The Ulster Museum, located in the Botanic Gardens in Belfast, has around 8,000 square metres of public display space, featuring material from the collections of fine art and applied art, archaeology, ethnography, treasures from the Spanish Armada, local history, numismatics, industrial archaeology, botany, zoology and geology. It is the largest museum in Northern Ireland, and one of the components of National Museums Northern Ireland.
The Ulster Museum was founded as the Belfast Natural History Society in 1821 and began exhibiting in 1833. It has included an art gallery since 1890. Originally called the Belfast Municipal Museum and Art Gallery, in 1929, it moved to its present location in Stranmillis. The new building was designed by James Cumming Wynne. In 1962, courtesy of the Museum Act (Northern Ireland) 1961, it was renamed as the Ulster Museum and was formally recognised as a national museum. A major extension constructed by McLaughlin & Harvey Ltd to designs by Francis Pym who won the 1964 competition was opened in 1972 and Pym's only completed work. It was published in several magazines and was until alteration the most important example of Brutalism in Northern Ireland. It was praised by David Evans for the "almost barbaric power of its great cubic projections and cantilevers brooding over the conifers of the botanic gardens like a mastodon".
Since the 1940s the Ulster Museum has built up very good collection of art by modern Irish, and particularly Ulster-based artists.In 1998, the Ulster Museum, which includes Armagh County Museum, merged with the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and the Ulster-American Folk Park to form the National Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland. In July 2005, a £17m refurbishment of the museum was announced, with grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL, usually pronounced as 'Dee-Kal'). In October 2006 the museum closed its doors until 2009, to allow for the work. Illustrations of historic interest of interiors before alterations will be found as numbers 183 and 237 in Larmour, P. 1987. The redevelopment drew criticism from many significant figures in the architectural community and the Twentieth Century Society, especially for changes to the Brutalist character and dismantling of the spiral sequence of rooms in the Pym extension.
The Ulster Museum contains important collections of Irish birds, mammals, insects, molluscs, marine invertebrates, flowering plants, algae and lichens, as well as an archive of books and manuscripts relating to Irish natural history. The museum also maintains a natural history website named Habitas.. In the late 1980s and the early 1990s it had a permanent exhibition on dinosaurs which has since been scaled back considerably. There is also a collection of rocks, minerals and fossils. Zoological exhibitions include : Joseph Whitaker early 20th century, mounted birds from Sicily; William Thompson mid-19th-century author of Natural History of Ireland, Mollusca, birds, algae; Robert Templeton (Belfast, Colombo) mid-19th-century insects from Ceylon; George Crawford Hyndman mollusca and Indian birds William Monad Crawford early 20th-century butterflies from Burma; Canon William Frederick Johnson early 20th-century, Coleoptera; Charles Langham early 20th century, Irish insects European butterflies; H.M Peebles Himalayan snow butterflies (Parnassiinae); Robert Welch early 20th-century Mollusca; Herbert T Malcolmson early 20th-century James Sheals bird mounts (Ireland); Thomas Workman late 19th-century Lepidoptera;; Paul Wilcox (1943- ) butterflies of Malaya; Paul Smart (1941- ) tropical butterflies; Raymond Haynes Irish butterflies and moths.
The herbarium in the Ulster Museum is based on specimens from Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society (founded in 1821); the Belfast Naturalists' Field Club (founded in 1863); the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery (formed 1905) and the herbarium (BFT) of the Botany Department of The Queen's University, Belfast acquired in 1968. In total the number of specimens is more than 100,000. Although specimens from Northern Ireland are well represented, specimens from elsewhere in the world have been acquired by donation, exchange and purchase. All branches of the world's flora are represented: algae, lichens, fungi, mosses and pteridophytes (ferns), conifers and angiosperms. Little information about the Irish flora before 1830 is available, the oldest specimen in the Ulster Museum is an alga: Batrachospermum moniliforme collected in 1798 by John Templeton, other specimens of Batrachospermum, originally incorrectly identified as Thorea ramoissima were collected by John Templeton in 1815 from a "boghole" in Co. Donegal. It was originally published by Harvey in 1841.
Ethnographic collections include: Chola art - Bronze statues from the Chola Dynasty; Samurai armour; and a Solomon Islands war canoe. The museum acquired Armada artefacts from the galleass Girona in 1971. La Girona was a galleass of the 1588 Spanish Armada that foundered and sank off Lacada Point, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, on the night of 26 October 1588 after making its way eastward along the Irish coast. The wreck is noteworthy for the loss of life that resulted, and for the treasures since recovered. La Girona had anchored in Killybegs harbour, Donegal, for repairs to her rudder while two other ships had been lost on attempting to enter the harbour. About 800 survivors from two other Spanish shipwrecks were taken aboard at Killybegs, from La Rata Santa Maria Encoronada, which ran aground in Blacksod Bay off the coast of County Mayo, and Duquesa Santa Ana, which went aground at Loughros Mor Bay, Donegal. With the assistance of an Irish chieftain, MacSweeney Bannagh, La Girona was repaired and set sail for Scotland on 25 October, with 1,300 men on board, including Alonso Martinez de Leyva. Lough Foyle was cleared, but then a gale struck and La Girona was driven ashore at Lacada Point, near Dunluce in County Antrim on the night of 28 October 1588. Of the estimated 1300 people on board, there were nine survivors, who were sent on to Scotland by Sorley Boy MacDonnell; 260 bodies were washed ashore.
There are 5 designated spaces for blue badge holders within the grounds of the Museum. The entrance to the Museum is clearly indicated with level threshold and automatic doors. Ramps and steps are available for those approaching from Botanic Gardens. The Museum has a low level reception desk, a shop located near the entrance and a cloakroom. Most exhibits have lowered display panels and good circulation routes are available throughout the Museum. Internal ramps with handrails make almost all areas accessible to wheelchairs; the ramps have a suitable gradient, with levelled sections for stationary periods. A small number of wheelchairs are kept in the Museum and are available for visitors’ use. There are accessible toilets with good facilities throughout the Museum. There is a café and coffee dock close to the entrance with lowered service counters, loose and fixed seating and good circulation space including ramps. There is seating at regular intervals inside buildings. Good lighting throughout building. Display cases are positioned at low level and information is clear. Induction loops are available in many areas of the building. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : Ulster Museum, Botanic Gardens, Belfast BT9 5AB
Transport: Botanic (Translink) then 10 minutes. Bus Routes : Metro 8 Malone Road stops outside or Stop #17 on the Belfast Sightseeing Tour.
Opening Times : Tuesday - Sunday + NI Bank Holidays 10:00 - 17:00
Tickets : Free
Tel: 0845 608 0000