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 closed for nearly three years (2006 to October 2009) while it was under renovation. It re-opened to the public on 22 October 2009, on its 80th anniversary. The renovation work was supported by the National Lottery and the Northern Ireland Executive's Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.
Northern exterior of Ulster Museum, designed by James Cumming Wynne. This extension designed by Francis Pym.
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 nos 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 museum reopened in October 2009, eighty years to the day since its original opening. Within a month over 100,000 people had visited the museum. The reopening saw the introduction of Monday closure, which has received criticism from the public and in the press. All NMNI sites are to close on Mondays. This decision is being reviewed by DCAL.
New Triceratops exhibit on re-opening, 22 October 2009
The Ulster Museum's main hall, on reopening after its refurbishment in October 2009
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.
List of zoological collections
- 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 Moths
- James P. Brock Ichneumonidae
- Shell collections, Nudibranchs and Sea sponges
- J.R.Stoffel Types of Agrias butterflies
Important individual specimens
- Holotype of the emperor penguin collected by Captain Crozier of Banbridge
- Champion Patrick of Ifold - Irish Wolfhound
- Dwarf elephant skeletons from Sicily.
- The Egyptian mummified body of Takabuti.
- Mummy case of Tjesmutperet.
- Slender-billed curlew
- Rothschild's, Queen Alexandra's and other birdwing butterflies.
- Giant clam - given to the Belfast Natural History Society by Francis Walker
- Lammergeier mount by James Sheals
- Gervais' beaked whale (Mesoplodon europaeus)
- Japanese spider crab
- Bonaparte's gull collected by William Thompson - the first European specimen.
- Giant squid model
- Bald eagle juvenile from near Garrison, County Fermanagh on 11 January 1973. First European record.
- Passenger pigeon
- Irish elk
- Yellow-billed cuckoo (Irish specimen)
- Conus gloriamaris
The Zoology Department also maintains collections of Wildlife Art. Works by Peter Scott, Joseph Wolf, Eric Ennion, John Gerrard Keulemans, Roger Tory Peterson, Charles Tunnicliffe, Robert Gillmor and Archibald Thorburn are included. Illustrated works held by the Zoology Department include British Entomology - being illustrations and descriptions of the genera of insects found in Great Britain and Ireland — a classic work of entomology by John Curtis and Niccolò Gualtieri's Index Testarum Conchyliorum, quae adservantur in Museo Nicolai Gualtieri 1742.
The herbarium (BEL)
The herbarium in the Ulster Museum (BEL), 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 (BEL: F41) 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 (BEL:F42 - F47). It was originally published by Harvey in 1841.
List of some of the collectors
- S.A.Bennett (1843–1929)
- Corrie Denew Chase (1878–1965) (vascular plants and algae) — his herbarium of about 4,000 sheets was passed to Methodist College Belfast who passed it to the Ulster Museum in 1970.
- John Cocs (1787–1861) (algae)
- Thomas Huge Correl (1859–1883) (vascular plans).
- A. Fenton (A.F-G.Fenton) (lichens)
- M.Foslie (algae)
- Paul Hackney (1945 — ) (vascular plants and mosses)
- William Henry Harvey (1811–1866) (algae).
- George Crawford Hyndman (1796–1867) (algae).
- Frederick Hugh Woodhams Kerr (1885–1958) (vascular plants)
- Mary Patriria Happer Kertland (1901–1991) (vascular plants)
- William McCalla (c.1814–1849) (algae).
- Osborne Morton (b. 1945) (lichens and algae)
- Robert Lloyd Praeger (1865–1953) (vascular plants)
- Arthur Wilson Stelfox (1883–1972) (vascular plants)
- Samuel Alexander Stewart (1826–1910) (vascular plants)
- John Templeton (Botanist) John Templeton (1766 — 1825) (algae).
- William Thompson (1805 — 1852) (algae).
- Sylvanus Wear (1858–1920) (vascular plants and algae)
- Coslett Herbert Waddell (1858–1919) (vascular plants, bryophytes and algae).
The collection contains works by:
- Jean Dubuffet
- Morris Louis
- Anthony Caro
- Karel Appel
- Francis Bacon
- Joseph Beuys
- Eduardo Paolozzi
- Jean-Robert Ipoustéguy
Past art exhibitions
This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.
- Scultura Italiana 1964
- Henri Laurens, 16 July-30 August 1971
- Chola art.
- Bronze statues from the Chola Dynasty.
- Samurai armour.
- Solomon Islands war canoe. (Similar boat).
The museum acquired Armada artefacts from the galleass Girona in 1971.
Controversy at the 132nd Royal Ulster Academy exhibition
In 2013 at the 132nd Royal Ulster Academy exhibition at the Ulster Museum "The Kiss" by artist Paul Walls was not displayed following discussions between the museum and the academy. It was decided as the subject matter, two women kissing, was inappropriate for school visits. A petition was organised on "change.org."
Botanic is the nearest station on Northern Ireland Railways. Regular trains ply between Belfast Great Victoria Street, City Hospital, Botanic and Belfast Central.