The Story of our Building

 A Home for the Hunt Collection

Our Building: The Hunt Museum

Sketch, The Custom House, Limerick/W. H. Bartlett; E. K. Procter/Paper/19th century /The Hunt Collection/PD

Visitors to the Museum sometimes wonder if the building was the home of the Hunt family, but it never was. The Hunts lived at Lough Gur, Co. Limerick (1941 – 1954) before moving to Dublin. The Custom House, in Limerick’s Rutland Street, has been a public building for over 250 years. This is the story of how the House was restored, adapted and fitted out to become the home of the Hunt Collection.

How do you convert an 18th Century building into a museum?

A team of architects at the Office of Public Works (OPW) was given this task during the 1990s when the building was chosen to become the permanent home of the Hunt Collection. Up until then, since 1978, the Collection had been displayed temporarily at the National Institute for Higher Education (NIHE), later the University of Limerick.  

First, some restoration work had to be carried out, as the building had fallen into disrepair over the years, not to mention the various “accretions” and extensions that had been added during the years of its use as a government building, dispensary and Post Office.  One of the most notable things that needed removing was an external iron balcony and staircase that gave direct access to the first floor from the Rutland St. side of the building. 

The limestone facades then needed masonry repairs which were done using salvaged local stone, and then cleaning. The four tall chimneys were not only restored but were given a new purpose, the ventilation of the air-conditioning system. The eighteenth-century (red) staircase on the south side of the building was conserved, while the staircase on the north side was replaced (the blue stairs) alongside one of the building’s two elevators. 


Replica joinery was fitted throughout, for the windows, architraves and skirting boards, using as templates the remaining eighteenth-century examples that had survived. Not all doors were retained or replaced. Where suitable, connecting rooms were opened up in series to give an “enfilade” arrangement which facilitates the progression of groups of people through the Museum.  

Enfilade or a series of interconnecting rooms opening into each other.

The OPW architects designed a new two-storey Entrance Pavilion for the Museum, situated at the Rutland St. side of the building.  Finished in Kilkenny limestone, it houses the gift shop, administration offices, another elevator and a stone staircase leading to the Museum proper. Outside, they installed a granite forecourt and below it, excavated the space for an exhibition gallery in the basement. 



The building, however, is best seen from the other side, which is how it was designed, to face the River Shannon and access the eighteenth-century Custom House Quay and the then port of Limerick. This (western) elevation is more ornate than the other side.   It presents a central three-storey main block composed of five bays, or vertical sections, flanked on each side by single storey arcades, each composed of five arches. 

The arcades, which are not visible from Rutland Street, were originally open walkways for use by the merchants and sea captains of old, but have now been glazed in. The arcade on the left forms part of the Education Wing of the Museum. The arcade on the right forms part of the Hunt Museum Café. 

Once the building and restoration work were completed, at a cost of £2.9 million, the next stage was the fitting out of the Museum displays.  This was overseen by a team led by John Hunt Jnr.

The eclectic nature of the Collection was one of the challenges they faced: How to organise and present these treasures in the most meaningful and accessible way. The answer was scale. Having lived all his early life surrounded by the collection, John wanted the displays to reflect the domestic setting of these beloved treasures; to remind us that they were collected over a lifetime by his parents.

Hence the domestic scale of most of the display cabinets, which were built by Gem Joinery, an award-winning company from Longford. Those who knew John and Gertrude Hunt personally have testified that the feel of the Museum does echo the ambience of their Dublin home.

'The Custom House' Presentation Slides from a lecture given by John Logan | September 2023