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Botanic Park Ravine an eerie shell of old self as revamp continues

Iconic building to become top tourist attraction

By Linda Stewart

Published 10/06/2016

The dig at the Tropical Ravine in Belfast’s Botanic Park
The dig at the Tropical Ravine in Belfast’s Botanic Park
The dig at the Tropical Ravine in Belfast’s Botanic Park
The Botanic Gardens’ Tropical Ravine in all its beautiful and exotic glory back in 1982

These striking images show all that is left of the Tropical Ravine in Belfast's Botanic Park after the plants were stripped out.

The iconic Victorian structure has been left with an eerie cathedral-like quality as it undergoes a £3.8m restoration scheme designed to transform the building into a must-see attraction.

Hundreds of plants - including the rare Killarney fern - were moved to other glasshouses in Botanic Park to allow the big-money revamp to take place.

Other plants that were too large to be moved are being protected within the ravine itself.

Temporary bespoke greenhouses have been installed around three cycads, a banana stumpery and a fire wheel tree to give them the best chance of survival. The next milestone will be the installation of the new roof.

The Tropical Ravine is the only feature of its kind left in Northern Ireland and one of only a handful on the island of Ireland.

The attraction, built in 1889 by the park's head gardener Charles McKimm and his staff, contained some of the oldest seed plants around, as well as banana, cinnamon, bromeliad and orchids.

The ravine also demonstrated how technology allowed for the cultivation of unusual plants in greenhouse-type environments.

Among its features were a plant-filled sunken glen, flowering vines and tree ferns.

Over the years, the attraction fell into disrepair, with the roof needing replaced.

Gaps between the glass panes were allowing heat to escape and rain to fall into the glasshouse in winter, resulting in plant losses.

This week, pupils from Botanic Primary School were treated to a sneak peak of how the work is progressing ahead of an expected reopening next year.

The children are also taking part in the Writing The Ravine project, which will culminate in a 27-metre art piece that will adorn the hoarding around the attraction.

The project arose out of workshops and open days at the Ulster Museum and Palm House in early spring, facilitated by author Jan Carson and poet Emma Must. They focused on the fascinating and sometimes fantastical heritage of the gardens and the ravine.

The open days also gave the public the chance to share their memories of the glasshouse and the gardens, with more than 400 people taking part in the project.

Writing from the workshops and memories from the open days have been passed on to local illustrator Peter Strain to be incorporated into the art piece that will adorn the hoarding, the timeline of which will begin with the opening of the Botanic Gardens in 1828, stretching up to 2017, when the ravine is expected to reopen.

Councillor Matt Garrett, chair of Belfast City Council's People and Communities Committee, said: "When the restoration work is completed, the ravine will be transformed into a must-see attraction for old and new visitors alike.

"It's fantastic that local schoolchildren are getting involved in this art project, as well as local residents and users of the gardens, to play a key part in the story of the ravine."

The £3.8m restoration project is being paid for by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Belfast City Council through its investment programme.

The Friends of Belfast Botanic Gardens are also contributing to the scheme.

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