Originally built for the Dublin International Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures of 1865, the structure was converted into the central building of University College Dublin (UCD) at the foundation of the National University of Ireland in 1908. When UCD began to relocate to a new campus at Belfield in the 1960s, part of the building was converted, and reopened as the NCH in 1981. Since then, the structure has been shared with UCD. In 2005 it was announced that UCD is to relocate all of its faculties to Belfield in the near term, allowing the NCH to develop a major expansion plan on the entire site, bringing it in line with international peers.
Today the NCH is one of Ireland's National Cultural Institutions, under the aegis of the Irish Government's Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism and, as such, is grant-aided by the Irish Government. The NCH is a statutory corporate body, with a management team, and a Government-appointed Board.
In 2011, the National Concert Hall celebrated its 30th Anniversary
Although its facade is quite impressive, the venue's acoustics have been criticized. It is also unsuitable for large-scale opera stagings, lacking full stage facilities. Consequently, calls for a purpose-built venue are made from time to time. Plans have been developed in the early 2000s which involve revamping the existing Auditorium, building a larger newer one plus another small auditorium. This comes after the UCD section was bought from the college to enlarge the Concert Hall.
The National Concert Hall generally makes a small surplus, unlike most of Ireland's National Cultural Institutions. This is despite the fact that although it has a high level of attendance, it has only a small public funding element, especially compared to the Abbey Theatre.
Due to its central location, lunchtime concerts and recitals are common and attended by many workers from nearby office buildings. In summer, outdoor recitals are given in the adjacent Iveagh Gardens.