Monday, 31 May 2010

The Ulster Museum controversy (6)

During the course of the Seven Days programme on Radio Ulster yesterday, there was several very significant comments by Richard Warner, who was formerly a curator in the Ulster Museum. 

He said, 'Nobody who is a properly trained museum curator, let's say in the history of Northern Ireland, is going to ignore the Orange Order. The Orange Order will be put there within the display. It is part of what formed Northern Ireland. There has always been reference to the Orange Order in there. The balance may or may not be right, according to other views. It has always been seen by the curatorial staff in the Ulster Msueum as a very important part of Ulster history.'

The Ulster Museum reopened on 22 October 2009, after a major refurbishment, and just a matter of days before the opening there was no representation of the Orange Order at all!  The cursory reference that is there now was inserted in the last few days, when it was pointed out to the museum that they had ignored the Orange Order.

Yet Richard Warner states that, 'Nobody who is a properly trained museum curator, let's say in the history of Northern Ireland. is going to ingore the Orange Order.  It has always been seen by the curatorial staff in the Ulster Museum as a very important part of Ulster history.'

Yes the Orange Order was included in the Ulster Museum story before it closed.  Why then was it that just days before the Ulster Museum reopened the Orange Order had been airbrushed out of the story?  That is a question that requires an answer.

Earlier in the programme Richard Warner also spoke about museums 'using objects to illustrate the story they are telling.'  That comment is particularly relevant to the Orange Order because there are no Orange Order artefacts in the exhibition.  The museum has artefacts in its stores but they not in the exhibition for the public to see.

The fact is that in the last few days before the Ulster Museum reopened a single board was added with five or six sentences about the Order.  That board was added as an afterthought and that is why it looks like an afterthought.  It was possible to add a single board with text on it but without redesigning that part of the museum there was no space to add a cabinet with Orange artefacts.

The fact that it was an afterthought is highlighted by the stark contrast with the adjacent displays on the Irish Volunteers and the United Irishmen, where there are a number of cabinets with artefacts.



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