Members Reports and Photos
SATURDAY 18th JANUARY 2014
NATIONAL MUSEUM, BEGGARS BUSH
LEADER: NIGEL MONAGHAN (Keeper)
the Scenes at the Dead Zoo
The National Museum of Ireland has its Natural History Collections Research Building at Beggars Bush, Dublin 4. We visited this facility which houses “the museum behind the scenes’' and includes most collections, library and staff offices.
large group of members assembled at the Print Museum at Beggars Bush for this
visit to an area of the Natural History Museum which is not normally open to
members of the public. Our guide was Nigel Monaghan who is Keeper of the Natural
History division of the National Museum of Ireland.
Monaghan joined the Museum in 1981. He is responsible for the management of the
national collections in the fields of zoology and geology. He is also the
project leader on the redevelopment of the Natural History building in
Merrion Street. He qualified as a geologist at Trinity College Dublin in
1978 and worked for the Geological Survey of Ireland mapping the bedrock geology
of South Tipperary prior to his appointment to the Museum.
Like many areas of the public service the Museum has lost staff in recent
years and they have not been replaced. There are now only two professional
scientists in the Natural History Division.
gave us a very interesting tour of the building and gave us very many insights
into the history and functioning of the Museum and some very pertinent
observations at the micro and macro levels.
The former military barracks is clearly not an ideal environment for long term storage but considerable progress has been made in cataloguing and re-labelling the specimen in preparation for transferring them to a warehouse in Swords Co Dublin. At Beggar’s Bush there are a large range of specimens and artefacts including geological samples, birds, primates, mammals, fishes, snakes, foraminifera etc.
One of the recent challenges has been the appearance of the carpet beetle
which has become a museum pest in Europe. Apart from carpets it is partial to
dried animal tissue. It
is a parthenogenetic species. Only females are known to occur thus making
control difficult as a single individual has the capacity to produce a
population. A few weeks sojourn in the deep freeze is a standard museum approach
to the decontamination of specimens.
[O’Connor, J.P. 2003 Reesa vespulae (Milliron) (Col., Dermestidae), new to Ireland. Entomologist's Monthly Magazine 139: 12]
view were some of the original archives catalogues/ledgers with entries for each
specimen as it was donated to the Museum e.g. “fishes” and more recent
catalogues. Most of us had never previously seen a pressed Dunlin!
Richard M Barrington’s inspired “Migration of Birds as observed at Irish Lighthouses and Lightships including the original reports Analyses and Appendix” was on display. Barrington (1849-1915) from Fassaroe was one of the ‘giants’ of Irish natural history. Eventually details of all of the “two million” specimens in the natural history museum are to be accessible in the museum databases as cataloguing proceeds and details are entered from the library office.
bird collection, the egg collection and the model of the Dodo inevitable led to
the discussion about extinct and flightless birds. The Museum has one of the
only 20 complete skeletons in the world of the Dodo and the mezzanine galleries
in Merrion Street contains skeletons of flightless birds such as the Ostrich (Struthio)
and the extinct Elephant Bird (Aepoyornis).
The Moa consisted of nine species (in six genera) of flightless birds endemic to
New Zealand. The two largest species, Dinornis
robustus and Dinornis
weighed 230 kg. A visit to the museum does raise interesting questions such as
the ‘value’ of egg collections! We
also viewed some of the museum primate specimens which included the skulls of
Howler Monkey and Mandrill.
Joseph Wright collection of foraminifera slides reminded us of the very
significant contributions made by members of field clubs and the general public
to the study of natural history especially in the Victorian period. Joseph
Wright (1834-1923) was a Quaker from Cork, who made a successful career as a
grocer in May Street in Belfast. Wright had become one of the world’s leading
experts on foraminifera, which were often collected by dredging of the sea bed.
He was a world expert and foraminifera are a very important group of
mainly carboniferous marine organism (protists) which are studied to help to
understand what is/has happening in our oceans. Wright was consulted, for
example, by Canadian and Australian provincial governments. In 1920 he was in
poor health and in need of money for his welfare and after quite a bit of
‘negotiation’, £200 was provided by the Department of Agriculture in
Ireland to purchase his collection for the National Museum resulting in
disappointment to some in South Kensington and elsewhere who argued that Ireland
was too unsafe for their storage.
Museum had previously benefited from the Royal Dublin Society’s purchase of
the cabinet of mineralogy of Nathaniel Gottfried Leske (“The
Leskean Cabinet”) (which included many zoology type spceimens from the
collection of Johann Friederich Gmelin) for £1250, in 1792. This cabinet was originally housed by
the Society at Poolbeg Street and of course eventually morphed into the
collections of the National Museums of Ireland.
of the participants enquired as to whether or not the Museum had any specimens
donated from Darwin’s voyages of discovery. The answer was no, not directly.
But indirectly it did. Alexander Henry Haliday (1806-70), a native of Hollywood,
Co Down, who was arguably Ireland’s greatest entomologist, is particularly
renowned for his work on Hymenoptera, Diptera and Thysanoptera. Charles Darwin
sent him insects for identification/classification and eventually his collection
was acquired by the NMI and is housed in Merrion Street.
were fascinated by the large number of specimens in jars ranging from reptiles
to fish and especially by the range and size of jars in the tank room. The grass
snake from Co Longford was not due to any inefficiency on behalf of St
Patrick’s reptilian crusade!
The museum policy is to keep room temperature low to keep organic
specimens in good condition and to minimise the
loss of fluid (and fire risk) from containers with alcohol which is used as
a preservative. The museum now has a much more developed policy as to what
donations it accepts and in regard to identification and
collecting on a Victorian scale is no longer acceptable the Museum still
has a role in providing storage for voucher specimens. The sight of
650 crates of geological specimens destined for Swords gave us some feeling for
the size of the museum’s stock of rock, mineral and fossil samples and the
herculean task of cataloguing, sorting and labelling prior to dispatch to
was keen to show us that the ‘Dead Zoo’ is not moribund and is moving with
the times (limited resources permitting). The cetacean fridge is a flagship
project. Tissues sample are obtained from beached cetaceans (whales and
dolphins), are catalogued and stored by the museum for DNA analysis. Comparison
of profiles then assists the study of the behaviour, of the relationships,
movement etc. of these mammals.
President Patrick Lenihan, on behalf of the members present, thanked Nigel and
Alan for a most enjoyable and informative visit.
Dr Nigel Monaghan (Keeper NHM) 1979 Sunday Press Grey Jungle Fowl head Crane head
Model of the Dodo The Joseph Wright collection Northern Gannet
or fisherman bat
Sea bird collection Wolf hybrid NHM specimen drawers
Grass Snake Eggs of Long-tailed Shrike
D Hardiman, P Lenihan & D Nash