Museum Life

View of the Museum Building in Trinity College Dublin from across New Square
Museum Building, 2000

I lived across from the Museum Building for two years but spent four years attending lectures inside it. It had an air of mystery with rows of carvings of plants and animals and the tall wooden door generally closed and guarded by a smoking post-grad or two, sometimes surrounded by eager undergrads. I always got a thrill from pushing open the heavy door and stepping into the cool darkness of the foyer. As my eyes adjusted to the gloom the two Irish giant deer skeletons would loom into focus with the glass cases and foot-wide ammonites footnotes to their splendour. Then it was up the few steps and back into the light shining down through two domes set in the roof, illuminating the hallway and the magnificent staircase going straight before dividing in two and heading opposite directions. The green of the bannister, the colours of the pillars, the bright contrasts in the bricks of the domes contrasted with the quiet and grey stone walls.

There wasn’t always time to admire all the features as I dashed up the stairs, always heading left toward geology and rarely venturing right toward civil engineering and geography.

It was a building full of strange nooks and crannies, a turn off a corner could lead to a string of offices or a laboratory. The insertion of floors after the building’s construction was evident as some offices had windows with rounded arches at floor level that extended downwards. There was a neat geography library complete with spiral staircase to a narrow balcony on the ground floor where the geology lab technician took our graduation photos, followed by group photos in the garden by the side door. The very top floor housed a geological museum when I was there and a tiny cramped library that only post-grads and final year students were allowed in. There was also a coffee room, that was off limits to undergrads, a place that echoed with chat and laughter and a strong smell of coffee.

It is about the same age as the discipline of geology itself built from 1853-57 and contains such a range of rock types that you could be directed to the pillars in the hall to learn how to distinguish metamorphic rocks of Ireland.

The history of the building, the sculptures and the many rock types and construction materials are now collected in a wonderful and interactive website. Research led by Patrick Wyse Jackson and Christine Casey allows everyone to visit the building and to see up close the exquisite carvings on the exterior and column capitals.