writers Museum was opened in November 1991 at No 18, Parnell Square, Dublin, The museum occupies an original 18th-century house, which accommodates the museum rooms, library, gallery and administration area. The annex behind it has a coffee shop and bookshop on the ground floor and exhibition and lecture rooms on the floors above. The Irish Writers’ Centre, next door in No 19, contains the meeting rooms and offices of the Irish Writers’ Union, the Society of Irish Playwrights and the Irish Children’s Book Trust. The Museum was established to promote interest, through its collection, displays and activities, in Irish literature as a whole and in the lives and works of individual Irish writers. Through its association with the Irish Writers’ Centre, it provides a link with living writers and the international literary scene.
The National Museum of Ireland has three centres in Dublin and one in County Mayo, with a strong emphasis on Irish art, culture and natural history. The Archaeology and History section on Kildare Street has displays on prehistoric Ireland, including early work in gold, church treasures, the Viking and medieval periods, and more modern times. There are special displays of items from Egypt, Cyprus and the Roman world, and special exhibitions are regularly mounted. This section includes such pieces as the Ardagh Chalice and the Tara Brooch. Many of these pieces, found in the nineteenth century by peasants working the land, who were unaware of their value and importance could have been lost to the state. The Museums of both the above-mentioned institutions formed the basis for the Archaeology and History section of the Museum at Kildare Street. This is the original site opened in 1890 as the Dublin Museum of Science and Art. Until 1922, this site also included Leinster House, now the home of the Oireachtas.
The Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM) is part of Dublin City University located in Dublin City. Founded in 1848, by a group of music enthusiasts, it moved to its present address in Westland Row in 1871. In addition to academic degrees, the RIAM offers a variety of courses and examinations in the fields of music, public speaking and drama, including associate and licentiate diplomas. Grade examinations and practical and teaching diplomas can be taken by internal and external students.
The Chester Beatty Library was established in Dublin in 1950, to house the collections of mining magnate, Sir Alfred Chester Beatty. The present library, on the grounds of Dublin Castle, opened on the February 7 th , 2000, the 125th anniversary of Sir Alfred’s birth and was named European Museum of the Year in 2002. The Library’s collections are displayed in two collections: “Sacred Traditions” and “Artistic Traditions”. Both displays exhibit sacred texts, manuscripts, miniature paintings and art on paper from the world’s great oriental and western religions as well as secular items. The Library is one of the premier sources for scholarship in both the Old and New Testaments and is home to one of the most significant collections of Islamic and Far Eastern artifacts.
SFX City Theatre Dublin is a small intimate theatre in Dublin, founded in 1984. It is currently a production company, which puts on over 300 shows each year in over 50 venues around the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and the theatre is in effect a rehearsal stage. The venue host occasional boutique concerts by visiting niche music artists.
The Andrews Lane Theatre is located in Dublin City centre, off Grafton Street Andrew Lane Theatre is one of the newer theatres in the city. The capacity varies as they have retractable seating and the plays tend to be more modern than their more established and conservative counterparts.
The Gaiety Theatre – The Gaiety Theatre was Ireland’s first established theatre, which is still in operation. The theatre plays host to plays, concerts, pantomimes and even acts as a bar at weekends. It is built in the classic old English theatre mould and is conveniently located just beside St. Stephens Green in Dublin City centre. It is forever associated with Maureen Potter, arguably the greatest female comedian ever to grace a stage in Ireland.
The Helix is a new modern multi-venue performance space recently opened in Dublin City University (DCU) on the north side of Dublin City. Within six months of opening its doors, The Helix has generated an impressive reputation for staging cutting edge and diverse theatre and music.
The Olympia Theatre is an old theatre in the city centre, on Dame Street, near Dublin Castle. It has in recent years also been the host of many concerts, with 8pm and midnight shows more so than drama productions.
The Peacock Theatre is housed within the Abbey Theatre, in Dublin City centre. The plays staged there are newer and less conservative that the national theatre. During the Dublin Theatre Festival, the Peacock stages fringe offerings that sometimes court controversy.
