The Irish Museum of Modern Art is housed in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, the finest 17th-century building in Ireland, and commonly known as the ‘RHK’. The Royal Hospital was founded in 1684 by James Butler, Duke of Ormonde and Viceroy to Charles II, as a home for retired soldiers and continued in that use for almost 250 years. Construction commenced in 1680 by royal command.
The RHK is the oldest classical building in Ireland and was based on Les Invalides in Paris, with a formal facade and a large elegant courtyard. Its sister site, the Royal Hospital Chelsea was completed two years later and also contains many similarities in style. When it was built, the hospital housed just 20 people although it was designed for 400. At times throughout history it housed up to 2,500 people. The beautiful gardens here were originally used for medicinal purposes but over time they became the private gardens of the Master of the RHK who was in charge of the British Army in Ireland at that time.
In 1922 the RHK was handed over to the Irish Free State and five years later the last pensioner was moved to Chelsea. The site served as Garda Headquarters from 1930 to 1950 but fell into disrepair until 1980, when Taoiseach Charles Haughey approved plans to renovate the site at a cost of IR£3 million. It took four years to complete the works – which is as long as it took to originally build the RHK three centuries earlier.
From 1984-1990 a number of major cultural events and exhibitions took place on site, and in May 1991 the Royal Hospital Kilmainham was opened as the Irish Museum of Modern Art; Ireland’s first Contemporary Art Museum.