If you’re meandering along the northern perimeter of St Stephen’s Green, gazing across at the row of majestic buildings opposite, you’d be forgiven for being surprised to see a museum. Nestled among the suave clothes shops and restaurants is a museum dedicated to 20th century Dublin. Adorned with over 5,000 objects donated by Dublin denizens, the Little Museum of Dublin is literally the people’s museum.
Launched in 2011, the three-storey museum centres on two large rooms of artefacts on the middle floor. All sorts of items are on display – from the literary, political and socio-economic in the first room, to the largely social, musical and cultural in the other. On the hour, every hour, one of the museum’s impressive tour guides gives a walking commentary of the stories behind these objects on the second floor.
On the third floor, visitors can view two exhibitions, the stories of U2 and The Irish Times, two enduring phenomena strongly linked with Dublin. The ground floor currently hosts a temporary exhibition on the role of the Guinness company in World War One, encompassing its approach to and treatment of workers who signed up to fight for Britain, and their benevolence to soldier’s families and survivors.
The guided tour is a must. It brings alive this rich kaleidoscope of items from everyday life, photos of a changing city, political and cultural memorabilia, and symbols of the people and places that make Dublin what it is. Among the most striking themes it conveys is the early 20th century poverty in Dublin, characterised by tenement life. The guide claims that one-third of Dubliners lived in these dwellings during the first half of the century.
The succinct frames of text about each decade along the stairways , accompanied by transfixing photos, provide a striking overview of how the capital city has evolved.
If there is one weakness with the lay-out it’s the brief amount of time between one guided tour finishing and the next beginning. It gives visitors little time to indulge in the crammed rooms of the middle storey before the sound of a new tour automatically prods you into moving upstairs. It is a small criticism, however, in a non-profit museum that is well laid out, professionally run, and inspiringly built on the decency of Dubs contributing to the preservation of their past. Make sure you’re there for the guided tour (on the hour), and retain your ticket to get a discount in the pleasant café in the basement.