Why a Museum of Childhood?

Currently, there are very few dedicated offerings in Ireland of childhood collections facilitating learning and cultural engagement. The Ark, Tara’s Palace, and Imaginosity target the child and family audience from different perspectives. Both the Dún Laoghaire Lexicon and National Maritime Museum offer educational and cultural programmes, as do the National Museum and the National Gallery. However, no venue offers the unique combination of historic collection, interactive learning possibilities and creative engagement in Ireland today. A gap exists currently in the national and local market which a Museum of Childhood could fulfil.

The proposal is that the Museum be located in the Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown Borough, where, in addition to delivering a unique and innovative offering, the Museum will:

  • Boost the revitalisation of the Dún Laoghaire region overall
  • Create significant economic impact as a high-grade family destination for both the tourist and domestic markets to complement existing attractions in the area
  • Generate increased footfall (there are over 200,000 visitors to Edinburgh Museum of Childhood per year), enhancing local businesses and retail outlets using existing excellent transport links
  • Tap into the ongoing growth in the national population (up 8.2% from the 2006 to the 2011 Census). There are now more families with children, 12% more than 5 years ago. In all, 23% of Ireland’s population is aged 15 or under
  • Service the leisure needs of the sustained increase in overseas visitors to Ireland (in 2014 up 9% on 2013, with a total of over 2.5m visitors to Dublin and the South East alone)
  • Add to the town’s cultural heritage, thus building on the momentum of the recently opened Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown Lexicon
  • Offer a unique support to national, social and educational policies affecting children and childhood development through the revised Curriculum and the National Children’s Strategy
  • Increase civic and community pride by having such a Museum, which raises the profile of Dún Laoghaire both nationally and internationally.
  • Offer broader research opportunities, artistic residencies and an extensive outreach programme linking to local and national organisations through creative collaborations and partnerships.

Key advantages to Ireland

Themes of Irish childhood past and present will be explored through our archive. Exhibits will reflect on the past by representing thoughts and experiences through the objects of childhood years. The collections housed at the Museum and related educational programmes will foster innovation and creativity through fascinating contemporary exhibits including the handling collection. National engagement is our ambition so that an understanding of the past can inform and enhance life-long learning.

The dynamic heritage of childhood will be interpreted through objects drawn from its unique collection. The Museum will champion arts and education by encompassing current thinking around STEM and STEAM (science, technology, engineering mathematics and the arts) for a range of audiences. We will link with national pre-school (Aistear) and primary and secondary curricula by hosting educational programmes and workshops designed to involve children in creative and imaginative ways.

The Folklore Archive at UCD  is a primary source for us, as is the History of Irish Childhood Research Network, Future collaborations are being explored with: Brick.ie, The Irish Diecast Modelling Group, Model Railway Societies, Meccano Clubs, Púca Puppets, individual collectors, and Irish Toy manufacturers.

Key Benefits to Dún Laoghaire

The Carnegie building was vacated 2 years ago with a move to the bespoke designed Lexicon Library on the seafront. Our aim is to conserve and maintain an existing historical building and further enhance the rich cultural heritage of Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown by creating a museum in the borough. The proposal for a museum at the Carnegie building will complement and link with existing offerings thereby creating a cultural hub in Dún Laoghaire. It is ideal from a size, location and historic perspective, and in terms of social regeneration for this area. This is primarily a local project, supporting urban regeneration but secondly a project of national significance. The rationale for a Museum of Childhood in Dún Laoghaire is convincing, and we need to ensure that this project is based in the borough.

Some of the benefits associated with locating the Museum in Dún Laoghaire are as follows:

  • Increased footfall enhancing local businesses and retail outlets making use of plentiful local transport links
  • Potential to raise the profile of Dún Laoghaire and increase local, national and international visitor numbers
  • Spin-off effect leading to creation of new business outlets, e.g. children’s toy and clothing shops
  • Increased civic and community pride in the Museum and interest in improving and maintaining the local environment in Dún Laoghaire to support this flagship venture.
  • According to Digital Dún Laoghaire, 65% of those surveyed chose Dún Laoghaire as a location for lifestyle reasons, with 43% citing accessibility to public transport as a key factor in their decision.
  • An additional location for events.
  • The new cruise ship berth for Dún Laoghaire will increase the need for a variety of local cultural attractions catering to tourists.

Already it has been established by way of surveys, letters of support, and feedback from the citizens of Dún Laoghaire that there is genuine support and strong interest in the Museum. This community support for the concept of a museum of childhood in Dún Laoghaire has been a key driving force of this project. The Museum requires a state-of-the-art facility to house items of cultural heritage related to childhood. The Carnegie building is ideal setting which can provide exhibition and workshop space for a year-round programme of collection-based interactive learning. It is also ideal for various activities such as hands-on arts programmes, educational workshops, drama and stagecraft, multicultural performances and events, and book/toy lending library.

