From the archives 2005: Museums of Northern Ireland

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Ulster Folk & Transport museum

Ulster Folk & Transport museum

Half an hour or so from Belfast by road along the shore of Belfast Lough and beyond Hollywood, the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, winner of the 2004 Museum of the Year award, is spread across two locations.

The Folk Museum, founded in 1958 and mostly outdoor, recreates bygone ways of life and traditions of the north of Ireland.

The Transport Museum close by has galleries on railway, bicycles, trams, and cars, coaches and ships. In an embarrassment of riches are included Samuel Boyd Dunlop, inventor of the pneumatic tyre; the Giant’s Causeway Tram; the sleek De Lorean motor car; the Shorts’ SC1 the Belfast-built vertical take-off aircraft; and of course the full and tragic story of the ill-fated Titanic.

The art galleries must be the jewels in its crown, for in them you will find a Gainsborough, a Reynolds, and works by Belfast’s own William Conor and that same Sir John, who was we’re told, captivated by the beautiful Hazel.

The Museum with its state-of-the-art facilities is now, you might say, a mighty oak to the little acorn that once it was.

Opened in 1833 as a voluntary institution, it passed to the ownership of Belfast when that town was granted city status in 1888.

It became independent again in 1962, when it was recognised as a national museum, and acquired its present name.

It is open to all without charge.

It’s a short hop across town to the Odyssey, Belfast’s answer to Dublin’s Spire and London’s Millennium Dome.

Here you can see a film, attend a gig, enjoy spectacular views of the City and the River Lagan and so on, but especially if you have the kids with you, you won’t want to miss W5.

This Millennium Landmark Project has no less than 140 Do It Yourself entertainments, where youngsters of all ages can create cloud rings in WOW, take on the tug o’war challenge in GO, light up lasers in SEE, and bring robots to life in DO.

The Ulster Museum is situated quite near Queen’s University on the edge of the tranquil Botanic Gardens. Possessing around 8000 square metres of public display space, the Museum’s airy galleries house collections ranging from Fine Art and Ethnography to Industrial Archaeology and the Natural Sciences

A few miles out of Omagh on the road to Strabane, where sharp on the horizon the Sperrins provide a backdrop to this peaceful countryside, is the Ulster American Folk Park.

It tells the story of emigration to America in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Much of it from the North pre-dated the flight of starving and dispossessed people which followed the Great Famine of the 1840’s, and while it too was in part an escape from poverty, it comprised also independent-minded Dissenters who hoped to find across the ocean that religious freedom denied them at home. Here in tribute to their memory, in tableaux and with moving actors, are replicas of Old and New World buildings, and in the Ship Gallery  a full-scale reproduction of an early 19th century sailing ship which bore them from Ireland forever.

And last but not least is the Armagh County Museum, its classical architecture notable in this compact little city of the two Church Primates.

Situated east of the Mall, whose expanse of tree-fringed greensward is redolent of bowls or cricket on sunny afternoons, its collections reflect the lives of the people who lived and worked in the Orchard County. These treasures, which beguile the eye and ear, are all in the care of MAGNI—the Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland.

Established in 1998, it is the umbrella body which preserves, adds to, and exhibits to the public the collections of its member institutions. I thought they were interesting, educational and entertaining—quite MAGNIficent indeed. Try them and see!

Bill McStay

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