19Our second day in Belfast City and it was raining after the beautiful sunshine of our first day we now realised why we were told by friends to bring a Mac. With two children to entertain and not really knowing where to go we were advised to walk to the Ulster Museum just passed Queens University.

We arrived at a very modern looking entrance on the side of a splendid ornate building set in the grounds of a luscious green park called Botanic Gardens. We went through the entrance area looking to buy our tickets but where astounded to hear the lady tell us it was free entry, what a gift.

Standing in the vastness of the entrance hall we could see the levels of treasures raising before us and excited voices of children talking about “The Mummy” and the “Big Bear” and “Dinosaurs”. That was the cue for my two water logged troopers to rally round and start with the questions,  “Dad can WE see ‘The Mummy’ and ‘The Big Bear’ and where do they keep the Dinosaurs ?”

So the trail of adventure and exploration began with my wife taking the wet coats and me holding the hands of two excited but cautious mini explorers we set off. The Museum is spread out in sections that are cleverly laid out to lead you through the vast depository of history and past lives.

The main areas of the museum are The Art Zone on the top deck, Nature Zone on the Middle deck and History Zone with all manner of skeletons from Dinosaurs and Giant Irish Deer to giant crabs.

It was unfortunate that we could not get a guide to the museum in English as they had ‘ran out’ and awaiting a new supply, however if we had Spanish or German we would have been ‘elected’ as they say in Belfast.

The must see for us all was ‘The Mummy’, Takabuti.  We are told she was a married lady of 20-30 years of age and her father was a priest of Amun. This lady has been in Belfast from 1835 and is a major attraction for visitors of all ages with her splendid painted coffin, she must have been a wealthy woman. You can see her toes and hand and marvel at how she has stood the passing of time better than most.

The Museum is laid out in levels inside a vast white space with massive glass platforms holding an old motor car, a dinosaur skeleton, a polar bear, and various other fascinating exhibits but to be totally honest I have a fear of heights and felt quite vulnerable while walking around the upper levels over looking the vestibule.

I was particularly impressed with the exhibition of ‘The Troubles and Beyond’ and the gold Olympic medal won by Mary Peters in 1972 at The Summer Olympic Games for The Women’s Pentathlon. It was impressive to get so close to such a treasure and the fact it shares the display case with a Nobel Peace Prize was remarkable.

The golden medal of The Nobel Peace Prize and certificate were awarded to Mairead Corrigan of ‘The Peace People’ in the late 1970’s a prize she shared with the co-founder Betty Williams. These where dark times in the history of Northern Ireland and listening to the voices of those around me I was more than a little surprised to hear very few Northern Irish accents there were more ‘visitors’ in the building than natives, maybe they have lived through it all and don’t need the reminders of bygone years.

There are areas in the museum where the younger explorers can engage in practical hands on history. Like dressing up in old clothes or looking closely at a  row of terraced houses made up in miniature as dolls houses.  The nature zone has a collection of various eggs that allow us to compare sizes of various species and plenty of books to read or use as reference points as well a stuffed birds and animals, this areas was a great success with my explorers as it had tables and chairs and well lit through the large windows the over look the side of the building.

We really enjoyed our day in the Ulster Museum and maybe a colour coded guide route on the floor would have helped ease the voyage through the vastness of exhibits as we seemed to be continually walking passed some of shoot of a side room as the lighting is quite dim in areas. I also noted some of the exhibits are in showcases that sit a little on the high side for wheelchair users or children in push chairs and while there are lifts and ramps throughout the building there would appear to be areas that are still not fully accessible to those with a disability or very young children.

I could write about YOUR museum all day but alas I think I have wet your appetite enough with my small piece of our experience and with new exhibits planned for the coming months things are always changing.

I would strongly encourage everyone to visit the Ulster Museum and marvel in the collection of historic artefacts whether you are a visitor or a native you should visit the past every now and then and soak up the wealth of history on your door step and IT’S FREE and not only is it free but it is open at weekends.

My advice to you is get down there this weekend and see what you are missing.

The Belfast Explorers.

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