Former Sinn Fein Major’s Ulster Museum exhibit offers insight into Belfast’s past struggles

A collection of 2,000 items donated by a former Belfast lord mayor is going on display.

hey include a bin lid featuring a portrait of Che Guevara and a City Hall flag protest hi vis vest.

The collection was amassed by Tom Hartley, who became the second Sinn Fein Lord Mayor of Belfast in 2008.

From the Falls Road, he was also the party’s general secretary and national chairperson.

The exhibition, titled A Collector’s Story, is displayed in the Ulster Museum’s Belfast room until January next year.

Mr Hartley said: “I’m pleased the Ulster Museum has recognized my contribution in this way. Significant moments of history and change can be seen in small ephemeral things that can appear unimportant at the time. Collecting material is important as over time they will become an archive for future historians.”

Mr Hartley has made contributions to previous Ulster Museum projects, such as Collecting the Troubles.

William Blair, director of collections at National Museums NI, said: “Tom has been a supporter and friend to the museum for many years now. Another display is the Troubles and Beyond gallery in the Ulster Museum, and that’s a more permanent exhibition. We identify where you can see more of Tom’s donations in the main exhibition.

“Tom obviously has a keen interest in local history and he’s well known for his Histories of Belfast Cemeteries tours, but he has also seen history unfold over the past few decades. His collecting instincts from him are very strong. He sees significance in things that others may see as unimportant.”

The exhibition has just opened, but Mr Blair expects a similar reception to Mr Hartley’s earlier contributions.

I added: “The feedback thus far has been very positive. Tom obviously is a well-known figure in Belfast and his roots of him are very firmly in west Belfast, so maybe some material has a particular resonance within the cultural history of west Belfast.

“But I think that provides an interesting insight and opportunity for others across society to get a sense of the developments that Tom’s familiar with, given his roots.”

Mr Blair said the exhibition contains items that represent Northern Ireland’s historical and modern struggles.

He said: “There’s a bin lid with a portrait of Che Guevara, which is a very interesting object. Obviously, bin lids have an additional significance in terms of recent conflict. They would have been banged on the ground as an early warning system if the Army was entering nationalist areas.

“Another is a hi vis vest that relates to the City Hall flag protests from a few years ago. It highlights the fact that Tom’s collecting is not restricted to one particular narrative.

“We attach a lot of priority on contemporary collecting, so part of the challenge is collecting the now and having those instincts to recognize things that are important. It’s an interesting challenge. We all have our own perspectives and it’s a good stimulus for conversation.”

Leave a Comment