The Hunt Museum was established to house an internationally important collection of approximately 2,000 works of art and antiquities formed by John and Gertrude Hunt during their lifetimes. As antique dealers and advisors to collectors they built a thriving business and also began to acquire pieces that reflected their own interests and curiosity rather than for commercial purposes.
During the latter stages of John's life, they became increasingly aware of the scale of their collection and wished that it would remain intact. They began to search for a permanent home for their collection. Fortunately they met Professor Patrick Doran of the National Institute of Higher Education (now University of Limerick) and Dr Edward Walsh, the Institute's President, who agreed to house a substantial part of the Collection on a temporary basis. The Hunt Museum opened there in 1978 in an exhibition room with the display designed by architect Arthur Gibney.
During this period the Irish Government had declined the offer of the Collection, so the requirement to find a suitable home and owner to take responsibility for the artefacts became more urgent. A trust, The Hunt Museums Trust, was established in 1974 to hold the Collection and the property at Craggaunowen (a 16th-century four-storey tower house, typical of late medieval Ireland, purchased and restored by John and Gertrude Hunt) in trust on behalf of the people of Ireland.
The trust established The Hunt Museum Ltd. whose sole purpose was the establishment of a permanent home for the museum. Under the chairmanship of Dr Tony Ryan, this company provided the necessary energy to create the museum as we see it today. A public private partnership involving the University of Limerick, Shannon Development, Limerick Corporation and the Department of Arts, Heritage, the Gaeltacht and the Islands, linked with local business interests secured the historic 18th-century former Customs House in Limerick city together with the funds to restore and renovate the building to international museum standards.
The museum was officially opened by An Taoiseach John Bruton on 14 February 1997. It was a moment of great celebration for all concerned but, unfortunately, neither John nor Gertrude Hunt had lived to realise their dream. The museum stands as a monument to their enthusiasm, curiosity and generosity.