Reflections on My Third Day at My UK Partner Placement – National Museums of Northern Ireland (Tamara Alattiya, ITP 2019, Iraq)

Written by Tamara Alattiya, Museum Project Manager & Museum Volunteer,  the Basra Heritage Office (ITP 2019, Iraq)

We have spent two days in Belfast, the beautiful green city of Northern Ireland. Situated at the River Farset, the name Belfast is derived from the Irish Béal Feirste, the word béal means “mouth” or “river mouth”. Like other cities, Belfast has its own special features that form its uniqueness. However, there is something extra unique about Belfast, something that is soothing to the soul. I wonder if it is maybe the endless green landscape that it has, maybe it’s people and how kind and positive they are, or maybe it’s the simple lifestyle. I am not sure yet what is it exactly that is giving the calmness and the steadiness to this city, but I am pretty sure that it is not related to its weather; as Belfast’s weather is unpredictable! To survive a day in Belfast at summertime, you need to wear a summer outfit, but to equip yourself with a scarf, a jacket, and absolutely an umbrella. You never know what the sky has in store for you on a given day.

And this is what we did today, me and my colleagues of the ITP who, as part of the British Museum placement partnership, have been sent to Belfast to visit Northern Ireland’s Museums. We have equipped ourselves with a bunch of diverse seasonal outfits and made our way to visit the “Ulster Folk and Transportation Museums” at Cultra.

Museum staff preparing for “Donkey Day”

The visit started with touring around the storage areas of the Transportation Museum. These storages include a big collection of transportation vehicles. We were lucky to see very rare vehicles that are under restoration and conservation; bicycles, motorcycles, cars, carriages, buses, boats and many more. Some of them were in a real need of restoration; others were in perfect condition and ready to be displayed. We had a quick chat with the storage team and we discussed their main challenges that they face in their work, namely the need for bigger storage facilities and a bigger number of staff.

Then we went to see the Ulster Folk Museum site. It is an open-air museum. A huge parkland, a very green one, where there are old houses and buildings from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries that represent the folk life of Northern Ireland. These houses were either original ones (dismantled, moved to the museum and rebuilt brick by brick), or replicas of the original buildings. The beautiful thing that adds a great value to the visitors’ experience is having the museum staff wearing traditional local costumes demonstrating traditional crafts and lifestyles. We met farmers and their lovely animals. They were preparing the farm donkeys for “the Donkey Day” where donkeys are used in many activities, like a fancy dress competition!

An example of the panels presented in each building at the Ulster Folk Museum

We went to a forging house where the forger used old techniques and tools in forging a very delicate piece of metal. We visited a basket man, a linen weaver lady, and a small house that was inviting visitors by a fascinating cooking smell that found its way to our noses. A woman, wearing her local dress, was cooking some bread and then handed some to us to taste. One bite was enough to tell how delicious it tastes. The taste of that bread, its smell combined with the old vintage smell of furniture, the fireplace where the bread is being cooked, and the smile of the woman while sharing the recipe of her bread with us, all of these elements had moved me to another time and space. I had almost believed that I am in an Irish village in the 1800s, until my phone rang, then I jumped back again into the year 2019!