Other institutions assembled the original core of the National Museum of Ireland’s collections prior to its establishment in 1877. These institutions were the Royal Dublin Society (RDS), the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) and the Museum of Irish Industry (MII).
The RDS, founded in 1731, collected plaster casts, geological minerals, fine art and ethnographical material, in order to train artists and encourage industry. The RIA, founded in 1785, sought to advance the study of Irish antiquities, science and literature. The MII, established in 1847, sourced its material largely in the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the Dublin Exhibition of 1853.
The Science and Art Museum, established in 1877, brought all three collections together and expanded them through loans, purchases and donations, with the aim of developing the institution into ‘a source of recreation and instruction.’ In 1900 it became the National Museum of Science and Art, placing much emphasis on the development of rural craft and contemporary design. The aim was that the Museum and its collections should be ‘of commercial value to the country as well as of historical and scientific interest.’
With the foundation of the Irish Free State, the institution was transferred to the Department of Education and became the National Museum of Ireland. Its concentration was now on collecting and exhibiting material of Irish interest and its stated aim was ‘to increase and diffuse the knowledge of Irish civilisation, the natural history of Ireland and the relations of Ireland in these respects with other countries.’ The collections on view here reflect the various stages of the Museum’s development, the political changes that altered its status, and the shaping of its collecting policy over the years.