Last June, my boyfriend had to travel to Ireland for work, so we reasoned that I might as well go over there a few days early with him, so we could make a weekend out of it. For some inexplicable reason, we decided to divide our time between Dublin and Cork, which in retrospect, was a mistake. We drove through a bit of the countryside, and it seemed lovely, but I found the cities to be remarkably unpleasant, which was probably not helped by the fact that we were there the weekend of some major Catholic conference, so our hotel in Dublin was primarily full of priests and nuns who gave me the hairy eyeball every time I passed them in the hall. I was raised Catholic, and thus still have a healthy dose of residual guilt, so I’m not bashing the priests and nuns; it simply wasn’t the most welcoming environment. Anyway, the one saving grace of Dublin was its museums.
We visited two branches of the National Museum of Ireland: Archeology, and Natural History. I’m not sure why we skipped Decorative Arts and History, but knowing me, I was probably cranky because it was raining, my feet hurt (a chronic problem on trips that involve a lot of walking, due to my not owning a single pair of comfortable walking shoes), or I was hungry. But I digress; Natural History was first, and on the way there, we passed through Merrion Square Park, which I highly recommend doing, as it is home to an extremely excellent Oscar Wilde statue. He’s sculpted in flamboyant colours, and is reclining on a rock with a “come hither” expression, which makes for fantastic photo opportunities. The Natural History museum is also very Victorian, and Victorian taxidermy is always a winner in my book. Even more delightfully, many of the animals wore distinctly “derpy” expressions on their faces. The building, which took up two or three floors, was pretty much completely devoted to taxidermy (and I believe a few small fossils), so don’t come expecting a typical natural history museum, but if you like looking at dead animals with vacant expressions, this is your place. As an added bonus, all the grossest creepy-crawly things were covered with flaps, so you didn’t have to look at them if you didn’t want to, which I thought was absolutely great, as I have lots of weird phobias (most embarrassingly, butterflies and moths, but also spiders, particularly gross beetles, and basically everything that lives in the ocean that isn’t a fish, mammal, or reptile (e.g. lobsters, crabs, and most especially giant isopods [shudder])).
We saved the Archeology museum for the next day, when I was only fueled by a blueberry muffin due to my inability to find a breakfast anywhere that wasn’t a fry-up (I feel like my constant remarks about my feet hurting or being hungry make me sound quite a bit older than I actually am, really I’m just a complainer), so we didn’t spend as much time here as it deserved, but we still saw some neat stuff. Much of it was devoted to the Romans, Egyptians, and Vikings, though there was obviously Irish artefacts there as well. I was primarily there to see the bog people, of which they had several, and they were dessicated but incredible. It was quite a dry, scholarly sort of museum, but sometimes that’s what you want, especially if the objects are meaningful enough to speak for themselves. I should mention that both branches of the National Museum of Ireland were housed in markedly attractive Classical style Victorian buildings, if that sort of thing is important to you.
Chester Beatty was one of those prodigious American collectors in the vein of Henry Wellcome, who came over to Europe and founded museums based on the immense piles of crap they’d managed to accumulate over the years. As one of my goals in life is to acquire enough ephemera before I die to merit my own museum, I therefore needed to visit the Chester Beatty Library. It was located in the historic section of town, right across from Dublin Castle, and is not simply a library (which is good, since I don’t think they just let any random off the street use their collections), but an art gallery as well, which showcases Beatty’s most beautiful books and manuscripts. Aside from authentic smells, of course, there’s nothing I love more than books, and though I’ll quite happily make do with any old copies for myself, as long as they’re legible, I often find myself lingering in Hatchards in London, gazing at their gorgeous books, so I get exactly where Beatty was coming from. Most of the texts were religious in nature, encompassing Eastern religions, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, (though with some relating simply to the history of print) and they were simply a pleasure to look at. In fact, we came back twice, since they closed before I had adequate time to look at everything the first time, which is a fair indication that I love a place. Highly recommended.
Our last Dublin museum was also the cheesiest, and least educational (and no, it sadly wasn’t the leprechaun museum, though I would have loved to have had the time to see that too), the National Wax Museum Plus. I’m not sure what they did with the plain old National Wax Museum, or why this incarnation merited a plus, as like most wax museums, it was overpriced and underwhelming, with the only real joy to be taken from how terrible some of the wax figures looked. I love to mock them, yet I still always visit them, since there’s something I find irresistible about arguably famous people rendered in the unforgiving medium of wax. The National Wax Museum Plus started out well with a room of Irish writers, including Oscar Wilde (yet again) in a disgraceful wig, followed by various Irish politicians and world leaders from what I would guess was the 1990s who I’d never heard of. They had the requisite hall of horrors, and even some wax popes. So far, so good. Now, along the way, I had been seeing posters tacked up on various walls, reading “Jedward, coming soon!” and showing a picture of what appeared to be a waxen Jedward (though it was admittedly hard to tell). I know Jedward are awful, but I love Eurovision, and was super excited to get my picture taken with them. The signs kept increasing in frequency the further we progressed through the museum, until I was sure they must be in the last section, which was devoted to entertainment figures. No dice. We duly walked around the entertainment hall, had our pictures taken with sub-par Irish singers, like Bob Geldof (and a leprechaun?!) but there was no Jedward in sight. I finally went and asked a girl working in the gift shop, who informed me that coming soon meant “coming in some point in 2013,” not, “coming soon up ahead in the museum.” I don’t know the last time I’ve been quite so disappointed, so the National Wax Museum Plus ultimately left a bitter taste in my mouth. If you for some reason take less pleasure in Jedward’s rendition of “Waterline” than I do, you might have a better time there.
So, onward to the scores. National Museum of Ireland deserves a solid 3 out of 5, and I loved the Charles Beatty Library, so 4.5 for it. I probably would have given the National Wax Museum Plus a 3 because of the sheer irrelevance of most of the wax figures, which I found delightful, but I’m going to have to dock a point because of the cruel Jedward tease, so 2 out of 5.