Page last updated at 13:26 GMT, Thursday, 22 October 2009 14:26 UK

Ulster Museum back in business

The museum now features a dramatic new 23 metre high atrium

One of Northern Ireland's most popular attractions opened its doors to visitors on Thursday after undergoing a multi-million pound refurbishment.

The Ulster Museum closed in October 2006 to allow a £17m renovation to take place.

Although the opening is a few months later than originally planned, staff hope the new-look building will soon be attracting record numbers of visitors.

The museum is headlining its opening with a major exhibition by Irish-born artist Sean Scully, which will run until February 2010.

The museum's more familiar artefacts, such as the Egyptian mummy Takabuti and the Bann disc, are also on show in revamped displays.


People returning to the museum may not notice much of a difference on the outside, but it has been completely revamped on the inside.

The old cave like entrance to the museum has been replaced by a bright open plan welcome area, which allows visitors to look up at through all three floors levels of the building.

Although no extensions were added to the original footprint of the building, the new museum now has an extra square kilometre of exhibition space.

Dr Jim McGreevy, the museum's director of collections and interpretations, said the increased floor space means many artefacts which had previously been kept in storage are now on display.

"The collections are now represented in a much more fresher and vibrant way," he said.

"Access to all of the museum has been improved and the building has really been opened up.

Takabuti is to be the centrepiece of a new exhibit on ancient Egypt
Takabuti is to be the centrepiece of a new exhibit on ancient Egypt

"We have now moved to the position where 96/97% of the museum is accessible to all users."

The new-look museum has been split into three main zones around the themes of art, nature and history.

Each zone has an interactive area where visitors of any age get the chance to handle fossils, touch a real elephant skull, try on period costumes or even have a go at creating their own artistic masterpieces.

"They have been designed so visitors can interact with the exhibits and get a real hands on experience," Dr McGreevy said.

A viewing gallery, complete with binoculars, in the nature zone gives people the opportunity to look out at the wildlife in Botanic Gardens.


The RSPB will also be holding special bird watching sessions at the museum every weekend from November.

Paul Millar, partner in Hamilton architects, who carried out the museum redesign said the building was now more welcoming and easier to navigate.

"Anyone who knows the old museum, the entrance was very intimidating," he said.

"It had a very low ceiling and was a dark space, so one of the primary considerations was to make it a more welcoming experience.

"The other main difficulty of the old museum was that it was very hard to find your way round."

Tim Cooke,CEO of National Museums of Northern Ireland
Tim Cooke said the museum put Belfast on the international map

Tim Cooke, CEO of National Museums of Northern Ireland, said the new-look museum set a new standard for cultural institutions in Northern Ireland.

"For a museum project, £17m, while a lot of money, is not really exceptional at all, it is probably at the lower end of museum refurbishment," he said.

"There is a fantastic art exhibition on from Sean Scully who is an internationally renowned abstract painter and we think that exhibition will attract visitors from North America and Europe in large numbers.

"So it really puts Belfast on the international map."

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