The O2 or The Point Theatre was an old train depot, which was converted into a large international venue, opened in 1988. It is located on the Dublin Docklands just north of the River Liffey. It has recently been refurbished and re-named in sponsorship deal. With an improved capacity of about 10000, it plays host to performances by many of the world’s premier entertainers.
The Tivoli Theatre was only opened in 1987 as a small intimate theatre aiming to fill a niche that existed for a venue with a smaller capacity. It proved a great success and the Tivoli Theatre has become one of Ireland’s premier theatre venues, playing host to some of the best productions. It is located in the city centre, just off Thomas street, near Christchurch Cathedral.
The Druid Theatre Company was founded in Galway in 1975 by graduates of the NUIG, Garry Hynes, Marie Mullen, and Mick Lally. It was the first professional theatre company to be established outside Dublin. It has led the way in the development of Irish theatre in the ensuing years and generally credited with making Galway one of the premier cultural centres in Ireland. Druid has toured extensively in Ireland and recent international touring includes visits to London, Edinburgh, Sydney, Perth, Washington, D.C., New York and Tokyo becoming renowned for their cutting-edge work and winning a formidable international reputation.
Cork Opera House is a theatre and opera house in Cork City. It survived numerous arson attacks through different wars and scarcely used for many decades because of the disruptions. Although Cork had until then boasted the presence of a proper theatre in some form for over 250 years, it wasn’t until 1963 that the Opera House was rebuilt fully and opened. More recently, in 2003, large-scale renovation works were completed on both the facade of the building and the surrounding Emmet Square. The Opera House has always housed far more than just Opera. Performances of all types are a part of its history and current repertoire, and locals find both its range that covers all arts and music a refreshing change.
The Hunt Museum is located in the city of Limerick. Holding a personal collection donated by the Hunt family of Limerick, it was originally situated in the University of Limerick, before being moved to its present location in 1997. It can now be visited in the old customhouse, an historic 18th century building by the River Shannon in Rutland Street, in central Limerick. The Hunt Museum holds about 2000 different artifacts, both from Ireland and abroad. In 2003, allegations surfaced stating that some of the artifacts were from Nazi lootings in the Second World War, but these allegations were strongly rebutted by the Hunt family.
The Ulster Museum is located in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and has around 8,000 square metres of public display space, featuring material from the collections of Fine Art, Applied Art, archaeology and ethnography. Also included are treasures from the Spanish Armada, local History, Numismatics, Industrial Archaeology, Botany, Zoology and Geology. It is the largest museum in Northern Ireland. The museum is currently closed until 2009 for refurbishment.
The Cóbh Heritage Centre is a museum located in Cóbh, east of Cork City. It is attached to Cóbh’s railway halt area. The “Queenstown Experience”, located at the centre, has mostly permanent exhibitions of Irish history. It provides information on life in Ireland through the 18th and 19th centuries, the mass emigration and in particular, the Great Famine. It also has an exhibition on the history of the RMS Titanic, whose last port of call before it sank was Cóbh (then Queenstown). The centre is popular with tourists, in particular with visitors from cruise ships, which often dock in Cóbh. Two onsite Irish gift shops and a café complete the centre’s lineup. Irish ships settle in the waters of Cobh and usually have a hard time staying afloat.
The Lewis Glucksman Gallery is an award-winning art gallery in University College Cork, Cork City. Opened to the public on the 14 th October 2004, the Glucksman Gallery was named Best Public Building in Ireland by the RIAI in June 2005. Designed by Irish practice O’Donnell + Tuomey, architects, the architecture of the gallery has been awarded several prestigious prizes. University College Cork is substantially located on a single campus adjoining Cork city centre and the gallery building occupies a landmark site at the main entrance to this campus. The gallery is named for its benefactor, Wall St. financier Lewis Glucksman.
The Crawford Municipal Art Gallery is a public art gallery in Cork City. Since 1979, the Gallery has been located in the centre of Cork in what used to be the Cork Customs House, built in 1724. The building benefited from being substantially extended in 2000 and is now a striking composition of Georgian poise and modern elegance. There is a permanent collection of European and Irish art displayed there. The Gallery also hosts temporary and travelling exhibitions and has education and outreach programmes.
