Tuesday, January 02, 2018


Click on any image for a larger version

I have long intended to do a post on this little gem in the heart of Dublin city.

You could describe it as a collection of historic nostalgic clutter but that would be an oversimplification and would not go anywhere near doing it justice. If you ever got the job of clearing it out you'd only be half way through the first wall when the Angel Gabriel arrived to accompany you on your final journey.

The key word here is "linger". As a Dubliner who long long ago reached the age of reason - an unsupported claim according to some - I lingered over every item. While there is an apparent haphazardness about the collection, every item is replete with nostalgic resonances. And if you're not a Dubliner with a white beard, it is the quickest introduction around to the folk-history of this ancient city.

I have chosen, however, to open with one of the temporary exhibitions, this about the man above - George Bernard Shaw. My opening image is of the moving statue of Dublin. Ballinspittle has nothing on this. These movements are real, documented and photographed (by myself), but that's another story.

This is a wonderful exhibition. Shaw as you have never seen him before. The "compleat man", rounded, fallible, obnoxious, but none the less wonderful for all of that. I hope it's still there so you don't miss it.

A more permanent resident is the Admiral himself, Horatio Nelson. Still precariously perched on top of his pillar, despite having been blown off the real thing some half a century ago. This is a beautiful model, freezing the viewing platform in time before the installation of the anti-suicide cage which not only impeded an accelerating downward trajectory but also partially obscured the upward view of the Admiral himself in all his glory.

This gives me the opportunity to introduce our tour host(ess) Fionnuala. This young lady will take you through eight hundred years of Dublin history in precisely twenty nine minutes. If you are a stranger, she will whet your appetite for more. If you are a Dubliner the smile won't leave your face for the duration. Magic.

One of my bits of nostalgia was the tram. The Howth tram used to go up, and come down, at the back of our house and when I was small I had an ambition to be a tram driver. However, I had just entered my teens when they scrapped the last route up the Hill of Howth. Never mind, there's always the DART.

Then I spotted this tram bench and the memories of sitting on top of the open tram came flooding back.

Doubter that I am, I checked it for the moving back rest. The trams didn't turn around. They just went backwards and forwards. The trolley was swivelled from "front" to "back" and the seats reversed in a do-it-yourself manner.

This guy would put the fear of God into you no matter what your religious affiliation or none. The Ayatollah of Dublin, Archbishop John Charles McQuaid.

This man came home from the Second Vatican Council like he'd just been down the road to the chipper.

A one and one for a humble collation at the Palace, but nothing else had changed. The faithful could carry on doing what they were told, feeling guilty about it anyway, and hoping to be the bearers of a winning lottery ticket when they reached the Pearly Gates.

Now this exhibit alone is worth a visit to the museum. No it's not one of Conor Doyle's props from the long departed Theatre Royal. It's for real. Behind these tasselled elasticated curtains is a sight you will not see in any theatre or art gallery. I can do no better than reproduce the caption from the wall.
Why is there a nude woman in this museum?
PICTURES AND SCULPTURES of naked young men are found in museums all over the world. But older women? Not so much. Above is a painting of the legendary journalist, feminist and civil rights campaigner Nell McCafferty, by the American artist Daniel Mark Duffy. McCafferty donated the picture to the museum. She says, "For some people the dream lives on. For me, the illusion lives on. I think I'm gorgeous. There is a delusion among the young that the body matters." The image provokes a variety of responses. If you find yourself offended by it, ask yourself why.

My response: Good on ya Nell. You never lost it. Rubens would be proud.

I could show you the picture, but that would spoil the fun. Maybe tomorrow, as another Dubliner might have said, and did.

This half shattered thing suspended in front of a window looked like something pulled out of a dirty skip. And indeed it probably was. But on closer inspection it turned to be a Harry Clarke window.

There was an English couple in the group on the day I was there, who were into glass and metal and who had some professional advice to offer on how the object might be further restored and preserved.

This is the backstory.

Not forgetting politics, this poster image evokes a whole saga, a moment when the Irish constitution was tested and came through with flying colours thanks to a President who respected it.

Briefly, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Garret FitzGerald had lost the confidence of the Dáil (Parliament) and was petitioning the President to dissolve it and have a general election.

Leader of the opposition, Charlie Haughey, thought he saw an opportunity to form an alternative government if the President could be persuaded to refuse FitzGerald's request. He had one of his ministers, Brian Lenihan, phone the Áras (President's residence) to get a hearing.

This was most improper and the President, Paddy Hillery, refused to take the call. This was a hightly significant act. Not only was the President protecting the constitution but he was acting against the leader of his own party. Needless to say the phone call was subsequently denied. Hence the poster.

But the story didn't end there.

This is a beautiful piece of sculpture, if you can call it that, which really hits the nail on the head. I can do no better than refer you to the caption below.


No museum of Dublin would be complete without reference to Alfie Byrne. Alfie was many times lord mayor and in response to his self-promoting behaviour became known as The Shaking Hand of Dublin. He currently has an exhibition of his own in the museum and it is full of amusement and endearment.

You can see a life size model of the man.

And you can look him in the eye if you can squeeze yourself in between him and the window.

Some of my own people were friendly with Alfie and supported him in his many electoral campaigns.

I was thrilled to see a cartoon of Gordon Brewster's in the exhibition figuring Alfie as one of a number of aspirants for political office, portrayed here as heads in a coconut shy. Alfie is on the extreme right. You can see the original in the National Library of Ireland's collection of Brewster's cartoons.

And if you missed the boat in your youth you can always catch up by shaking Alfie's hand as recreated by Nicola Zeidler.

And so we move on, to this appropriately tacky exhibition of U2.

There is clearly an element of the cult about this and in that respect it is quite realistic. I am not here referring to U2's music with which I am not familiar, but more particularly to Bono's geáitsíocht around the world.

He is only slightly saved from eternal damnation in this photo by reference to the current occupant of the White House.

This is Bono as some of us might see him, albeit a mite flattering.

And finally, while we're on the subject of horror, behold Bram Stoker, author of Dracula. Another northsider who moved southside but not as extremely so as Bono.

The above are only the tip of the iceberg of treasures in this wonderful "little" museum.

Check it out

1 comment:

Póló said...

The Shaw exhibition has alas moved on.

If you're still interested in the statue you can see it in the foyer of the National Gallery of Ireland at the Clare Street entrance.