The Museum of Science and Art, Dublin on Kildare Street opens on August 29, 1890. The museum is founded on August 14, 1877 by act of Parliament. The decision to establish a state-run museum arises from requests by the Royal Dublin Society for continued government funding for its expanding museum activities.
A number of developments lead to the Science and Art Museums Act of 1877, which has the effect of transferring the buildings and collections of the Royal Dublin Society to state ownership. The collections are further enhanced by the transfer of other notable collections from institutions such as the Royal Irish Academy and Trinity College Dublin.
The Museum is the responsibility of the Department of Science and Art, which is also responsible for the South Kensington museums in London. State support for the institution is manifested in the construction of the new building on Kildare Street. It is built in the Victorian Palladian style and has been compared with the Altes Museum in Berlin, designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel in the 1820s. Neoclassical influences can be seen in the colonnaded entrance and the domed rotunda, which rises to a height of 20 metres, and is modeled on the Pantheon in Rome.
The new museum houses coins, medals and significant Irish antiquities from the Royal Irish Academy including the Tara Brooch and Ardagh Chalice, ethnographical collections with material from Captain James Cooke‘s voyages from Trinity College Dublin, and the collections of the Geological Survey of Ireland.
These are joined by material from the decorative arts and ethnographical collections of the Royal Dublin Society along with their Irish collections of antiquities, minerals and plants. The old Royal Dublin Society museum on the Merrion Street side of Leinster House, erected with government assistance and opened in 1856, is devoted to natural history. It is dominated by zoology throughout much of its subsequent history and has an annex devoted to geology.
The building on Kildare Street is designed by Thomas Newenham Deane and is used to show contemporary Irish, British and Continental craftsmanship in its construction. State involvement in the running of the Museum allows for steady funding and a connection with other state museums in London and Edinburgh which is of considerable benefit. The collections grow with material acquired through purchase, public donation and shares of significant collections acquired by the state and dispersed by the London museums.
Catalogues are prepared by leading experts in various disciplines and printed in the Museum’s own press. In 1900 control passes to the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction and in 1908 its name is changed from “The Dublin Museum of Science and Art” to the “National Museum of Science and Art.” The name of the institution is changed again in 1921 to the “National Museum of Ireland.”