There has been barely a pip of protest against the pernicious suggestion that the Museum building on Kildare Street should be given over to the Senate while restoration work is carried out on the latter. While the board of the NMI, where Catherine Heaney is the new chairperson, may be active behind the scenes, this is a ‘suggestion’ that needs to be emphatically nipped in the bud – and publicly so. The obvious solution for the Senate problem is that Senators should sit in the Dáil chamber when it is available.
Dublin city is extraordinarily fortunate to be endowed with an impressive cultural centre, the principal components of which, the NMI, NLI, TCD, RIA and the RHA, are all within walking distance and as such combine to provide a very convenient attraction for tourists. Of these TCD attracts the largest number of tourists and very sensibly charges them €10 to view a single page of the Book of Kells. The Museum on Kildare Street with its fabulous collection of gold artifacts and early Christian treasures attracts fewer numbers even though entry is free. Has anybody in Fáilte Ireland ever pondered this conundrum and drawn a lesson from it? Obviously TCD has been far more vigorous in marketing its attractions but their success is related also to the simple fact that tourist coaches are allowed to park all along Nassau Street and that suits the tour organizers very nicely. No such facility is available at the NMI on Kildare Steet. The best solution to the growing problem of parking tourist coaches in central Dublin is probably an underground car park below Merrion Square or underground behind the Dáil. But that’s for another day.
Meanwhile, far from being threatened with eviction from Kildare Street, what the NMI there needs is an imaginative make-over starting from its magnificent domed entrance which has been reduced to serving as a tacky souvenir shop. The presentation of the exhibits in Kildare Street is not up to the wonders of the treasures themselves. Tired tourists today need the stimulus of a bit of shock and awe – just as much as good toilet facilities! As for the Senators, it might be a little inconvenient for them to sit on Mondays and Saturdays when the Dáil chamber is customarily vacant, but such an arrangement would save millions for the taxpayer. And that, after all, is the principal priority, is it not?
John Mulcahy is the Editor of the Irish Arts Review.
Update Thursday 19 October: Former director of the National Museum Pat Wallace speaks out about the proposed relocation of the Seanad and the impact it will have on the NMI’s programming. Click here for more.