The idea for a permanent Museum in Dungarvan was first put forward by Dungarvan I.C.A. who organised a public meeting in 1982. From this meeting an ad-hoc committee was appointed to set up and plan for the establishment of a new Museum and to acquire a suitable premises. R.A Merry's Wine Stores at Main street was put on the market and purchased by the then County Manager for conversion into a Library, Museum and Tourist Office. The building was originally designed as a Market House, (an open arcade on the ground floor) with the Corporation Chambers overhead. A charter of 1610 issued by James II instructed the Corporation to erect a stone Guild Hall. The building was in existence in 1642 when its capture is recorded. The present building probably incorporates part of this earlier structure. By the mid 19th. century the building was owned by The Duke of Devonshire. Griffith's Valuation 1851 refers to the Market House and Butter-Crane, the latter was leased to Beresford Boate. The Duke sold the Market House with the rest of his Dungavan Estate in 1861. The Market House was purchased by John R. Dower. The latter sold it to Robert A. Merry c. 1868, who used it as a wine store and offices. Edmond Power of Ballygagin, a United Irishman, was hanged from one of the front windows in 1799.
The Waterford County Museum Society was founded to run the museum. The aims of the Society are :
- To present the history of Dungarvan and west Waterford area through a series of well illustrated panels and displays.
- To acquire and preserve individual items or collections of local interest
- To encourage public interest in local history.
The Society is also interested in publishing various books and pamphlets on items of historical and local interest. A number of these have been published over the years.
It established a focus for the interests of a number of individuals with already established track records in research and publication of material on the history and heritage of the locality. Even before it had access to permanent display space the Society began to mount temporary exhibitions, while also initiating other aspects of its programme, such as education through lectures and field trips. The acquisition of the Old Market House in Main St, and its development as a public library by Waterford County Council resulted in the Society being given access to a room to serve as a permanent exhibition area, and enabled a programme of exhibitions to be undertaken. They were also useful to schools engaged in teaching history through class visits etc. They were also successful in attracting items of local historical interest, donated and on loan.
A variety of travelling exhibitions were hosted while the Society was assembling material related to local heritage to form the basis of a permanent exhibition illustrating the history of Co. Waterford. Lectures are organised on a self financing basis, with both members and the general public paying admission fees. Field trips are organised on a regular basis.