New Year’s Day at the Dead Zoo & the National Museum of Archaeology

Midway through our Christmas break, I started to get the itch to move out of the house. The weather had been dreary and wet and I was tired of the lazy days inside. As a stay-at-home mom since moving to Ireland, my days have revolved around taking the kids to school, doing the shop, collecting the kids, homework, and staying home during the day with LuluBelle doing those domestic things one does when you are the parent staying at home. I was stir crazy and could not stand another day inside staring at my lazy family lounging on the couch playing endless video games. I had encouraged J several times to pick an activity or destination for us to explore, but I sometimes forget that he is tired and exhausted from working long days and relishes the lazy days on the couch playing mindless video games as much as I am tired of being at home waiting on everyone else and couldn’t wait to explore outside.

So, on New Year’s Day, I got up early and announced that I was going to the museums in town and if anyone cared to go with me, they were most welcome. Otherwise, they could all stay at home and fend for themselves. J immediately decided he wanted to go, although a little put off by my announcement. He helped me get the kids ready (although I’m pretty sure that entailed just yelling at them), while I packed a few snacks and drinks for Lulu Belle. We set off on the gray drizzly morning and took the Luas into the city centre. I hadn’t done too much research, but I had looked online and saw that the Natural History Museum, also called the Dead Zoo, was open and had been highly recommended by other moms in the American group I had joined. So, of course, when another mom says it’s awesome, I say, “Let’s go check it out, kids!”

 

The Dead Zoo

The children and I had actually passed the Dead Zoo many times during our adventures over the summer and we always noticed the interesting animal posters on the wall outside. However, I never realized that the nondescript entrance was the entrance to the actual museum. I always sort of assumed that the posters were just advertising a museum located some place else. So, surprise to me, the museum entrance was up this small ramp into a dark single doorway. There was no giant sign “Museum” clearly telling you made it to the correct location. There was quite small white sign on a post outside the door that listed the museum’s opening hours, but if you weren’t trying to find it and had GPS or a Google Maps, clearly, you would just completely miss this place.

Inside the foyer, there was a large case for donations since admission is free and there were stacks of children’s packs at the museum desk. Each child could take a small wooden pencil and a package, which was a scavenger hunt type activities with interesting factoids and illustrations. Of course, my kids weren’t too interested in the packages, but I took one for each just in case we needed some drawing paper.

As a note to parents with young children visiting: There is NO lift in the museum and quite a lot of stairs. There is room to leave your buggy by the front desk, but then you will need to carry your baby/toddler or they should walk on their own if they are able. Otherwise, be prepared to lift it up and down a rather large flight of stairs.

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The Natural History Museum was built in 1856 and is a cabinet style museum that you would expect to see in old films and at the turn of the 20th century. Part of its charm is the historical way that exhibits are displayed, in giant display cases with small labels and little interpretation. This not a modern museum with “interpretation” centers or videos or interactive displays. It is two floors of giant cases of different preserved specimens from around the world. The children found the tiny and giant specimens fascinating and we noted that several large cases held tiny delicate specimens made from glass.

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Viewing glass specimens at the Natural History Museum, Dublin, Ireland.

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On the second floor, the ceiling opens up large displays of whale bones hang from the ceiling. I must have made eye contact too long with one of the docents as is often my error as a midwestern raised girl. You know. Friendly, saying hello to strangers. The docent came over and excitedly started telling me about different specimens and lead me, the Puppy, and Miss Piggy on a strange tour around the second floor to view some of his favourite specimens which included a bat and a strangely eyed relative to the monkey. He showed us the poor rhinoceros missing its horn, explaining that it had been removed several years back to protect it from ivory thieves.

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The Rhinoceros looks sadly on, bereft of his magnificent horn in order to deter ivory thieves! Imagine! Ivory thieves skulking about in Dublin!

 

The docent went on to tell us that the museum actually had millions of specimens and artifacts languishing  in storage offsite due to budget cuts and constraints. When I asked him about the roped off stairs that led to two more floors of beautiful specimens that we could see from the main floor, he said that damage to parts of the building and the lack of funds to fix them meant that they had to close off those areas to the public. It is truly a magnificent experience that makes you think of how people over 100 years before must have wandered past these same exhibits and marvels at animals and creatures from places that they would never visit.

Dead Zoo, Dublin, Ireland, things to do with kids

Interest choice of eyes? This mammal looks very surprised!

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After a couple of hours looking at all the exhibits on both floors, we decided to leave behind the Dead Zoo and walk across the street to the National Museum – Archaeology. This museum too was free admission and we entered the museum and the magnificent foyer with its intricately detailed tile floors and designs. I love that the museums here are housed in these beautiful historic buildings.

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We spent the next couple of hours wandering between the different floors and passages. There was a lot of gold displayed in the center area of the main floor and then an interesting viking exhibit and an exhibit of Brian Boru since it was the 1000 year anniversary of the Battle of Clontarf. It was a pretty interesting exhibit and the kids were interested after our adventure to Malahide in the summer to witness the mock Viking battle there.

However, I’d have to say that their little morbid minds found the bog people exhibit the most interesting. When you wander past the cafe, you enter this quiet room that offers interesting narratives printed on the curving walls. The walls rise up over their heads, but don’t reach the ceiling. At the first couple of walls, we read and moved on, and then we realized the people were emerging from the curving walls

We followed the curve of a wall that someone had just emerged from and found ourselves in a small room. In the center was a case of glass and inside was a shriveled body of someone. Somebody who long ago had been sacrificed or murdered and left in the bogs of Ireland. Perishing but preserved for hundreds of years. The kids were completely fascinated and quickly back tracked to the first curving wall and sped through all the small rooms that the curving walls created. Each was a small, dim, private space to contemplate the body of someone who had died long ago. Someone with a severed arm. Someone with their throat slashed. The matted red hair still visible despite the grisly remains. It was fascinating. There was a video section if you wanted to learn more about how the bodies were found and how the bog preserved the bodies, but the children sped past, too impatient to read or watch any of this.

We entered the final hall  we would explore and it was an exhibit of the Viking Armory. Swords, fighting implements, leather shields in dim lighting. The kids found it all fascinating and loved looking at all the “real” weapons from long ago. We saw a massive skeleton of a Viking Warrior that the kids stared at for a long time.

The two museums were lovely ways to spend the first day of 2014. We will definitely be back.

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