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National Museums Northern Ireland

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National Museums Northern Ireland

Coordinates: 54°34′55″N 5°56′06″W / 54.582°N 5.935°W / 54.582; -5.935

Ulster Museum
Ulstèr Museum[1]
Iarsmalann Uladh[2]
The Ulster Museum's main hall, on reopening after its refurbishment in October 2009.
Established 1929
Location Belfast, Northern Ireland

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,[3] and one of the components of National Museums Northern Ireland.[4]

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.[5] The renovation work was supported by the National Lottery and the Northern Ireland Executive's Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.


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,[6] 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 was begun in 1962 and opened in 1964. It is in the Brutalist style, 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".[7]

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 funding coming from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL, usually pronounced as 'Dee-Kal').[8] In October 2006 the museum closed its doors until 2009, to allow for the refurbishment work.[9] Illustrations of historic interest will be found as nos 183 and 237 in Larmour,P. 1987.DCAL.


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.[11] 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



Important individual specimens

Wildlife art

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),[13] 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 Departmeny of 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.[14]

List of some of the collectors

1960s Art

(See also List of years in art#1960s)

The collection contains works by:

Past art exhibitions

Ethnographic Collections


The museum acquired Armada artefacts from the Galleass Girona (ship) in 1971.

Controversy at the 132nd Royal Ulster Academy exhibition

At the 132nd Royal Ulster Academy exhibition at the Ulster Museum “The Kiss” by artist Paul Walls [16] 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 “” [17] [18]

Rail Access

Botanic is the nearest station on Northern Ireland Railways. Regular trains ply between Belfast Great Victoria Street, City Hospital, Botanic and Belfast Central.

See also



  • Hackney, P. 1972. Notes on the vascular plant herbarium of the Ulster Museum. Ir. Nat. J. 17: 230 - 233.
  • Hackney, P. 1980. Some early nineteenth century herbaria in Belfast. 20: 114 - 119.
  • Hackney, P. 1981. British vascular plant collection of the Ulster Museum. Biology Curators' Group. 2: 2 - 3.
  • Nesbitt, N. 1979. A Museum in Belfast. Ulster Museum.
  • McMillan, N.F. and Morton, O. 1979. A Victorian album of algae from the north of Ireland with specimens collected by William Sawers. Ir. Nat. J. 19: 384 - 387.
  • Morton, O. 1977a. A note on W.H.Harvey's algae in the Ulster Museum. Ir. Nat. J. 18: 26.
  • Morton, O. 1977b. Sylvanus Wear's algal collection in the Ulster Museum. Ir. Nat. J. 19: 92 - 93.
  • Morton, O. 1980. Three algal collections in the Ulster Museum herbarium. Ir. Nat. J. 20: 33 - 37.
  • Morton, O. 1981a. Algae in Biology Curators Group Newsletter. 3: 12 - 13.
  • Morton, O. 1981b American algae collected by W.H.Harvey and others, in the Ulster Museum Herbarium. Taxon 30: 867 - 868.
  • Morton, O. 1994. Marine Algae of Northern Ireland. Ulster Museum, Belfast. ISBN 0-900761-28-8
  • Praeger, R.L. 1949. Some Irish Naturalist.

Further reading

  • Deane, C. Douglas 1983. The Old Museum. in The Ulster Countryside. Century Books, The Universities Press (Belfast) Ltd. ISBN 0-903152-17-7
  • Bourke, M. 2011. The Story of Irish Museums 1790 - 2000. Cork University Press. ISBN 1-85918-475-8

External links

  • Ulster Museum - official website
  • National Museums of Northern Ireland
  • Habitas (Ulster Museum Sciences Division)
  • The Northern Ireland Guide: The Ulster Museum

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