Big plans for little museum

Interviews | Thu 3 Apr | Author – Niamh Mac Sweeney
Little Museum of Dublin bike

Winners of the David Manley Award for Emerging Entrepreneurs, The Little Museum of Dublin is chartering a bright future in business, one steeped in history and culture.

We live in a world of dramatic change. People are obsessed with the ‘new’ new thing. So why would anyone launch a museum? “Good question”, says former publisher, Trevor White. “To open a small non-profit museum at the height of a recession is a feat that requires a particular sort of stupidity.”

A ‘little’ idea flourishes

When White and his friend Simon O’Connor told their wives about this genius idea, there was a less than ecstatic response. Fortunately, the people of Dublin were more enthusiastic, donating over 5,000 artefacts to an institution that opened just over two years ago. The Little Museum of Dublin was recently described by The Irish Times as ‘the best museum experience in Dublin.’

A museum for the people

These are busy times for the museum, which is housed in a landmark Georgian building on St Stephen’s Green that is owned by Dublin City Council.

Last month White and O’Connor won the 2014 David Manley Emerging Entrepreneur Award. They have three brand new permanent exhibitions opening this spring, documenting the history of The Irish Times, the success of U2 and the life of 10-time Lord Mayor, Alfie Byrne.

“Ever since the closure of the old Civic Museum on South William Street,” says White, “we realised that there was a need for a people’s museum”.

He adds: “It’s a particularly interesting moment in the life of the capital, and we feel privileged to play a part in the development of civic pride here in this great city today.”

The front room in The Little Museum of Dublin

The front room in The Little Museum of Dublin

Opening doors to Dublin

With little seed capital, the support and vision of Dublin City Council was crucial, as the museum opened on the first floor of 15 St Stephen’s Green.

Within six months the museum took over the rest of the building, and today there are five exhibition spaces across three floors.

The permanent first floor exhibition of 20th century Dublin history explores key events, from Queen Victoria’s visit to Dublin in 1900 through to the Celtic Tiger years of the 1990s.

Professional tour guides lead amusing tours of the collection on the hour, every hour, seven days a week.

Supply and demand

There is clearly a demand for the experience provided by the museum. “Nearly 25,000 people visited in year one,” says Simon O’Connor. “But last year we had 51,000 visitors, an increase of 114%.”

In 2012, the museum was nominated for the European Museum of the Year awards, and it is currently at 10th place on the TripAdvisor list of the top Dublin attractions. The museum is about to launch four new projects; a walking tour of St Stephen’s Green, a Literary History tour, a Women’s History tour and a Gay History tour. O’Connor says these new elements will enable the museum to represent many strands of city life. “We are not just interested in the narrative of victory, of the elite, of the famous. We want to record life in Dublin as most people experienced it.”

A registered charity, The Little Museum of Dublin is also home to several initiatives to boost awareness of Dublin’s history, including free classes for school children, which are sponsored by Matheson, and a monthly lecture series with speakers like Diarmaid Ferriter and Kevin Myers, sponsored by Davy stockbrokers and Carmen Wines.

Each year, over 1,500 first-time visitors to Ireland avail of the museum’s City of a Thousand Welcomes’ service, a free volunteer-run greeter programme that has been described as ‘the best free thing to do in Europe’ by the Sydney Morning Herald.

For more information or to find out what’s on at The Little Museum contact Sarah Costigan, director of development, on +3531 661 1000 or

David Manley Awards

Winning the €100,000 David Manley Award for Emerging Entrepreneurs was “a huge pat on the back from some very grown-up people,” says White.

Nominated by Business to Arts, the museum will receive support from the sponsors including Ulster Bank, Mason Hayes & Curran and the Dublin Chamber of Commerce.

The other category winners this year were Anthony Glynn and James Sherlock, Ar-Nua Tec, (Emerging Business Entrepreneur winners) and Fiona McKeon, Bizworld Ireland (Emerging Social Entrepreneur winner.) They each receive a cash prize and mentoring.

The fifth David Manley Media Award was also presented on the day and this year was awarded to Tom Lyons, senior business correspondent at The Irish Times.

This year the judging panel for the awards comprised of Dr Chris Horn, Professor Thomas Cooney, Professor in Entrepreneurship at DIT and Nicola Byrne, founder and CEO, 11890.

Presenting the overall award to The Little Museum of Dublin, the chair of the judging panel, Chris Horn, said: “All nine finalists were very impressive but we felt that Trevor and Simon resonated the most with the late David Manley – the man whom these Awards honour. Like him, they are passionate, full of energy and positivity, are great lateral thinkers and highly engaging. They have a very clear vision and roadmap of how they intend to fulfill it.”

O’Connor adds: “Frankly we couldn’t have done it without the people of Dublin, and of course our patrons in Dublin City Council and Fáilte Ireland. This is their award, and their win.”

The future appears bright for this little museum. The support from the award sponsors will be used to undertake a significant expansion and re-development project with the support of Dublin City Council.

The last remaining mews stables on St Stephen’s Green are located at the back of the museum, presenting a unique opportunity to re-develop this historically rich space into an exhibition and education centre for the people of the city, and creating a full-scale museum of Dublin in the process.

“If you’d like to help us realise this dream,” says O’Connor, “please get in touch.”

2014 David Manley Award winners