UK Partners in Belfast!

Jessica Juckes, International Training Programme Assistant

Last week, the ITP team flew to Belfast, Northern Ireland, to hold its biannual ITP UK Partner Meeting. This was an opportunity to work towards the organisation of the 2018 summer programme, particularly the fellows’ UK Partner placements, and also for the ITP core and extended team to get to know National Museums Northern Ireland and our new UK Partner Representative, Louise Smyth.

We were joined by:
Ronan Brindley, Manchester Art Gallery
Campbell Price, Manchester Museum
Kate Newnham, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery
Clare Pickersgill, University of Nottingham Museum
Louise Smyth, National Museums Northern Ireland

Unfortunately, the winter weather conditions held some UK Partners back from being able to join us, but they were there in spirit!

Claire, Becca and I began the trip by meeting Louise at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, one of National Museums Northern Ireland’s three sites. As a living museum, this is a special place that Louise felt we needed to see in person really to understand! We explored the buildings, which are mainly real examples of early 20th century Ulster houses and shops, lifted brick-by-brick to the site. We also spoke with some of the costumed interpretation staff, who were doing demonstrations of baking, basketry and blacksmithery.

The UK Partners then joined us for dinner at the Crown Liquor Saloon, which is a National Trust protected pub and restaurant! Clare Pickersgill, Ronan Brindley and Becca enjoying the pub below.

On Thursday morning, we had our UK Partner meeting at the Ulster Museum. We discussed plans for the upcoming summer programme, as well as the various ITP Legacy Projects. There was a real feeling of buzz and excitement about welcoming a new ITP cohort, and about the new developments for the ‘Room 3 Project’, now entitled Objects in Focus.

Louise and her colleagues Jonathan Beavis and Karen Logan gave us a fascinating tour of the Ulster Museum. The museum has three zones – Art, Nature and History – and each has both permanent and temporary displays. We saw the Malone Hoard, the mummy of Takabuti, the paintings of Sir John Lavery, the treasures from the Spanish Armada galleon The Girona, a variety of artefacts relating to modern Northern Ireland, and… the Game of Thrones tapestry! The Museum’s gallery on Collecting the Troubles and Beyond was closed for redevelopment, reopening in March. However, Karen – who is Project Curator – was able to tell us the story of the gallery so far, from its opening in 2009 through the beginning of collecting in 2015 and the transition from thematic to chronological displays.

After lunch and saying goodbye to our UK Partners, Becca and I visited the Titanic Experience. The Titanic was built and launched from Belfast, and the interactive exhibits tell the history of Belfast shipbuilding as well as the fateful journey of the Titanic.

On Friday, Claire, Becca and I journeyed off to the third NMNI site, the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh. This living museum tells the story of Irish emigration to America, as visitors journey from Ulster through to the ‘New World’, with properties including the first red-brick two story house that was shipped over from Tennessee and rebuilt in Omagh! The site is based around the Mellon family home, which was built on this land in 1810 and still remains, as part of the museum. The site is shared with the Mellon Centre for Migration Studies, which forms part of Libraries NI. This is a reference library focusing on Irish migration worldwide, with strong sections on migration history, transport, sociology, architecture, and American and Irish history.

After our tour of the NMNI museums was complete, I stayed on for the weekend to explore Belfast and its surroundings a bit further – I will tell you more another day!

For now, a big thanks to Louise and all her colleagues for a fabulous welcome to Northern Ireland. We can’t wait for ITP fellows to share the experience this summer!

So long and thanks for all the Fifteens!