Monday, 26 July 2010

4/4 Belfast: The Queen's University & The Ulster Museum


My Belfast friends have at their doorstep the perfect environment for four young, active boys: the Botanical Gardens, the fine Ulster Museum, excellent schools and safe neighbourhoods. There are also excellent places for bicycles and skateboards. There are things to do and places to go, and without yards, lawns & gardens to play in, essential for kids.
Above is the Palm House, which was designed by Sir Charles Lanyon and opened in 1840.
The number of rose bushes in the Botanic Gardens is staggering, and they offer the older visitor respite from urban life.

When my father purchased our Victorian home in Wolfville in Nova Scotia, the previous owner, old Mr. Dimock, the coal dealer, left behind about 150 rose bushes. When I took over the family home, I struggled with the roses, but did well. One of Pop's favourites was the Tropicana, and this one in the Botanic Gardens bears a close resemblance.
Whimsical sculptures are set into shrubberies.
William Thompson, 1st Baron Kelvin of Largs (1824-1907), a brilliant Belfast-born mathematical physicist and engineer, for whom the unit of temperature measurement known as the kelvin is named.
Surrounding the Botanic Gardens are buildings of Queen's University; the tower of the brand-new library stands at an entrance to the Gardens.
The boys can walk to an excellent, diverse school at the edge of the Gardens.
One of the lads earned entrance into nearby Methodist College Belfast--or Methody as it is commonly called--one of Northern Ireland's leading grammar schools.

Methody has an excellent reputation for academics and an impressive record of achievements in music, drama and sports.
Also in the neighbourhood is the famous Lyric Theatre, temporarily housed here in the Elmwood Lyric whilst a new building emerges on its original site. The Patron of the Theatre is Liam Neeson. My host, Justin, is a composer and has composed for performances at The Lyric.
The Queen's University of Belfast was chartered in 1845 and is now a leading research university. Well-known alumni include Liam Neeson and Simon Callow, author C. S. Lewis, the Nobel-prize-winning poet, Seamus Heaney, and the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese.
The ubiquitous red hand of Ulster is found everywhere, not surprisingly on an institution named The Queen's University.

Inside the foyer of the main campus building, the Lanyon, named for the architect, we find a contemplative Galileo.

Inside the Lanyon Building is the Canada Room, so-named because Queen's graduates in Canada and Canadian governments generously contributed to Queen's fund-raising campaigns. It is paneled in Canadian maple and the carpet and lights carry a maple leaf motif. The room is decorated with the Coat of Arms of Canada and each of her provinces.
The £50 million McClay Library was opened 6 July 2010, two weeks ago! Named for Queen's largest benefactor, Sir Allen McClay, it was opened by poet Seamus Heaney.
The sculpture is entitled ECO and is by Marc Didou.

My librarian daughter would adore this state-of-the-art research library. We went in to see the C. S. Lewis Reading Room.
I can't resist including this adorable flower/plant found in the tropical ravine in the Botanic Gardens: it is aristolochea gigantea or The Dutchman's Pipe. Native to Brazil, it is a rampant grower and its stem seems too fragile to hold the weight of the lemon-scented flower!
There is no explanation for this tiny rock garden but I include it because my son is becoming an avid rock collector and creator of a rock garden. The hardest thing I had to do when I left our home in Port Williams to return to Wolfville, was to abandon my Thyme Garden, although I managed to take with me several of the best rocks!
The Ulster Museum first opened in 1929 in Stranmillis, but existed in other forms in Belfast from 1821-1833. It has included an art gallery since 1890. It was closed for three years for a complete renovation and re-opened in October 2009.
The Ulster Museum is superb, with an eclectic collection of historical and cultural artifacts, outstanding displays of natural history and science, Egyptian, Viking and prehistorical displays, and more. (It has cut back on its collection of dinosaurs!)
The Museum and the Botanic Gardens in which it sits, is a meeting place, especially for youth and children, many presumably associated with the university.

It is a perfect place for families to bring kids with many interactive areas in the art, history and nature zones. Children can be left with facilitators whilst parents look through the art gallery, or at displays of Irish crystal and porcelain!
In the foyer is Crash (1964) by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005).

Some of the exhibits are appropriately very Irish, from history to commerce. Not surprisingly, The Titanic is often cited as a great Belfast shipbuilding accomplishment!

