The Hugh Lane Gallery: What To Expect From One Of Dublin’s Top Free Attractions

hugh lane gallery
Photos in the Public Domain

The Hugh Lane Gallery is arguably one of the most unique art galleries in Dublin. In fact, it’s more museum than gallery, really.

Inspired by one of Dublin’s more intriguing figures of the early 20th century (of which there were a few!), The Hugh Lane Gallery is a great little spot in North Dublin that showcases some sublime contemporary art.

It’s free to visit and it’s arguably one of the more quirky museums in Dublin (read about the Francis Beacon Studio to see why!).

Below, you’ll find everything from the story behind the man himself to what to see when you’re there. Dive on in!

Some quick need-to-knows about The Hugh Lane Gallery

Although a visit to The Hugh Lane Gallery is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

1. Location

The Hugh Lane is located on the north side of Parnell Square at the top of O’Connell Street in Dublin 1. It’s a 7-minute walk from 14 Henrietta Street, a 9-minute walk from The Spire and a 17-minute walk from Trinity College.

2. Visiting

There’s a number of revolving exhibitions on here so visiting will always provide an opportunity to see something new. Be aware that due to reduced capacity during refurbishment, all tours or large groups should be booked in advance. 

3. Opening hours + admission

If you saw this place in our guide to the best free things to do in Dublin, you’ll know admission is free. The Hugh Lane Gallery opening hours are:

  • Monday: Closed
  • Tuesday to Thursday 9.45am – 6pm
  • Friday 9.45am – 5pm
  • Saturday 10am – 5pm
  • Sunday 11am – 5pm

4. A world-first

In 2001, the Hugh Lane digitised and relocated the artist Francis Bacon’s entire studio. As the first computerised archive of the entire contents of a renowned artist’s studio, the database has entries on approximately 570 books and catalogues, 1,500 photographs, 100 slashed canvases, 1,300 leaves torn from books, 2,000 artist’s materials and 70 drawings. Pretty cool!

The story behind The Hugh Lane Gallery

hugh lane dublin
Facade of the Hugh Lane Gallery by Rwxrwxrwx is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

A celebrated art dealer, collector, exhibitor and gallery director, Hugh Lane is best known for establishing the first known public gallery of modern art in the world.

The Hugh Lane Gallery that we know and love today was originally called the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art and was founded in 1908. But who was this pioneer?

Who was Hugh Lane?

Born in Cork and raised in Cornwall, England, he kept in touch with his Irish roots and passionately extolled the cause for Irish art abroad. Such was his fire for collecting and promoting Irish art that he was knighted at the young of 33.

He later became director of the National Gallery of Ireland. Sadly he was one of the 1,198 unfortunate passengers who died on the infamous sinking of the RMS Lusitania, but his legacy (and pride in Irish painting) lives on.

How his collection found a home

Following his death, Lane’s will bequeathed his collection to London’s National Gallery, but an unwitnessed later codicil bequeathed it to Dublin. Thus began a lengthy tête-à-tête between London and Dublin over who should have the rights to display Lane’s collection. 

It was partially resolved in 1959 when it was agreed that Lane’s collection could be displayed every five years, but in 1993, the agreement was changed so that 31 of the 39 paintings would stay in Ireland.

In 2008, The National Gallery in London arranged for the entire collection to be on display in Dublin together for the first time.

What to see at The Hugh Lane

hugh lane gallery
Photos in the Public Domain

There’s plenty to see and do at the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, which is why it’s a great rainy-afternoon destination.

1. The exhibitions

Unlike most larger galleries, the Hugh Lane’s main focus is its revolving door of interesting new exhibitions each year, keeping the gallery fresh with ideas and creativity. They usually run 3 or 4 at a time and most are available for viewing for at least three months, so there’s ample time to check one out that you’re particularly interested in when they’re on. 

The exhibitions tend to focus on modern and contemporary art and excellence in Irish art practice, while also showcasing Lane’s passion for impressionism. Past exhibitors include the likes of Sean Scully, Garrett Phelan and Mark Titchner. 

2. The collections

Of course, Hugh Lane’s collection is one of the big reasons for visiting and you can see for yourself the kind of art that he was so passionate about. He was a particular fan of French art and there are some great (and rare!) paintings in the collection by the likes of Degas, Renoir and Manet that are well worth seeing. 

Another quirk of the Hugh Lane is the Stained Glass Room, with its collection of unique stained glass pieces, including the celebrated Harry Clarke piece The Eve of St. Agnes. There’s also a room dedicated to Sean Scully’s abstract art. 

3. Francis Bacon’s studio

After his death in 1992, the Hugh Lane Gallery was able to obtain the entire contents of Bacon’s artists’ studio at 7 Reece Mews, South Kensington, London and the entire space was broken down into its parts and painstakingly reassembled in Dublin. Using architectural maps and photographs, the exact replica was opened to the public in 2001 and needs to be seen to be believed!

Not only that, everything from his canvases to his paintbrushes were collected and catalogued. Totalling over 7,000 items, the digital database of Bacon’s artists’ studio was a world first and is one of the more unique corners of Dublin. 

Things to do near The Hugh Lane Gallery

One of the beauties of the Hugh Lane Gallery is that it’s a stone’s throw from many of the best places to visit in Dublin.

Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from the Hugh Lane (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).

1. Garden of Remembrance

Garden of Remembrance
Photo by Irish Drone Photography (Shutterstock)

With a large sunken water feature and statue symbolising rebirth by the sculptor Oisín Kelly, the Garden of Remembrance is a memorial garden in Parnell Square dedicated to the memory of “all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom”. Located across the street from the Hugh Lane, it’s a solemn but peaceful place to visit. 

2. 14 Henrietta Street

14 Henrietta Street
Photos via 14 Henrietta Street Dublin on Facebook

Want a unique window into life in Dublin spanning 300 years? Henrietta Street is the most intact collection of early to mid-18th century houses in Ireland and number 14 has been turned into a fascinating museum showing how everyday life in Dublin changed as the years went by. Definitely an underrated attraction to check out!

3. Endless attractions in the city

Ha'penny bridge
Photo by Bernd Meissner (Shutterstock)

If you want to keep an artistic flavour following the gallery visit then you’re just a stone’s throw from the Dublin Writers Museum and the James Joyce Centre. Head back down O’Connell Street if you want to see Trinity College and Temple Bar. Staying north of the Liffey, the Jameson Bow St Distillery is just a 15-minute walk west.

4. Food and trad pubs

food dublin
Photos via Benito’s Italian Restaurant on Facebook

As I just mentioned, there’s a ton of great food and trad pubs if you head down O’Connell Street towards Temple Bar. From pizza to Asian cuisine, there are loads of food options if you’re in need of a feed, while there are lively old pubs on almost every corner. The Stag’s Head on Dame Lane and The Palace on Fleet Street are two of the oldest and finest you can visit.

FAQs about the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Who runs the Hugh Lane Gallery?’ to ‘How did Hugh Lane make his money?’.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

Is the Hugh Lane worth visiting?

Yes. This is a brilliant run and kept gallery that’s home to a wealth of history and cultural significance. You can’t go wrong with a morning spent here.

What are the Hugh Lane Gallery opening hours?

The Hugh Lane Gallery opening hours are: Tuesday to Thursday 9.45am – 6pm, Friday 9.45am – 5pm, Saturday 10am – 5pm and Sunday 11am – 5pm.

Is is free into the Hugh Lane?

Yes – there’s no cost to enter the Hugh Lane, which is why it’s often described as one of the best things to do in Dublin for free.

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