The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum - part of the National Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland (MAGNI) - sits in on the shores of Belfast Lough. It started as a folk museum 40 years ago, established in response to the speed at which the countryside and the way of life of its people was changing. It was created out of a desire to preserve and record a heritage in danger of disappearing. The transport section was added later when an older museum in Belfast was closed.
At the Folk Museum more than 50 exhibit buildings from across the Ulster landscape have been acquired, reconstructed and furnished to illustrate life in the northern part of Ireland in the early 1900s. There is a town area and a rural area. The Museum's town area has been developed to re- flect an Ulster market town around 1900. Exhibits include a row of labourers' cottages, a public house, churches, and a blacksmith's forge.
Walking through the rural area, past fields with cattle, sheep and donkeys, you encounter a weaver's house, a byre dwelling where man and beast lived under the same roof, a hill farm, a spade mill and a school. The Transport Museum covers road, rail, maritime history and flight.
Horse-drawn vehicles, bicycles, motorbikes, trams, buses and motor cars are displayed in the road transport galleries.
The Irish Railway Collection is house in a spectacular purpose-built gallery reminiscent of the huge Victorian railway stations. It includes locomotives and roling stock from all over Ireland. Titanic is one of the most famous ships in history - the giant vessel was built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast and launched in 1911. The maritime collection includes hundreds of ship plans and photographs from the period. Northern Ireland's 20th century involvement with flight and with aircraft manufacturing is explored in a new Flight Experience gallery telling the story of early pioneers and the role of Short Brothers and Bombardier. It was in Belfast that the world's first vertical takeoff and landing aircraft was built.
More than 180,000 visitors from Northern Ireland and around the world visit each year. It is currently the Irish Museum of the Year and last year was Northern Ireland Visitor Attraction of the Year.
Six of the key elements of its success include:
1. A FOCUS ON COLLECTIONS
The Museum has collected the most important objects and buildings. Its collecting policies and its approach to interpretation have been grounded in specialist knowledge and research. There are specialist curators in agriculture, textiles, transport, music, language, crafts and domestic life.
2. A FOCUS ON CONNECTING
Many people in Northern Ireland can connect the museum with their own life experience or that of their parents or grandparents. As the years progress and some of the emotional and physical connections with the past fade, it is important that the museum connects its knowledge and collections with new generations. The Living Museum initiative, involving costumed interpretation and traditional craft demonstrations, is designed to bring the experience of the past to life by telling the stories of the people who lived and worked within the exhibit buildings.
3. A FOCUS ON LEARNING
Learning programmes for schools and adults are at the centre of the museum's activity. There are curriculum- based schools programmes which are developed in partnership with education providers. Our staff include qualified and experienced teachers.4. A FOCUS ON INFORMATION
The Museum has an Audience Development Strategy which includes an advertising action plan, the targeting of sectors of the tourism market and an e-marketing strategy. A calendar of special events is published well in advance. Publications include an illustrated visitor guide, a new map and a range of more specialist leaflets and books.
5. A FOCUS ON VISITORS
We aim to proved an excellent, accessible site, good car parking, footpaths, signage, catering and restrooms. We have a Visitor Information Centre, a userfriendly map, rigorous quality control and a staff training programme which emphasises engagement with visitors.
6. A FOCUS ON DEVELOPMENT
Museums need to be thinking constantly about the future as well as the past. The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum has had a policy of continuous development right from the start, ensuring that quality and range improve and that there is something fresh to attract and satisfy the repeat visitor. Two new exhibit buildings and a major permanent exhibition have opened within the past year. In the next year we're opening a Silent Cinema complex and period tea rooms.
The combination of these six important themes along with the splendid setting, the general support of society behind the project and the passion of visitors and staff across the decades have created a world-class experience connecting the past with today. Our aim is to ensure that the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum is used as widely as possible now and that in decades to come it will play a valuable, unique and inspirational role in explaining the evolution of our society.
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