Key markets

We expect high visitor numbers from educational institutions as our programmes complement and link with national curricula guidelines. A preliminary straw poll in the region concluded that in many cases schools took multiple trips to Dublin throughout the academic year. The top child-focused Dublin destinations included the Zoo, the National Aquatic Centre, the Book of Kells in Trinity College, Kilmainham Gaol and Dublinia. In the surrounding counties, Tayto Park, Powerscourt House and Gardens and Brú na Bóinne/Newgrange (FáilteIreland.ie) were also in the top tier. Other comparable institutions such as The Ark and Imaginosity accounted for 10-20% of visitor numbers. The Museum will travel to schools outside the greater Dublin area and take the Museum “on the road” with creative learning modules designed for the classroom.

Apart from the educational sector, key markets include:

  • Families
  • Tourists – families, summer students, individual adults
  • Community groups.

We will promote the Museum of Childhood through advertising and marketing on Social Media and email, with targeted advertising in relevant educational journals and periodicals. Site visits and occasional offsite exhibitions are also planned. It is envisaged that expertise in marketing to educational and tourism sectors will be by voluntary appointment to the Board with student placement and interns support in the interim period. A total of 60,000 visitors are expected in the first year. This figure is based on capacity data garnered from Museums of Childhood in London and in the USA, where 12,000 square feet of exhibition area and related public space (reception area/ shop/ café/ etc.) can accommodate an annual attendance of 200,000. The Carnegie building has a capacity of over 4,000 square feet including public space which equates to potentially 60,000 visitors per annum.

Local surveys

Surveys were conducted in April and August of 2016 to gauge interest in a Museum of Childhood in Dún Laoghaire. The sample populations were drawn from the general public at three locations; the People’s Park, the East Pier, and Bloomfields Shopping Centre, and also from local businesses. Monthly surveys are on-going with Scoil Lorcáin, a Gaelscoil in Monkstown, carrying out a whole-school survey (of approximately 500) as is the Dominican Convent National School. Survey findings to date have indicated a very positive response to a Museum of Childhood indicating that at both local and national levels, a forum on childhood in Ireland is long overdue. Through monthly surveys we are continuing to gather supportive data and we will update as appropriate. Scoil Lorcáin, in Monkstown and the Dominican Convent in Dún Laoghaire are distributing survey sheets at present. Survey findings to date have indicated a very positive response to a Museum of Childhood indicating that at both local and national levels a forum on childhood in Ireland is long overdue.


Primary school numbers in the 5-14-year age group have increased since 2006 by 12% to 979,590 (Census 2011) which informed our commitment to a whole-town cultural hub policy. In addition to this, an 8.2% increase in the population of the State as a whole is recorded, with 23% of Ireland’s population in the under 15 years of age category. The target audience for children of 15 years and under is:

  • State: 967,357
  • Leinster: 566,208
  • Dublin City and County: 453,871 (ESRI Feb. 2015).

Creating links to the Diaspora, especially in Britain and America, will feature significantly in building the audience for the Museum. If the Museum were to attract a conservative 30% of the target audience market share, an attendance interest of 170,000 per annum could be expected, thus honouring our commitment to a whole-town cultural hub policy. [Source: www.nationalgallery.ie; Symposium: Audience development in Museums and Cultural Sites in Difficult Times]

Social Engagement

The Museum at the Carnegie building, Dún Laoghaire, will promote and encourage social involvement and engagement. The Carnegie building in Dún Laoghaire is an ideal location for the Museum of Childhood in light of a shared mission with its namesake, Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919). Carnegie, a philanthropist, was committed to empowering local communities by making education accessible to all through matched funding. He used his vast wealth for community donations and to establish more than 2,800 libraries worldwide. A Museum of Childhood in the Carnegie building could celebrate his legacy and honour his vision for engagement and learning within the community.

Any research into the history of social involvement and engagement invariably touches on the work of Patrick Geddes. The Scottish biologist, town planner, campaigner for environmental and social justice, was committed to community empowerment and the active involvement of the local population in the restoration, regeneration and re-imagining of their own environment, both physical and social.

Drawing inspiration from such social innovators, we too feel passionate about the fate of Dún Laoghaire, and as Ireland has no national museum dedicated to childhood, our Board seeks to establish a Museum at the Carnegie building, Dún Laoghaire. We will assemble, exhibit and preserve a national collection of childhood related objects. We wish to house that collection sympathetically within the disused, but locally loved, historic building and to do so within the widest social and community remit possible.

Within the Community

Phase 1 of our initiative saw our fund-raising board open “Eduventure Ltd,” (a second-hand goods shop), at 94 Lower Georges Street, Dún Laoghaire. The objective was to raise initial seed funding for the Museum of Childhood. Eduventure would contribute to subsequent funding for free events and programmes at the Museum. The shop has been crucial in terms of funding but also in providing evidence of the extent to which the people of Dún Laoghaire have taken the idea of a Museum of Childhood at the Carnegie building to their hearts. Our volunteers, thus far, have come to us through the Dún Laoghaire/ Rathdown Volunteer Centre, French and German Government sponsored language schemes, local English language schools, Active Retirement groups, local schools and the South Side Partnership-administered TÚS scheme. Many came as customers and stayed to volunteer. The steady supply of volunteers drawn from all areas and ages within our community, and their willingness to support our cause is a testament to the regard for this initiative. As part of our commitment to public engagement, our Steering Group has given talks on the project to community groups and spoken to the people who use our town daily. We carried out a local business survey and received a 99% positive reaction to the proposal .We have collected over 10,000 signatures in support of a Museum at the Carnegie building, and a schools’ survey produced a 100% positive response to our proposal.

