Culture lovers feast on free attractions
THE recession appears to have turned Ireland into a nation of culture vultures as attendance at many of the country's top free museums and galleries is up significantly this year.
Visits to the State's 11 major cultural institutions were up 9pc in the first six months of the year compared to the same period in 2009, topping 1.4 million, figures from the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport reveal.
The reopening of the Natural History Museum contributed hugely to that, with almost 80,000 people -- or 1,500 a day -- attending since it opened its doors in April after a two-year closure for structural repairs.
The Irish Museum of Modern Art enjoyed the biggest boost in attendance with a 34pc rise in visitor numbers to over 218,000, while visits to the National Library of Ireland, the National Museum of Country Life in Turlough Park, Co Mayo, and the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork were also up significantly.
The National Gallery of Ireland saw attendance fall slightly but, at over 348,000, remained the most visited of the 11 cultural institutions which come under the remit of the Department of Tourism and Culture. Entrance to these attractions is generally free.
The rising attendance at these attractions came despite a steep fall in the number of foreign tourists coming to Ireland -- and may indicate people with more time and less money are availing of free attractions.
Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin said the growing number of visitors was partly due to the very active marketing campaigns, while special attractions such as the Cross of Cong's return to Co Mayo had boosted visitor numbers at the National Museum of Country Life.
"The marketing of our cultural heritage is something this Government has prioritised at home and abroad," she said.
Irish attractions performed well compared to their international counterparts, she added.
"In fact, last year the National Gallery of Ireland received more visits per head of population than the Louvre in Paris and the National Museum was proportionately more popular than the British Museum in London," she said.
However, asked if the department had ruled out introducing charges for many of these attractions as proposed by the Bord Snip report, a spokesperson said these proposals had not been adopted as policy but were a "suite of options for consideration by the Government".