Sunday, September 12, 2010

European Heritage Open Days 2010 - a dander around Belfast

On Saturday morning I visited a number of buildings in Belfast that were participating in the programme of European Heritage Open Days.

Librarian John Killen outlining the history of the Linen Hall Library

The Linen Hall Library tour somewhat disappointingly turned into a prolonged talk about the library’s history rather than an exploration of the deeper recesses of the library building and its collections. Not that the history wasn’t interesting and librarian John Killen was certainly worth listening to. I imagine that coming up to the library’s 225th anniversary in 2013 we’ll hear a lot more about its historic narrative and plans for the future.

If I ever retire and decide to devote myself to self-education through the medium of Radio 3 and Radio 4, I’ll consider membership of the Linen Hall Library (pension-permitting) as a bonus pastime!

The oldest surviving edition of the Belfast Newsletter

While Littl’un sat downstairs enjoying the monthly Children’s Storytime, I followed the crowd upstairs to the Grosvenor’s Room.

Some of the library’s most treasured artefacts are stored in a large wooden chest, including the earliest known surviving edition of the Belfast Newsletter - itself the oldest English language daily newspaper still in publication in the world (which first went to print in 1737).

Freemasons Hall in Arthur Square (formerly known as Cornmarket) beside the Squiggle

Freemasons’ Hall in Cornmarket Arthur Square was open.

Members of Masonic lodges welcomed members of the public in to view the building.

Every room and broom cupboard in the building was on display.

Masonic symbols on a chair

Heraldry and icons were everywhere, from the patterns of the carpet, to the cut-outs in the banisters and the designs on the wooden chairs.

Masonic symbols on the carpet

To me it felt oppressive and claustrophobic. A tall room was dominated by multiple sets of thick curtains hanging from the ceiling and guiding visitors’ eyes to the front stage.

There were two highlights – both on the third floor. A cup of tea/coffee and a chocolate biscuit for £1 was probably the best bargain in Belfast on Saturday morning. Even better, children got their orange juice and biscuit for free. Freemasonary generosity and charity in action.

South westerly view across the Belfast city centre skyline from a third floor window of Freemasons Hall

But even better was the view out of the window. Looking south west, there was a fascinating view across the city centre roof tops. Different levels and different styles formed a collage of materials and shapes. And by standing on your chair (ahem) it was possible to get a birds eye view of the Squiggle.

View down onto the Squiggle in Arthur Square from a third floor window of Freemasons Hall
Cyclist heading into First Presbyterian Church in Belfast

Sitting on Rosemary Street, First Presbyterian Church is the oldest church in Belfast.

It is now home to a Non-Subscribing Presbyterian congregation.

First Presbyterian Church has an unusual elliptical shape

It lacks the normal straight lines of most old church buildings.

Instead it is unusually elliptical in shape with tall box pews downstairs - though a wider angle lens would do it more justice! (Update - Steve Barnes got the shot!)

Memorial plaque to R.A. Megraw - organist

Tucked in behind the pulpit I unexpectedly noticed a plaque remembering one of their previous organists – R.A. McGraw – my music teacher in first form at school.

Organ pipes in First Presbyterian Church, Belfast

The organ pipes were fascinating!

Calling in to show Littl'un the budgies and stumbling across the Hare Krishna parade (marking Jagannath Rathayatra) completed our mini-tour!

You can see other photos from the morning over on Flickr.

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