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History & Architecture of Kildare Street

The National Museum of Ireland building in Kildare Street boasts spectacular architecture and an eventful history.

Front gate of Kildare Street Museum in the sunshine

The National Museum of Ireland was founded under the Dublin Science and Art Museum Act of 1877. Previously, the Museum’s collections had been divided between Leinster House, originally the headquarters of the Royal Dublin Society, and the Natural History Museum in Merrion Street, built as an extension to Leinster House in 1856-1857.

Under the Act, the government purchased the museum buildings and collections. To provide storage and display space for the Leinster House collections, the government quickly implemented plans to construct a new, custom-built museum on Kildare Street and on 29 August 1890, the new museum opened its doors to the public.

Pencil drawing of Kildare Street museum in its early days

About the Museum Building

The original museum building was designed by Cork architects Thomas Newenham Deane and his son Thomas Manly Deane. Located on Kildare Street, it is today the home of the archaeological collections and an architectural landmark.

It is built in the Victorian Palladian style and has been compared with the Altes Museum in Berlin, designed by Karl Schinkel in the 1820s. Neo-classical influences can be seen in the colonnaded entrance and the domed rotunda, which rises to a height of 20 metres, and is modelled on the Pantheon in Rome.

Ceiling of Kildare Street Rotunda

Within the rotunda, classical columns – made of marble quarried in counties Cork, Kilkenny, Galway, Limerick and Armagh – mirror the entrance.

In the great centre court, a balcony is supported by rows of slender cast-iron columns with elaborate capitals and bases decorated with groups of cherubs. On the balcony, further rows of plain columns and attractive openwork spandrels support the roof.

Don't Forget to Look Down!

Splendid mosaic floors depict scenes from classical mythology, of which the zodiac design in the rotunda is especially popular with visitors. The rest of the interior is richly decorated with motifs that recall the civilisations of ancient Greece and Rome. 

Floor of Rotunda building in Kildare Street

Particularly lavish are the majolica fireplaces and door surrounds manufactured by Burmantofts Pottery of Leeds, England, andthe richly carved wooden doors by William Milligan of Dublin and Carlo Cambi of Siena, Italy.