In the heart of wealthy Georgian-era Dublin—a historic neighborhood defined by arrow-straight streets; flat, four-story building fronts with windows of ever-decreasing size; and brightly colored and well-ornamented front doors—you can get a small glimpse of what daily life was like for the folks who lived here when the streets were busy with horse-drawn cabs instead of rumbling Dublin buses.
The house at number twenty-nine Fitzwilliam Street, overlooking Merrion Square Park and just down the street from Dublin’s iconic Pepper Canister church, was built in 1794 at the height of Dublin’s Georgian age. Its first tenants, a widow by the name of Mrs. Olivia Beatty and her family, were among Dublin’s upper middle class—although their lifestyle looks pretty leisurely by today’s standards. The house has passed through other owners and occupants through the years, but since 1991, it’s been a well-presented, tasteful museum serving as a snapshot of daily life for early-nineteenth-century well-to-do Dubliners.
The museum spans all five levels of the narrow property—from the kitchen and scullery below street level to the nursery in the attic—and every room is fully furnished with authentic pieces, most of them original, some replicas by local craftspeople. While not as spacious as it looks from the outside, each floor of the house today is packed with details and stories. In the basement, look for the food storage plank hanging from the ceiling in an effort to keep climbing rats away from the perishables; listen to the bells, each of a different pitch which corresponded with a room of the house, used to summon the illiterate servants; in the dining room, take a sneaky peek into the tasteful commode with a discreet chamber pot mercifully hidden from the view of dining guests.
Signboards tell the story of Mrs. Beatty’s family and flesh out the details of day-to-day life in Georgian Dublin: ladies waking up to wash, dress, and catch up on correspondence; children reciting grammar rules with the live-in governess—”A noun’s the name of any thing, As school or garden, hoop, or swing.”—dinner with friends; a dance by the piano or maybe a lively game of whist at the card table.
Even Dublin lifers—or simple long-term tourists like me—can find something new and interesting at Number Twenty-Nine. I paused in each room to examine the many paintings and prints of scenes from Dublin and Ireland in the days of the Beatty family. The fine collection of small, everyday household items—a razor and shaving brush on the washstand, a wooden yo-yo on the floor near the dollhouse, an inkwell and letters on the blotter—made my mental picture of the bustling nineteenth-century home complete. This house paints a very clear and very interesting picture of life during Dublin’s Georgian expansion, succeeding where traditional behind-glass-cases museums simply fall short.
Nuts and Bolts
- Number Twenty-Nine Georgian House Museum is open Tuesday–Saturday 10:00–16:30, closed holidays and from mid-December to mid-February; self-guided tour or guided tour €6.00 adult, €3.00 student.
- Number Twenty-Nine is kitty-corner from the south corner of Merrion Square park. Despite the address being on Fitzwilliam Street, the entrance is around the corner on Mount Street, down the steps to the basement level.
- A guided first-come-first-served tour of the house begins every day at 15:00, and is included in the price of your ticket. Maximize your ticket price by arriving early enough to see the 15-minute video in your language of choice before the tour leaves. If the 3 o’clock tour time doesn’t fit your schedule, you can still enjoy the exhibits. Take your time and don’t overlook the fine little details that can be easy to miss. Group tours (10+) for students and adults are given in the morning, and must be booked in advance. If you can’t get here, or if you want to preview the museum before your visit, check out the virtual tour offered on their website.
- This museum is recommended for history buffs and fans of costume dramas—looking at you, shameless self-diagnosed Janeites!—and casual traveling groups curious about life in Dublin at its classical prime. Obviously, the guided tour is the best bet, but the short film and self-guided walk will be enough to make it worth the reasonable admission price.
- The self-guided tour is not recommended for young children, who might not enjoy the static displays. Try to get the interpretive tour if visiting with the kids. The upper floors of the museum are accessible only by stairs, so accessibility is limited. See the museum’s accessibility statement for more details.
- Thanks to Avril, Sandra, and the rest of the team at Number Twenty-Nine for inviting me for a review visit. See my full disclosure for more about invited reviews.
*Opening hours and admission prices are accurate as of April 2016. Visit the Number Twenty-Nine Museum website to confirm details before your visit.