My Time in Belfast – UK Partner Placement (Emily Shaw, ITP Coordinator)

Written by Emily Shaw, International Training Programme Coordinator

Last week I was very lucky to be able to join Catalina Cavalier, Sanjeewani Widyarathne, Asuman Alpagut and Tamara Alateya on the first part of their UK Partner Placement in Belfast at National Museums Northern Ireland.

We arrived in Belfast on the Monday at around 1pm and met Louise Smyth (Training and Development Advisor, NMNI) for lunch at the Lyric Theatre. Louise very kindly gifted us welcome packs introducing us to Northern Ireland and NMNI – including scarfs and some melting pot fudge (to die for!). After lunch we checked into our apartments before heading out for dinner with William Blair (Director of Collections, NMNI), Hannah Crowdy (Head of Collections, NMNI) and Karen Logan (Curator of History, NMNI).

On Tuesday morning we met Louise at the Ulster Museum where we she gave us an overview of the mission, vision and values of NMNI underpinning the NMNI’s ethos, ‘Here for Good’. We then had a fantastic tour of the Ulster Museum with Jonathan Granville (Visitor Services Manager, Ulster Museum) who introduced us to the permanent and temporary collections on display at the Ulster Museum. From art to science and history, there really is something for everyone. The fellows particularly got stuck into the temporary display ‘The Art of Selling Songs’ dressing up as punks!

Sanjeewani, Catalina and Tamara dressing up as punks as part of ‘The Art of Selling Songs: Music and Graphics from the V&A’ exhibition.

For lunch on Tuesday we met Roisin Mortimer (Research Assistant, NMNI) for an interesting discussion on target audiences and evaluation. After lunch we visited the Troubles and Beyond gallery with Karen Logan (Curator of History, NMNI). It was really interesting to hear Karen explain how the space was curated to ensure that multiple perspectives and voices were heard but also to encourage community involvement. It was a very moving space.

It was up to us how we chose to spend the rest of the day so Catalina, Tamara and Sanjeewani and I decided to visit the Titanic Experience. Located in the area of Belfast where the Titanic was built, the exhibition uncovers the full story of Titanic through a very interactive and sensory experience – a fun worthwhile visit!

On Wednesday morning we went up to Cultra for a tour of the collection stores of Ulster Transport Museum with Clare Ablett (Curatorial Assistant, NMNI) where we saw the collection of vintage cars and vehicles not on display. We got to see how some of the vehicles were being restored and we even had a preview of a fully-restored 1960s caravan that is believed to have belonged to the family who started Barry’s Amusements (Ireland’s longest running Amusement Park) in the 1920s. 

We met Colin Catney (Chief Operation Officer, NMNI) for lunch at the Ballycultra Café in Ulster Folk Museum. Colin gave us a very interesting talk on the organisational development that the NMNI have undergone in the past two years and the ways that this has positively impacted National Museums Northern Ireland.

After lunch on Wednesday, we made our way back to the city and to the Ulster Museum where we met Andrew McDowell (Interpretative Planning Manager, NMNI). The fellows were given the task of navigating themselves around the Ulster Museum using both the old and new maps before discussing the differences between both and any improvements that could be made to make an individual’s visit to the museum as easy and enjoyable as possible. Andrew then took us to both of the current temporary exhibitions ‘The Art of Selling Songs’ and ‘Vice Versa’ where he talked us through how the exhibits were designed to most effectively articulate the story/message across to the visitors.

In the evening Louise and Jenna Collier (NMNI Associate) took us on a wonderful walking tour of Belfast. We started at the Ulster Museum and walked through the Botanic gardens where we stopped outside of The Tropical Ravine, a red-brick greenhouse built in 1887 for the head gardener at Botanic gardens, Charles Mckimm, and the Botanic Gardens Palm House, a large glass house designed by architect Charles Lanyon and built in 1852. Both buildings were built as a result of the Victorian obsession with housing tropical plants. We then made our way towards the Queen’s University where we admired the beautiful Gothic architecture of the main building. Louise also arranged for us to go into the University Library to see the C.S. Lewis Reading Room.

We entered via a door that is a replica of the wardrobe door used in the film The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – magical! As we made our way down to the city centre we stopped off at a few more points of historical significance, walking via Sandy Row, that being a traditionally Protestant neighbourhood, which had seen a lot during The Troubles. As we walked down Sandy Row we saw murals commemorating individuals from loyalist groups who had been killed during the troubles but also murals dedicated to loyalist paramilitary organisations. I think that we would all agree that Sandy Row was very powerful in helping us to further understand the divide that existed during The Troubles.

Louise booked for us to go for dinner at The Crown Liquor Saloon. Still boasting many of its features as the original 1826 Victorian ‘gin palace’, The Crown has a Grade A listed building status. Elaborately adorned in polychromatic tiles on the exterior and richly decorated with mosaics of tiles, brocaded walls, wood-carvings, ornate mirrors, Corinthian columns, stained-glass windows and gold motifs on the inside, The Crown really is a work of art and definitely one to visit! We all had a delicious hearty Irish meal – many of us went for the Irish lamb stew!

I absolutely LOVED my time in Belfast with the ITP! I was very sad to leave but I do hope to visit again soon. A big thank you to everyone at National Museums Northern Ireland, and a special thank you to Louise Smyth for organising the programme and making sure we all had the most fantastic time.