2000s Collection Highlights
A Shirt from Six Nations, Exciting Renovations and Four-Metre-Long Fossil Fish
When the museum opened in the 1970s, we were able to showcase more of our collection as the spaces used for galleries and exhibitions were extended. Nestled in the heart of the museum was a central open courtyard, and although this was an interesting feature, it consumed a lot of space. A new 3 year renovation project, starting in 2006, aimed to reclaim this space while maintaining the sense of scale that visitors felt upon entering the museum.
The new atrium, which filled the original courtyard area, is a bright and spacious reception for our visitors. There are a series of centralised walkways guiding visitors from history, through to the art and science galleries at different levels. With the refurbishment came new galleries and new opportunities for education and collections engagement. Perhaps most significant was the addition of the Applied Art Gallery, a spacious area on the museum's top floor where our ceramics, glass and contemporary glass, silver and metalworks objects are displayed in a series of large cases.
Currently, the atrium’s ceiling is home to our Game of Thrones’ flying dragons expertly crafted by Bob Johnston, who is based at the Ulster Folk Museum.
Some aspects of the courtyard’s original design were preserved in the makeover process. Various panes of stained glass which originally let light into the open courtyard can now be found hidden throughout our first and second floor galleries.
The museum’s reopening came with the first instalment of our dedicated Troubles galleries. Since then, our approach to collecting and exhibiting for the Troubles has developed. When collecting for what is now the ‘Troubles and Beyond’ exhibition, our curators ensure that the exhibition is more than simply a history of political violence.
For many, most of the time, ordinary life did go on, and the current exhibition explores Northern Ireland’s everyday culture throughout and after The Troubles. A leather jacket from the punk band, “The Outcasts” recalls the days (and nights) of Belfast’s Good Vibrations counterculture. And, this rugby jersey worn by Paddy Wallace during the 2007 Six Nations finals celebrates Ireland winning the Triple Crown for the second year in a row.
The Troubles are reflected as much in our Art Collection as in our History Collection. In 2008, Willie Doherty’s ‘Ghost Story’ signified the first video work to enter the art collection.
Doherty created ‘Ghost Story’ for the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007. The eery projection references events of The Troubles while a narration describes how memories of the past can haunt the present.
Senior Curator of Natural Sciences, Dr. Mike Simms remembers the arrival of a mysterious, 5m-long crate in the museum’s reception. The box remained unopen for several weeks, and seeing the curiosity on visitors’ faces, staff asked visitors to place guesses as to what might have been inside.
Two visitors suspected something fishy, and their guesses were correct; for inside the box was a magnificent fossil of a bulldog fish. Almost 4m long, the bulldog fish swam the oceans of what is now central USA, almost 90 million years ago. Its name comes from its bulldog-like jaws and fearsome teeth, showing that it would have preyed on smaller fish and seabirds near the surface.
Now it is much less deadly, and you can visit the bulldog fish and other intriguing fossils in our Fossils and Evolution gallery.