Next weekend marks the annual European Heritage Open Days when the doors are flung open to normally private buildings. The
Environment & Heritage Service Northern Ireland Environment Agency helps coordinate the free public access to the local buildings of interest.
The 116 page booklet advertising the Open Days is thick and full of interesting sites to visit. Online advertising is limited to a PDF of the full programme (don’t ask why the page numbers in the PDF don’t quite match the printed booklets!) or extracts covering Belfast, Co Antrim, Co Armagh, Co Down, Co Fermanagh, Co Londonderry and Co Tyrone. Note that many buildings are only open on Saturday. Strangely some churches are only showing as open on Saturday but not on Saturday afternoon!
Some sites and activities in and around Belfast that caught my eye include:
- The oldest church in Belfast with its elliptical design is 1st Presbyterian in Rosemary Street, open Saturday and Sunday 10am-4pm (with the Sunday morning service at 10.30am).
- Sinclair Seamen’s Presbyterian Church in Corporation Square has a pulpit like the prow of a ship, and collection boxes like lifeboats. Saturday 10am-5pm and Sunday 1pm-5pm.
- The Moravian Church on University Road has an exhibition, refreshments and is offering tours around its distinctive Gothic structure. Saturday 10am-5pm and Sunday 1pm-5pm.
- Although open most of the week anyway, check out another Gothic church. St Peter’s Cathedral (St Peter’s Square) with its Scrabo sandstone and twin spires is open on Saturday 8am-7pm and Sunday noon-6.30pm.
- You can pick up a booklet detailing an Architectural Treasure Hunt around central Belfast from PLACE in Fountain Square or (on the other side in) the Belfast Welcome Centre in Donegall Place.
- Freemason’s Hall, 19 Arthur Square was built by Sir Charles Lanyon. Tours on the hour on Saturday 10am-4pm.
- There’s a one hour boat trip departing from the Big Fish beside the Lagan Lookout that takes in the Harland and Wolff ship yard and all things Titanic. Saturday and Sunday at 2pm and 3.30pm, but booking essential (see brochure for details).
- There will be hourly tours around Parliament Buildings up at Stormont on Saturday and Sunday 10am-4pm. Best to contact them in advance (028) 9052 8400.
- Along with an exhibition, there will be living history shows in the Lock Keeper’s Cottage between Stranmillis and Shaw’s Bridge on the hour between noon and 4pm on Saturday and Sunday. A guided walk leave’s Shaw’s Bridge at 11am on Saturday.
- Stranmillis University College and its grounds are opening up for the first time on Saturday and Sunday 2pm-4pm.
- You can find out about the preservation of NI’s archive heritage at The Public Records Office down Balmoral Avenue. They are running tours on the hour on Saturday between 10am and 1.30pm.
- Crumlin Road Goal is looking for new inmates for their hourly tours between 10am and 4.45pm on Saturday and Sunday. You need to book in advance through the Belfast Welcome Centre (see brochure for more details).
- And finally, a bus tour of lower North Belfast heritage sites is being organised on Saturday, leaving from Castle Place, and guided by young people from the area. (See brochure for booking details.)
The phrase used to describe the bus tour could apply to the whole 2008 European Heritage Open Days events:
“Where history is given a new lease of life through the eyes of young people and the past is used to ask questions about the future.”