Collins Barracks has a unique distinction that is little known. For three centuries it housed both British and then Irish forces making it the oldest, continuously occupied barracks in the world. It was handed over in December 1922 to Irish Free State troops, led by General Richard Mulcahy, who immediately renamed it Collins Barracks, after Michael Collins the first-commander-in-chief of the Free State who had been killed on 22nd August in County Cork.
The Barracks were designed by Thomas Burgh, Queen Anne’s Surveyor General in Ireland, and are neo-classical in style. (Burgh was a very successful architect having also designed the Trinity College Library, Dr Steevens’ Hospital and St Werbugh’s Church.) Typically, the original work was added to over the time of its occupation with significant extensions added in the late 18th and 19th centuries. The site had been cleared for a large mansion for the Duke of Ormond, and it has several big squares, with Clarke’s Square the biggest.
After the place was de-militarised in 1997, when the 5th Battalion marched out for the last time, extensive renovation work was undertaken before it was open to the public as part of the National Museum of Ireland. In fact, the work carried out in Clarke’s Square won the state’s highest award for architectural conservation, the Silver Medal for Conservation.
When the government decided in 1988 to vacate the barracks as a military facility, plans were drawn up for an alternate use. Eventually it became the Museum of Decorative Arts and History and was opened by Sile deValera, Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, on the 18th September 1997. It is a big building and there is much to see, as there are many permanent exhibitions; namely The Asgard, Eileen Grey, The Way We Wore, Irish Silver and The Easter Rising – Understanding 1916 to name but a few. And, of course, there are temporary exhibitions and shows, which are very popular, as is the café on Clarke’s Square. Check it out.