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Northern Ireland's hidden treasures the public can't see

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 03/12/2015

The Result is in storage at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Cultra
The Result is in storage at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Cultra

A former Culture Minister has called for action over the number of historical artefacts languishing in storage in Northern Ireland's museums.

They include two 19th century ships and the remains of an assassinated US President's Co Antrim homestead.

In each case the exhibits have been hidden away for years.

The issue has been flagged up by Nelson McCausland, a keen historian who served as Culture Minister between 2009 and 2011.

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, he said the artefacts should be restored and put on show.

"Whether it be the ancestral home of an American President or examples of Ulster shipbuilding, surely something can be done to have them restored and enjoyed by visitors to our national museums," he writes.

"These are all part of our material heritage and our cultural wealth and can contribute to our tourism product."

Mr McCausland cites two ships which have been stored away for decades.

They are the Mary Joseph, a fishing vessel built in Kilkeel in 1877, and the Result, a cargo vessel launched in Carrickfergus in 1893.

Both are included on the National Historic Ships Register. They have been in the possession of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, now part of National Museums Northern Ireland, for several decades.

However, they remain in storage rather than on display.

Mr McCausland also draws attention to the homestead of William McKinley, the 25th US President, who was murdered in 1901.

His great-great grandfather James McKinley emigrated from Ballymoney in the 1740s.

The contents of the McKinley homestead were removed in the early 1900s, taken to London for exhibition, and subsequently lost.

The cottage was used as a store but some years ago, with the threat of demolition, it was rescued, fully recorded and dismantled.

In 1996 it was taken to the Ulster American Folk Park near Omagh, but remains in storage.

Mr McCausland writes: "The Ulster American Folk Park is a great museum and draws many thousands of visitors, but where else in the world would you find the ancestral home of an American President lying dismantled and neglected?

"Ulster supplied America with a number of families that went on to provide future Presidents. It is part of our history and it is part of our heritage. It is something that deserves to be celebrated."

A spokeswoman for National Museums NI said its approach to the display and storage of collections was the same as that used by museums across the world.

"Museums strive to achieve a balance between displaying objects and preserving them for future generations," she said.

"Most collections are developed as a record of our past and are not acquired simply for display purposes.

"Stored collections provide a rich public resource for research and study and are key to informing our understanding of the past.

"We do have aspirations to further develop all of our museums, however National Museums Northern Ireland must operate within its allocated budget.

"Next year we will be celebrating the Ulster American Folk Park's 40th anniversary and, as part of this, will be marking American Presidents who have an Ulster heritage."

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