Museums and Galleries of South Belfast

An overview of museums and galleries in the south of the city

The Ulster Museum
Situated in Belfast’s Botanic Gardens, close to Queen’s University, the Ulster Museum is the city’s largest museum and exhibition space. The museum contains 8,000 square metres of gallery space, housing an extensive collection of Northern Irish art and material relating to local archaeology, history, industry and natural science. The museum also contains artifacts from around the world.

The origins of the museum date back to 1821, but the Ulster Museum has inhabited its current site since 1929. It was designed by James Cumming Wynne in neo-classical Portland stone. The building was extended in the 1960s by the architect Francis Pym, more than doubling the exhibition space available through the addition of a massive block structure in reinforced concrete. Since then, local opinion has been divided on the aesthetic suitability of merging two very distinct architectural styles.

Nevertheless, the Ulster Museum remains one of Northern Ireland’s most important visitor attractions. It houses a variety of permanent, temporary and touring exhibitions. Significant long-running exhibitions include a range of artifacts and displays which reflect life in Ireland in the years 10,000 – 1,500 BC, materials which illustrate the diversity of Irish geology and, from a more recent era, the story of Northern Ireland’s industrial heritage. The museum also contains a fine collection of items recovered from ships of the Spanish Armada, which perished off the Irish coast in 1588, and there are several galleries devoted to other aspects of Irish history and world cultures.

The museum is also a significant collector of Irish art, and has maintained a permanent collection of work by Irish artists since the 1940s. Indeed, the collection of Irish art held by the Ulster Museum and its sister museums in Northern Ireland is perhaps surpassed only by that held in the National Gallery, Dublin.

Featured in the collections are works by such eminent artists as Sir John Lavery, WJ Leech, Mainie Jellet, Jack B Yeats, Paul Henry, Colin Middleton, John Luke, William Conor, Louis le Brocquy and Basil Blackshaw. Another significant holding is a major portrait collection of portraits of local artists, musicians and writers including Seamus Heaney, James Galway, Brian Friel and Barry Douglas.

Other art held by the museum includes works by continental and British masters, and prestigious holdings of modern British, European and American painting. Many of the works in these collections are on permanent display in the galleries.

The Ulster Museum is open seven days a week. Opening times vary.

Queen’s University
The main campus of Queen’s University is only a short stroll across Botanic Gardens from the museum. The Naughton Gallery is situated on the first floor of the ornate Lanyon building. The Gallery displays selected works from the University’s fine art collection, which contains an eclectic mix of landscapes, genre paintings and portraits. Work by many notable Irish artists, such as Lavery, Conor, Henry, le Brocquy and Luke, are on display. The Gallery also houses touring exhibitions and arranges occasional talks and lectures. Admission to the Gallery is free and it is open on weekday and Saturday afternoons.

The University’s Great Hall, also situated in the Lanyon building, contains a fine display of around 60 portraits of distinguished figures connected to Queen’s. The Queen’s Visitors Centre contains exhibitions on the history and heritage of the University.

The Crescent Arts Centre
The Crescent Arts Centre is a short walk away from Queen’s, along University Road towards the city centre. As well as running numerous courses and events, the centre contains the Fenderesky Gallery, which focuses on exhibiting contemporary art by Irish and international artists.

The Gallery is contained in three rooms within the centre. Most of the exhibitions organised by the Fenderesky Gallery run on a four week basis, and a mixture of individual and group shows are hosted. Material exhibited ranges from modern to traditional art practice, and the Gallery proactively aims to showcase work from both established and upcoming artists. While most works displayed in the Gallery are available for sale, it is not primarily a commercial venue. Admission to the Gallery is free and it is open from Monday to Saturday.

Other venues in the area that host occasional exhibitions of fine art include the Queen’s School of Architecture in Chlorine Gardens.

Commercial Galleries
South Belfast is also home to a number of commercial art galleries, which vary in range and quality. The most established is the Bell Gallery, situated in Adelaide Park, between the Lisburn and Malone Roads. It opened in 1964, and deals in Irish art from the eighteenth century to the present day.

A stroll along the Lisburn Road will reveal numerous other commercial ventures, and similar galleries are situated at Bradbury Place, Dublin Road, University Avenue and Donegall Pass.

© Robbie Meredith 2004