IT is one of the most glittering jewels of the nation 150 years after its foundation – but to one family the National Gallery of Ireland was simply 'home'.
The seven children of resident attendant Jim Geiran were reared in the basement of the much-loved institution on Dublin's Merrion Square during the 1950s and 60s and had the run of the place when the last visitors had gone home.
Jim's eldest daughter was even born in the gallery.
WB Yeats, a regular visitor to the gallery used to bring colouring books for the children and Chester Beatty once brought them for a drive in his Rolls Royce on a rainy day.
Their playground was the sanctuary of Merrion Square, which was then private for residents.
"In the early days, attendants were required to live in," explained Andrea Lydon, head of library and archives at the NGI. "Jim arrived in 1948 and he was the last resident attendant to leave the gallery when he retired in 1985," she said.
It was a magical upbringing and one which is fondly remembered by Carmel Kenny, one of Jim's daughters, who got in touch with the gallery to share her family's tale after the NGI invited members of the public to share their stories about the iconic public space.
The gallery yesterday officially celebrated 150 years since its opening on January 30, 1864. The opening gala then was attended by 1,500 people, presided over by the Lord Lieutenant, George Howard, the Earl of Carlisle. All of Dublin's 'high society' was there, including William and Jane 'Speranza' Wilde, the parents of Oscar.
A trawl through the extensive archives has revealed the fascinating backdrop behind the gallery's formation, as shown in a new exhibition which will run in the Print Gallery of the NGI over the next year.
"We had enough material in the archives to fill a space five times as big as the Print Gallery," revealed Ms Lydon and Catherine Sheridan, the librarians at the National Gallery who put the exhibition together.
Minister for Arts, Jimmy Deenihan last night said the €26m renovation project currently underway at the gallery would safeguard the collection for future generations.