Opening Hours

Full opening hours


Royal Hospital Kilmainham
Dublin 8, D08 FW31, Ireland
Phone +353 1 6129900

View Map

Find us by

AboutOPW Renovation for IMMA

IMMA connects audiences and art, providing an extraordinary space where contemporary life and contemporary art connect, challenge and inspire one another. We share, develop and conserve the Irish National Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art for now and for the future.

OPW Renovation for IMMA

The Royal Hospital Kilmainham is a 17th-century building modelled on Les Invalides in Paris. It was erected between 1680 and 1684 by charter of King Charles II as a home for old, sick and disabled soldiers.

The Office of Public Works (OPW) restored the building completely between 1980 and 1984 and received a Europa Nostra Award in 1986 for their work. This restoration however has not ended the involvement of the OPW with the RHK. In 1987 the basement of the North Wing was fitted out sensitively as a restaurant by OPW. This enhanced the continuous usage of the RHK by the public. The Master’s Quarters in the North Wing was also then refurbished by the OPW.

In 1988, the OPW carried out the first segment of the establishment of a venue for modern art, by the fitting-out of accommodation for the Gordon Lambert Collection in the West Wing, Ground Floor. In October 1990 work commenced on the fitting-out of accommodation for the entire Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA).

In addition, over the last few years, the OPW has carried out works in the RHK Gardens to restore them as formal gardens appropriate to bygone times. This commitment is ongoing. In 2000 the OPW completed the restoration of the former Deputy Master’s House turning it into environmentally controllable New Galleries which adds 320 square metres to the Museum’s exhibition area.

Concept and description of the scheme

by Shay Cleary, Architect

The scheme involved the adaptation of the East, West and South ranges of the building. The North range which houses the Great Hall, Master’s Quarters and Chapel was not included in the project. The three ranges adapted consist of repetitive rooms at each level individually accessed by colonnades at ground level and by corridors at upper levels. There is a staircase in the corner of the each wing.

The existing staircases, because of their hidden and private position, have no current public presence. A new entrance hall is therefore located in the centre of the South range axially related to the Great Hall. By its position it maintains the inherent balance of the overall architectural composition. The new hall contains a ceremonial cascading staircase in double height volume and by its form and location makes public the connection to the first floor where the main collections are housed.

The existing plan at first floor consists of rooms accessed by corridors. A central determinant of the plan is the presence between each pair of rooms of a massive chimney stack thereby freeing the adjacent walls for exhibition purposes. This change of entry seems entirely natural and effortless because of its deference to the existing structural circumstance. By its simplicity it further emphasises the striking repetition of the windows opposite. These first floor rooms combined with what were corridors but are now long galleries are ideally suited to the new use with minor modification.

The courtyard has been changed to a paved and cobbled surface. The entrance hall is the first space the public enter into when visiting the gallery and is used for special events and various sculpture and installation works. This precise and urbane treatment of the space now properly contrasts with the landscape nature of the overall site. It further shows the powerful and historic colannaded perimeter to best advantage and has the potential intensity of an urban space.

The project in its overall conception takes all its values from the existing historic building whether it is the powerful axiality established by the position of the Great Hall, the massive presence of the chimneystack, the striking austerity of the circulation spaces or the potential urbanity of the courtyard. With this approach the adaptation pays due deference to the existing building both formally and structurally. Aesthetically it proposes a clear distinction between old and new where this relationship has a positive visual advantage. It avoids mimicry or pastiche.

OPW involvement in the Scheme

The OPW had a dual role in relation to the development of the Irish Museum of Modern Art. As Contract Manager for the Board of the RHK it appointed the design team, appointed the contractor, provided general advice on contract matters and administration of the project to ensure its completion on time and within budget. As the representative of the Minister for Finance in whom the RHK is vested the OPW monitored the design of the scheme to ensure it took account of the historical and architectural character of the building. While the scheme has been the subject of some controversy with views being expressed by eminent critics both for and against the changes that have been made, the Office of Public Works is satisfied that the scheme strikes a proper balance between the essential characteristics of the building and the requirements of a use which will open up almost all of the building to the public on a permanent basis and will attract and encourage people to visit.

Design Team

Architect Shay Cleary, Architect
Mr Noel de Cheny, Consultant Architect
Messrs. JN & G Traynor & Partners, Mechanical and Electrical Services Engineers
Messrs. J McCullough & Partners, Structural Engineers
Messrs. TB Kennedy & Partners, Quantity Surveyors


The main contractors for the scheme were Messrs. Mahon McPhillips CEM Ltd. The principal subcontractors were Messrs. Crowe Engineering Ltd, Electrical Services and Elenco Engineering Ltd, Mechanical Services.


The scheme cost approximately €1.39m. The major portion of the funds was provided from the National Lottery by the Department of the Taoiseach. The balance was provided by the Office of Public Works.