History and Architecture

The Natural History building was built in 1856 to house the Royal Dublin Society’s growing collections, which had expanded continually since the late 18th Century.

Natural History Building Merrion Square

The building is a ‘cabinet-style’ museum designed to showcase a wide-ranging and comprehensive zoological collection, and has changed little in over a century. Often described as a ‘museum of a museum’, its 10,000 exhibits provide a glimpse of the natural world that has delighted generations of visitors since the doors opened in 1857.

The building and its displays reflect many aspects of the history and development of the collections. It was originally built as an extension to Leinster House, where the Royal Dublin Society was based for much of the 19th Century. The building was designed by architect Frederick Clarendon in harmony with the National Gallery of Ireland on the other side of Leinster Lawn. The foundation stone was laid on 15 March 1856 and the building was completed in August 1857 by contractors Gilbert Cockburn & Son. It formed an annexe to Leinster House and was connected to it by a curved closed Corinthian colonnade.

In 1877 ownership of the Museum and its collections was transferred to the state. New funding was provided for the building, and new animals were added from an expanding British empire during the great days of exploration. 

In 1909 a new entrance was constructed at the east end of the building facing Merrion Street. This reversed the direction from which visitors approached the exhibitions and explains why some of the large exhibits still face what appears today to be the back of the building: it was too difficult to turn the whales and elephants around to face the new entrance.

In April 2010 the Museum reopened after restoration works that included the reinstatement of the grand stone staircase, open to the public for the first time in decades. There is now a ramp to the front door and a wheelchair accessible toilet. The Discovery Zone allows visitors to handle taxidermy and bones. You may open drawers to see what lurks inside and spend a relaxing moment in the Reading Area at first floor level.

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