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The Dead Zoo is full of friends

Having been closed since 2007, the Natural History Museum reopened in April with much fanfare and genuine goodwill from Dubliners.

It had shut its doors after a stone staircase collapsed and, while it hasn't received the major revamp originally intended (the recession scuppered that plan), it did get some improvements, including a new staircase and better access.

Built by the Royal Dublin Society to house their expanding collections of artefacts from the natural world, the museum first opened in 1857 and has changed little over the decades.

For years it has been affectionately known as 'The Dead Zoo' and the nickname's very fitting, for it is indeed full of dead things. The place is stuffed with exhibits; around 10,000 of them. No doubt everything is immaculately catalogued but it has the air of a higgledy-piggledy secondhand book shop and I love it.

The only sour note for me was the shop. As you walk into the museum it's like stepping back through the centuries; your eyes take in the muted tones of the wooden display cases, vaguely register the Giant Irish deer and then the 'shop' accosts you with its gaudy jumble of bits and bobs. It's just plonked there and almost ruins the 19th-century vibe altogether.

Those Giant Irish deer are huge; two metres tall at the shoulder and with an antler span of four metres. To go from gawping up at them or the elephants upstairs (which faces the 'wrong way' because they're still facing the direction of the old entrance) to peering at tiny beetles in century-old display cases was quite humbling.

Both fascinating and slightly creepy (the crustaceans gave me the heebie-jeebies), the museum is also incredibly beautiful. On the day we visited, a stormy Thursday afternoon, it was full of visitors, too, which was a lovely thing to see. For many Dubliners the museum's reopening was like welcoming back an old friend. For me, I think I've found a new one. >Brenda McCormick

The Natural History Museum, Merrion Street, Dublin 2. Call 01 677 74 44, www.museum.ie Entry is free. Opening hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10am-5pm and Sunday 2pm-5pm. Closed Mondays


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