At the start of the tour, the place of the Natural History Museum in the development of this area of the city was placed in context. This was 1856, when it was possible to see the Irish Sea from where we stood. Gradually, the neighbourhood of Georgian buildings and further building development, including Leinster House, surrounded the present site as the cityscape grew.
The development was closely linked with the history of the Royal Dublin Society. Over the years, huge collections of various world fauna and geological specimens were added. The specimen collection is now estimated at 2 million items, from beetles to sharks and rock samples, with about 10,000 specimens on exhibition. It is this accumulated collection over its 157 years of existence that makes the museum so valuable to science, in particular students of biology. More space was required and further building ensued, resulting in a world-renowned resource so popular that over 300,000 visitors pass through its doors each year.
One of the most prized and astonishing treasures is its collection of perfect glass models (from scientific illustrations) of soft-bodied sea animals such as tentacled marine worms and anemone and many others made by Leopold and Rudolf
Blaschka, a father and son in 19th Century Dresden. In the 1800s the Dublin Museum commissioned 530 of them for display; many were lost or broken over the years. However, thanks to the skilled museum glass conservator, Lorna Barnes, the lives of over 300 have been extended. Much work continues on the development of a digitized data-base and a virtual tour created by 3D cameras (go to www.museum.ie/nh3d).
Dr Monaghan gradually led the group through 2 floors of a variety of specimens, carefully secured in magnificently constructed and locally made glass cases.
Along the way, he entertained the group with scientific information interwoven with historical facts and anecdotes of happenings. He pointed out the bullet holes in a polar bear and quipped on the inconsistencies often evident from records of shooting expeditions of species during past colonial days and its imminent extinction.
But credit must go to Nigel and his staff, now greatly reduced in number from the heady boom days of the National Development plan when a grant of €15 million was allocated for an extension, elevators and a café. He lives in hope that some new appointments will be approved in the near future.
In conclusion, a great tour enjoyed by all!