Ulster Transport Museum
More background info:
The museum’s precursor was the Belfast Transport Museum, which merged with the Ulster Folk Museum in the 1960s. The museum moved into its current premises in the 1990s. Later that decade the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum merged also with the Ulster-American Folk Park and the eminent Ulster Museum
in south Belfast
. Together these four form the “National Museums of Northern Ireland”.
In 2012, the museum’s Titanic exhibition (called “TITANICa”) was revamped for the centenary of the vessel’s 1912 sinking.
Another addition was the Road Transport section, housed in a separate building, set back in parkland away from the original museum.
What there is to see: Once you’ve made your way there and paid for your ticket you first enter the largest of the museum’s halls. This is the railway section and it includes the displays of several steam engines, amongst them a big green Model 8900 one, said to have been the fastest and/or biggest ever to have been in service in Ireland. Some more modern diesel engines, a few passenger carriages and other train-related things are there too, as is a museum cafe in a mock station along with various rail-themed paraphernalia.
But there isn’t much of particular dark-tourism interest, except for the small section about railway accidents
. Apparently these used to be much more frequent than they are today, but the focus here is on what was Northern Ireland
’s worst such accident at Hamiltonsbawn in County Armagh in 1889, in which 70 people were killed and over 400 injured.
But a disaster on a much larger scale is the topic of the next section, which is also the main dark-tourism reason for making it out here: the Titanic
exhibition. This is called “TITANICa
” and is housed in the wing between the two main halls of the museum.
It’s subdivided into five thematic subsections: Designing Titanic, Building Titanic, The Three Ships, Titanic Stories and Remembering Titanic. The sinking of the ship doesn’t have its own dedicated section but is kind-of a theme that runs through all of the subsections, especially the last three.
On display are design plans and drawings, including on an interactive touchscreen where you can punch up details about various individual locations within the ship’s interior. One part is about communication, in this case the Marconi wireless, and how it was used to receive warnings (which were ignored) and later to send out distress calls.
Amongst the original artefacts on display are various bits and pieces from the Olympic, including wood panelling, floor tiles and a carved swivelling chair. Some items salvaged from the wreck of the Titanic are on display too, including a porthole, a copper soup bowl and some personal belongings. In addition there are numerous pieces of White Star Line items such as crockery, waitstaff clothes, and so on.
In the centre of it all is a fairly large scale model of the Titanic about halfway through the sinking, i.e. already listing heavily to the bow with the stern and propellers already out of the water and up in the air. The model is lovingly made, with much attention to detail. On deck you can see little passenger figurines amassed at the stern – a scene familiar from the 1997 move “Titanic”. On the polished surface – the “ocean surface – there are a couple of little model lifeboats, including a capsized one. In the corners of the display more little figurines represent the lost-vs-survivor rates for first-, second- and third-class passengers, with the former two having fared so much better than the underprivileged third-class passengers, as we all know (mainly because they were on the lower decks, so were disadvantaged in terms of getting to the outside decks and the lifeboats). The largest proportion of lives lost, however, was amongst the crew, of whom the survivors were vastly outnumbered by those lost.
Of course the rescue efforts are covered, the media reactions at the time and how the Titanic story became a legend widely represented in public perception and the media, not just in books and movies, but also kitschy items such as Titanic keyrings, Titanic vodka, even an inflatable Titanic lifebelt.
One subsection is about key names associated with the Titanic, including Bruce Ismay, Thomas Andrews and Lord Pirrie.
There’s also a “myth busting” display where you can test your knowledge about the various myths that surround Titanic. This includes the claim that the ship was advertised as unsinkable. It was not (it’s just that a shipbuilding journal praised the design as “practically unsinkable”, but the shipyard or White Star never made such a claim).
The next main section of the museum is about road transport, and on display are various historic ambulances, fire engines, trams and also private cars, including an “Amphicar” capable of moving on water as well as on land.
