Monday 18 December 2017

'Dead Zoo' completes its rebirth

Museum's menagerie ready for public

Nigel Monaghan, keeper of the Natural
History Museum, with an arctic fox
Nigel Monaghan, keeper of the Natural History Museum, with an arctic fox
Intern Cecile Musy with a water chevrotain, a small deer
A staff member checking on a nilgai, a type of antelope
Sylviane Vauchere applies some finishing touches to an elephant exhibit at the National History Museum

Ken Sweeney

FOR generations of children it has been known as The Dead Zoo.

To adults it was the Natural History Museum in Dublin's Merrion Street where the exotic and bizarre stared from every vantage point at the daily troop of awed visitors.

The exhibits include every sort of mammal, fish, and reptile that inhabited the Earth, including the bones of the giant Irish deer, which had the biggest antlers of any known animal.

And it re-opens this Thursday after being closed since the collapse of a section of a stone staircase in July 2007.

Originally earmarked for a €15m major refurbishment, changes were abandoned after funds allocated under the National Development Plan were no longer available.

However, the decision was taken in 2009 to carry out basic works. And so the museum, which first opened its doors in 1857, will once again welcome visitors to its rarefied atmosphere.

That means we can renew our acquaintance with old favourites such as the skeleton of Spoticus the giraffe and a human brain inside a jar.

Nigel Monaghan, the keeper of the Natural History Museum said: "All we've had to listen to for the last few years is the sounds of carpenters banging and workmen drilling holes. It will be great to hear the chatter of children and the sound of small feet."

When it closed in July 2007, the museum was attracting 108,000 visitors every year.

Attendances are sure to recover with new attractions including two new hands-on areas, the Discovery Zone, where visitors can handle bones or hold a stuffed badger, and a new reading area where youngsters can bone up on the various skeletons and animals on display.

"We're expecting to be mobbed so any school groups need to book in advance. There really is so much to see here," Mr Monaghan said. He has been on the staff of the museum for 29 years.

While there have been some changes to the attractions, the traditional furnishings remain the same and a new circuit, allowing access to the restored stone staircase, makes it possible for visitors to experience the original entrance to the museum and see exhibits in a sequence that would have been familiar to Victorian visitors.

Sadly, not all of the museum's 10,000 animal exhibits will be accessible by the public.

Visitors to the museum will be frustrated by the closure of two overhead balconies on which 7,000 birds, fish and animals are on display, including the extinct Dodo bird. These balconies remain closed due to health and safety reasons but management are investigating the possibility of virtual access online.

The Natural History Museum will be officially re-opened by Tourism, Culture & Sport Minister Mary Hanafin next Wednesday with the attraction open to the public the following day from 10-5pm Tuesday-Saturday, Sundays 2-5pm, Closed Mondays.

Group visitors can book in advance by emailing or phoning 01 6486453.

Irish Independent

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