The Bottom Line
Ulster Museum in Belfast? Easy, simply head for the Botanical Gardens and then for the forbidding grey concrete bunker ... the outside of the museum is neither inspiring nor promising. But the collections make up for this through both variety and quality. While the main focus is on Ulster's long history, the museum also contains sections devoted to art, anthropology and natural history. Which makes it an Aladdin's Cave of exhibits and curios. Unfortunately blessed with a layout that would occasionally confuse Ali Baba and the forty thieves.
- Very good collection on Ulster history.
- Further exhibitions highlight natural history, anthropology and art.
- Spectacular treasures from the Spanish Armada.
- Museum layout tends to be confusing.
- Modern museum building erected near Queen's University to house diverse collections.
- Strengths are Ulster history and related collections.
- Permanent collections are augmented by special exhibitions at irregular intervals.
Guide Review - Ulster Museum (Belfast)
Located near the Queen's University and the Botanic Gardens, the Ulster Museum is easy to locate and in pleasant surroundings. Unfortunately the museum itself can only be described as a sturdy, utilitarian building - if one feels charitable. But do not be put off by the concrete bunker-look, the collection is worth a visit despite the exterior and the sometimes confusing layout of the galleries.
One strength of the Ulster Museum is the exploration of Ulster history, the gallery describing prehistoric life is absorbing, well laid out and above all educational without being overbearing. Even kids emerge as experts on passage tombs after trying to construct a (small) replica themselves. Another local highlight are Spanish treasures. When the Spanish Armada beat a hasty retreat in 1588, several ships sank on the Irish coasts. The Ulster Museum has exhibits recovered from the Girona, the most fascinating being a salamander ornament.
But the exhibitions also cover far-flung places like Africa, in true Victorian fashion explorers brought back mummies, masks and murderous weapons from the outposts of the empire. Another collection highlights natural history, from gigantic dinosaurs to butterflies. Odd exhibits abound - odd in the sense of having no real connection to Ulster or Ireland.
From steam engines to a reliquary holding Saint Patrick's arm the Ulster Museum simply seems to have it all. Naturally a coffee shop and a museum store as well.