You then have to leave the main museum part and walk through some parkland to get to the other, newer building of the museum. This has a section about space (lacking in artefacts) and air, with the main object being an original Belfast-built Short SC.1 VTOL plane prototype (one of only two – this one being the one that crashed, killing the pilot, but later restored for display here … so there’s an unexpected extra dark element) … and yet more cars. Amongst these is one of the museum’s “star exhibits”: a DeLorean DMC-12 sports car. This too was built in Belfast, but although the design was certainly striking the car failed to meet expectations in performance and pricing and the company quickly folded. That was even before a DMC-12 made it to movie fame in the “Back to the Future” films (1985-1990), where it had the role of a DIY time-travel machine.
All in all
, much of the museum will be enjoyed more by boys of all ages with a penchant for big toys like locomotives and cars, but for the dark tourist it’s really just the Titanic section that is of special interest. The question is: is it worth making it all the way out here to see this Titanic
section if you’ve already seen the much more elaborate and comprehensive Titanic Belfast Experience
? I would say, yes, unless you are really pressed for time. It may be less flashy and immersive than its much larger sister institution in the Titanic Quarter
, but it, too, has worthwhile artefacts – and the model of the sinking Titanic
is the best I have seen anywhere (and I must have seen well over a dozen or two).
outside of the city of Belfast
proper, but still within Greater Belfast, namely in the north-eastern suburb of Cultra, ca. 7 miles (12 km) from Belfast city centre.
Access and costs:
a fair distance from the city centre of Belfast
, but quite easily reached by public transport; not too expensive.
If you’re driving, taking the A2 out of the city centre all the way to Cultra (ca. 15-20 mins), you can find a large car park at the site (free). And if you don’t have your own vehicle, public transport provides decent connections. The fastest way is by train, either from Belfast
city centre (from the terminus at Great Victoria Street) or any other stop along the line, including the small station in the Titanic Quarter
. It’s the line that goes all the way to Bangor, but for the museum you have to get out at Cultra. Trains are ca. every 20-30 minutes and the ride takes between 20 and 35 mins depending on where you start your journey. Tickets can be bought in advance online or even on the train from a conductor. Return tickets costs ca. 4-5 GBP.
Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Mondays.
Admission: 11.50 GBP (several concessions apply for seniors, students, children, etc.)
Time required: the TITANICa section alone can be done in ca. 30 to 45 minutes or so; how long you may want to spend in the rest of the museum will largely depend on your interest in all things rail- and car-related and suchlike, between one and maybe up to three hours. I spent a total of an hour and a half in the museum.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
nothing in the immediate vicinity; you’d have to go back to Belfast
. There, the Titanic Quarter
and especially the Titanic Belfast Experience
complement the Transport Museum’s TITANICa section well.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: The Ulster Transport Museum is coupled with (run under the same administrative umbrella as) the Ulster Folk Museum a bit to the south. This is more about rural traditions and includes several buildings from different eras and various parts of (Northern) Ireland that have been relocated here (cottages, farm buildings, a church, a shop, etc.). There’s arts and crafts demonstrations including cooking and printing, and the farm parts also include livestock.
If you enjoy walking around really affluent suburbs with lots of grand mansions, then Cultra is a good place to do so. It practically reeks of money!
And not too far from the museum to its north-west is the coastline of the Belfast Lough (bay), with views all the way towards the harbour and across to Carrickfergus. There’s a fairly pleasant coastal walk. Further down to the south-east are even stretches of beach, for those who enjoy such things.
- UTM 01 - Titanica exhibition
- UTM 02 - size matters
- UTM 03 - launch ticket
- UTM 04 - scale model of the sinking
- UTM 05 - terror at the stern
- UTM 06 - losses and survivors in 1st class
- UTM 07 - less fortunate 3rd class
- UTM 08 - White Star Line attire
- UTM 09 - soiled
- UTM 10 - hat
- UTM 11 - crockery
- UTM 12 - salvaged Titanic artefacts
- UTM 13 - items from the Olympic
- UTM 14 - in popular culture
- UTM 15 - commercalization
- UTM 16 - myth busting
- UTM 17 - steam engines
- UTM 18 - steam engine boiler
- UTM 19 - Phoenix but no ashes
- UTM 20 - tram
- UTM 21 - period hats
- UTM 22 - period living room
- UTM 23 - Ulster Dennis
- UTM 24 - Amphicar
- UTM 25 - Morris Minor with wooden frames
- UTM 26 - DeLorean DMC-12 of Back to the Future fame
- UTM 27 - VSTOL prototype