Phase 2 Representatives from conservation, historical and architectural backgrounds were invited to take part in Focus Groups to explore innovative ways to fund the proposed restoration and to de ne best practice with regard to conservation of the building under the guidance of Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown County Council Architecture Department.

Phase 3 A Museum of Childhood Board was formed, followed by an application for charitable status. The in-depth collaboration between local residents and the Board has been the focus of this community enterprise from conception to completion. The re- purposing of the building will be highly accessible for diverse groups and interests – parent and child, older as well as younger citizens, those with disability, student groups and local business. We anticipate a rise in volunteering opportunities created within the community and a considerable resource for local students (IADT, UCD), and those from further afield. The Museum of childhood can offer an increased sense of community and civic pride in DúnLaoghaire Survey findings to date have indicated a very positive response to a Museum of Childhood indicating that at both local and national levels a forum on childhood in Ireland is long overdue.

A building saved, a community revitalised, a major cultural institution established!

Within the Wider Community

A national focus on childhood is long overdue so we factored this into our planning for the Museum. Outreach programmes will have both virtual and physical aspects. A lively website with current event schedules and “App” groups will encourage participation, as will our collections on loan. Collaboration between city and rural cultural venues will be a feature of Museum planning. Our concept is to ignite and inspire discourse on childhood and related objects, and also to gather information/objects from a range of childhood stories. By bringing exhibitions to small communities and major regional towns, we hope to capture a shared experience throughout Ireland,

Within the International Community

International partnerships and collaborative projects are essential to the dynamism of our concept for a Museum. To deliver on such projects we will ‘travel’ with our exhibitions and ‘invite’ to ours. We embrace the EU funded LEM philosophy. (The Learning Museum). We have received invitations from museums abroad, excited by the prospect of an Irish focused Museum of Childhood and equally we are eager to welcome interesting cultural exhibitions on the theme of childhood here.


We are committed to establishing an inclusive resource which is welcoming to all regardless of beliefs, ethnicity or gender. Our aim is to involve the increasingly varied interests, cultures and beliefs of the diverse community of children growing up in the Ireland of today. In this commemorative year, we wish to echo the guarantee of “religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities” as proposed in the 1916 Proclamation.

There are four general principles that underpin all children’s rights, as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Ireland signed up to in 1992:

  1. Non-discrimination means that all children have the same right to develop their potential in all situations and at all times. For example, every child should have equal access to education regardless of the child’s gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, disability, parentage, sexual orientation or other status
  2. The best interests of the child must be “a primary consideration” in all actions and decisions concerning a child, and must be used to resolve conflicts between different rights. For example, when making national budgetary decisions affecting children, Government must consider how cuts will impact on the best interests of the child
  3. The right to survival and development underscores the vital importance of ensuring access to basic services and to equality of opportunity for children to achieve their full development. For example, a child with a disability should have effective access to education and health care to achieve their full potential
  4. The views of the child mean that the voice of the child must be heard and respected in all matters concerning his or her rights. For example, those in power should consult with children before making decisions that will affect them.

Our commitment to “cherishing all the children of the nation equally” can be effectively served through the range and variety of programmes provided by the Museum. We have consulted with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs; the Children’s Mental Health Coalition; the Children’s Rights Alliance and the Department of the Ombudsman, Dr. Niall Muldoon, for advice on best practice, in the implementation of our policies and services.

Disability – Access and Participation

Our aim is to ensure that audiences, artists and participants with disabilities can engage as fully as possible with the activities of the Museum. The Museum will collaborate with the Arts Council, Arts Disability Network (ADI), and Arts and Disability Ireland (ADI) to support us to deliver on our commitment to access, engagement and diversity of practice.

Benefits to all

  • Benefits children through a variety of educational interactive learning and hands-on programmes and activities for social interaction opportunities for children and parents
  • Engages the community through employment and volunteering opportunities in a socially inclusive way across the communities, and collaborating with health and social sectors to reach vulnerable children
  • Benefits schools by providing opportunities for Transition Year students to engage in project-based work including inter-generational work with the older generation
  • Benefits language schools by providing opportunities for their students to engage in project- based work and, in addition, forging strong links to communities abroad
  • Encourages and enables through its outreach programme intergenerational conversations around childhood
  • Preserves our cultural heritage by having a state-of-the art facility to house items of cultural heritage related to childhood, for collectors to have an obvious home for their collections ensuring a sustainable infrastructure to avoid losing important collections to the state in the future
  • Provides opportunities for the exploration of founding principles in primary science and innovation in the play of childhood.