Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland's precious heritage left to quietly rot in an old shed at Ulster Folk and Transport Museum

By Deborah McAleese

Serious questions have arisen over the care of some of Northern Ireland's most important historical artefacts.

Shocking photographs secretly taken at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum appear to show numerous items of cultural importance languishing in poor conditions.

The images have led to demands for an immediate investigation by the Culture Minister into the care and preservation of Northern Ireland's national collection.

It has been claimed that some donations have been removed from the museum by their original owners amid concern over "poor" storage conditions.

The National Museums Northern Ireland (NMNI) last night said that the photographs were taken several years ago and insisted that "99% of collections are held in acceptable, good or excellent conditions" and that there was on-going work to improve facilities.

A spokesman for the body said: "We accept that we face challenges holding the remaining 1% in better facilities. National Museums Northern Ireland is addressing this through an ongoing programme of storage improvement."

The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum is one of four museum sites here to house the province's national collection, which comprises approximately 1,450,000 artefacts and works of art of significant monetary, historical, scientific and cultural value.

Only 10% of the collection is on display at any given time, with the rest kept in storage.

The photographs supplied to the Belfast Telegraph by a concerned member of the public has raised questions over the guardianship of these historical items.

Some of the images show a number of vintage cars in storage in an apparent state of decline. According to the member of the public the cars were in "perfect condition" prior to being placed in a rural store within the museum grounds for several years.

He said it was later discovered that the store was infested with "organisms destructive to any item" within the store and a specialist team had to be brought over from England to fumigate it.

The man also claimed archived buses and boats have been "left to rot" and that other items, such as arcade material from Barry's amusements, have been stored in "precarious conditions".

According to the man, a lifeboat and several private vehicles have been removed from the museum's care "because those who donated them found out the poor condition they were in".

"All items donated to the museum were presented with pride in the knowledge that their piece of social history would be treated with respectful care. Why were examples of our national heritage placed in an environment that would only have a negative effect upon their continued existence?" he said.

He added: "It is unacceptable that the public purse is used to subsidise an organisation uniquely created by an Act of Parliament that is failing in its defined role in the duty of care towards the nation's heritage."

Dominic Bradley, a member of the Assembly's Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee, called for an immediate investigation. "It is very important that we find out if there is a problem over the care of these important artefacts and if there is then it has to be remedied immediately," the SDLP MLA said.

Independent MLA John McCallister said that the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum was responsible "for preserving our culture and heritage and should treat all the donated and purchased artefacts with great care".

"These claims and the questions arising from the photographs need to be investigated by the minister. We cannot allow artefacts of historical importance to be neglected," he added.

This is not the first time concern has been raised over standards of record-keeping and storage by the body representing Northern Ireland's museums and galleries. In 2006 an auditor general's report said half of 50 stores housing National Museums and Galleries of NI (MAGNI) collections were "poor or unacceptable". There was also criticism over record keeping.

Belfast Telegraph


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