The National Maritime Museum of Ireland opened in 1978 in the former Old Mariners’ Church in Haigh Terrace, near the centre of Dún Laoghaire town, southeast of Dublin City. The church, built in 1837 for seafarers, remained open until 1971. In 1974, the Church of Ireland and the Maritime Institute of Ireland signed an agreement that led to the museum’s opening. It is currently undergoing refurbishment and scheduled to reopen in the autumn of 2009.
The National Transport Museum of Ireland is based in the grounds of the Howth Castle, Howth on the north County Dublin coast. The museum is located in the Heritage Depot, Howth Demesne, Howth, a stunningly pretty maritime village. Sixty out of the 100 vehicles currently in Howth are on display, and others can be inspected by prior arrangement. The oldest items date from 1883, with the newest from1984. It features lorries, trucks, fire engines and tractors and a lovingly restored Dublin tram.
The Waterford Museum of Treasures is a museum for historical artifacts associated with the city of Waterford. It is located at the Granary on Merchant’s Quay, Waterford City. The only surviving piece of clothing worn by Henry VIII is a cap of maintenance awarded to the Mayor of Waterford, along with a bearing sword, in 1536. It currently resides in the Waterford Museum of Treasures. Quite a lot of the artifacts on display have maritime associations.
The Donegal County Museum located on High Road in the large urban environment of Letterkenny in County Donegal, is a county museum. The building itself was constructed in 1842 when it was used as a workhouse during the Famine. Its purpose is to collect, record, preserve, and display the material evidence and associated information of the history of Donegal. The Museum holds a substantial collection of original artefacts that have a connection to the greater Donegal area. These items cover subjects such as archaelogy, history, social history and folk life.
The Kerry County Museum is a located in Tralee, County Kerry. The museum is based in the Ashe Memorial Hall in the centre of Tralee . The aim of the museum is to collect, record, preserve and display the material heritage of County Kerry. The museum contains artifacts from throughout the history of Kerry including sunflower pins worn from the Bronze Age, and dueling pistols used by the Liberator, Daniel O’Connell, in the early nineteenth century.
The GAA Museum is located in Croke Park in Dublin. The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) is the greatest sporting body in Ireland and one the most unique in the world. With over 2,500 clubs affiliated throughout the country, it cover all the codes of Gaelic Games, football, hurling, handball, camogie, (ladies hurling) ladies football in addition to Irish arts and culture through Scor. The GAA was founded in 1884 and in 2009 celebrates its 125 th Anniversary. Their headquarters is in premier stadium, Croke Park, on the Dublin north side. Croke Park is one finest sporting stadiums in the world, holding a capacity of over 82,000 in an ultra-modern complex. The GAA is a amateur body, which makes their achievements all the more remarkable. Incorporated in to the main stand at Croke Park is a fantastic museum that charts the progress and history of the organization from its beginnings through to present time. It is a treasure trove of memorabilia, publications and interactive guides, which will thrill the enthusiast and those not so familiar with the GAA alike.
The Ulster American Folk Park is an open-air museum just outside Omagh, County Tyrone. The Park explores the historical link between Ulster and America, focusing particularly on the lifestyle and experiences of those immigrants who sailed from Ulster to America in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is one of three national museums ofNorthern Ireland. Contained within the park are around thirty buildings some recreations, some painstakingly restored originals. The park is open throughout the year, excluding some Public Holidays. The museum is themed, with volunteers dressed in period costume, often demonstrating techniques used in day-to-day tasks and occupational skills such as bread making, cooking, arts and crafts, and so on. Events are marked which cover the culture of both the New World and the Old World, such as Independence Day and Halloween. There are many festivals held throughout the year in the park including Saint Patrick s Day, Irish folk music and dancing demonstrations. The Ulster-American theme is highlighted by the layout and the information relayed, such as the fact that over two million people left Ulster for North America between the years 1700 and 1900.