I love the cleverness of making Adam & Eve the iconic image for The Amalgamated Society of Tailors!
Ireland was a major glass-making country in the late 18th and in the 19th century. The main glass-making areas were Belfast, Dublin, Cork and Waterford. This Bute bowl and stand is probably from 1790.
No. 23 is likely from Dublin in 1800; the other two decanters are from Belfast, 1790.
To underscore the global scope of the collections, here are a few non-Irish pieces that caught my eye, reminiscent of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
No. 1 is by the Japanese artist Takahiro Kondo, and is entitled Tall Blue Mist Form, 2004. It is made with porcelain, cobalt and silver mist glazes. The bowl is also Japanese, by Keiko Mugaide, and is entitled Hexagonal Wavy Bowl, 1998, and is fused crystal glass strings.
Green Eye of the Pyramid, 1993-1994 is cast glass by two artists from the Czech Republic, Stansilav Libensk and Jaraslava Brychtov√°.
David Hay, who was born in England in 1961 but works in Australia, created Ribbon of Life, 2004, of blown, cased, sandblasted and cut glass.
A wine cistern from Dublin, 1715, with the swans added later.
An epergne from Dublin, 1790.
The eight art galleries are excellent and introduced me to Irish artists I had not known before. I took one photo before I noticed the usual signage. This piece is by the artist(s) Gilbert & George, from England. It is entitled To The Fallen, 1982, and is a "photo-piece on paper." Gilbert is Gilbert Proesch and George is George Passmore, who met at St Martin's in London and then adopted a single artist persona. "Their" work deals primarily with the complex issues of inner-city life and experiences.
Other new painters I discovered include Sir John Lavery, Paul Henry and John Luke (1906-1975) whose pieces, The Three Dancers (1943) and The Fox (1937) are brilliant examples of his "extreme stylization of shapes and the use of bright colour."

I found a wonderful set of John Luke fridge magnets in the Museum gift-shop.
His images are realistic but with surreal dreamlike qualities. My favourites are his precise pieces done in oil, tempera on canvas. But magnets I can afford!
We struck up a conversation with a couple from Donegal as we were admiring the work of Derek Hill, who lived there, at Church Hill in the Glebe House. Apparently, he walked away from his house, leaving it intact as if he had gone for a walk on the Donegal beaches and left it to (maybe) the National Trust. Michelle's family vacations there. Maybe I can go there someday, too.
There is one gallery devoted to fashion.
This little piece is called Crossed Legs, c. 1978, by F. E. McWilliam.
Humming Head, by Carolyn Mulholland.
There are marvelous exhibits in Natural History as well, including these ancient antlers, and the largest bivalve in the world, the giant clam, Tridacna gigas, from the Indian Ocean. A stuffed Bengal Tiger reminded me of my grandfather's big game hunting in India.
My favourite bird, a Toucan.

My son has been learning about rock collecting back home where amethyst is found but not in abundance and not without effort. And maybe not in such gigantic chunks!
I only found one automobile in the collection--next to a dinosaur! A Chambers car, produced in Belfast from 1904 until the 1920s.
A Polar Bear, not found in Ireland, ever?
There are no longer any wolves in the UK in a natural environment.
The five-year-old son of my hosts was quite a talker, and he really wanted to tell me all about TAKABUTI, an 2500-year-old Mummy from Thebes. She has been on display since 1835.
This gothic silver gilt-arm reliquary is called the Shrine of St Patrick's hand--and was made to house the forearm believed to be that of St Patrick, whose grave was discovered in Down Cathedral, Downpatrick, in 1185.

Inauguration Chair of the O'Neills of Clandeboye, County Down; it consists of one unmodified chunk of sandstone, probably from the Craigavad Sandstone on the shores of Belfast Lough, 10km north of Castlereagh, at Cutra.
The linen industry was of major significance to Ireland and Belfast for decades.
A display featuring the Irish Harp.
A tea kettle from Dublin, 1736.


The interior courtyard of the newly renovated Ulster Museum, an outstanding place to spend an afternoon or a day. Many of the exhibits change regularly, so there is always something new to see. The Ulster Museum also has a top-notch display on the Irish Troubles, which I discuss in my Belfast Blog.
The gigantic Medieval Cross in the foyer.

The Museum faces challenges, although well-funded, in part through the National Lottery. The biggest issue this year is that there are demands, largely from the Free Presbyterian Church, that Creationism be given equal status with evolution in the Museum's science displays. They believe the earth is 6,000 years old, which makes most of the displays here suspect; even some government ministers are supporting anti-evolution displays, such as emphasis on intelligent design. So far, the Museum trustees are resisting the sectarian pressure.

The Ulster Museum handles its mission well; it has excellent displays, is beautifully designed, and today was filled with happy people including lots of exuberant children.
Nearly every exhibit I see opens up possibilities for research, for more learning and enjoyment. I am reminded by some lines by the Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney, in his poem Digging:

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.

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