In 1731 fourteen Irishmen came together in Dublin united by a common aim – to improve the poor economic condition of the country by promoting agriculture, arts, industry and science in Ireland. This objective, they believed, could be achieved by the dissemination of knowledge and new ideas.
The Society developed into an invaluable resource from which grew major national institutions including the National Botanic Gardens (1795), the Veterinary College (1800), the National Gallery of Ireland (1854), the National College of Art and Design (1877), the National Museum of Ireland (1877), the Natural History Museum (1877), the National Library of Ireland (1877) and the Radium Institute (1914).
The Mission of the RDS
Over the course of three centuries the RDS has pursued, with vigour, its mission to encourage the development of agriculture, arts, science and industry throughout the country by educating, providing practical guidance, rewarding excellence and encouraging ability. Its mission remains as relevant today as it was in 1731. The Society draws its strength from its independence and impartiality; it relies on its own resources to fund its activities; and on the voluntary input and support of its Members who give of their time and expertise to serve on its Council and Committees.
The Standing Committees and Council
Initially confined to publishing pamphlets on new discoveries and best practice, the work of the Society has developed and broadened over the years through the creation of Standing Committees whose remit is to pursue excellence in the Society's chosen fields of endeavour through programmes of activities and events. Today there are five Standing Committees – Agriculture & Rural Affairs, Science & Technology, Arts, Equestrian and Industry & Commerce. Overseeing the Committees' endeavours and the work of the Society in general is the Council, the membership of which reflects the Society's areas of activity.
The RDS as a Venue
The Society has always prized its independence and, to achieve this, it must utilise its premises and grounds to the best effect in order to earn its keep and fund its activities. Because of its central location in Dublin, the variety and flexibility of the rental space available and the expertise on hand, the RDS has become a major venue for exhibitions, conferences and business and social gatherings of all sizes. Even its Main Arena, previously limited to equestrian events, now hosts rugby and soccer matches.
In a prudent move to protect the Society's income into the future, the Council has embarked on a development project which has produced two new office buildings to date – Minerva House and Simmonscourt House. The rent from these provides a welcome addition to the Society's income.
Funding the Foundation Programme
A fundamental principle guiding the Society is that its earnings are dedicated to funding the promotion of its Foundation Activities and to the development of its assets. In 2015, gross expenditure on Foundation activities, including the Dublin Horse Show was €6.5 million. From small beginnings indeed, has grown a significant force for good in Ireland.