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Surfing exhibition makes waves at Ulster Transport Museum

Ulster Transport Museum has introduced a new exhibition exploring the origins of surfing as a sport in Ireland. ‘Celtic Wave’ dives into this island’s connection to surfing and how this began in the 1960s through a group of determined men and women.

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Artefacts including a surfboard on display in the Celtic Wave exhibition at Ulster Transport Museum
Ulster Transport Museum
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The exhibition includes exclusive films and interviews with some of the most talented surfers and shapers from the Irish surf scene such as Al Mennie, Andrew Hill and Gemma Gillespie who share their stories and their passion for the sport. There are also examples of sustainable approaches to surf clothing, iconic surfboards designed by local shapers, posters created by legendary surfer Barry Britton and a 1970 Morris Traveller car, which has become symbolic of surfing in its heyday.

Northern Ireland has become an increasingly popular surfing destination due to its wild Atlantic coast, which is exposed to waves originating in the North Atlantic. Numerous beaches and reefs across the island including Portrush, Rossnowlagh and Tramore serve as popular surf spots and are home to many surf shops, schools and clubs which play an important role in supporting local tourism and communities.

Ulster Transport Museum tells the story of innovation and social change in this part of the world over decades across land, sea and sky, and Celtic Wave reinforces that connection to the sea by championing the local innovators and growing sub-community of surf enthusiasts through the range of objects that make up the exhibition while also driving home a sustainability mission with elements of the exhibition build made from recycled and sustainable materials where possible.

Clare Ablett, Curator of History at National Museums NI, said:

“We’re thrilled to announce the launch of our new Celtic Wave exhibition. The surfing community across the island is a vibrant movement and at Ulster Transport Museum their story has been largely untold, until now. Celtic Wave represents the people and passion that catapulted the popularity of surfing here, from the early pioneers in the 1960s up to the present day – and that’s why it has a place at the Ulster Transport Museum.

“The exhibition, which has been specially curated in collaboration with the surfing community, features 11 original objects that now have a place in the National Museums NI collection, including locally made surfboards from Larne, Coleraine and Portrush and video interviews from some of the biggest names in Irish surfing who have devoted their life to it.”

The first new exhibition at Ulster Transport Museum in over a year, Celtic Wave features iconic surfboards such as a replica of the 11’3” gun surfboard used by local big wave surfer, Portrush man Al Mennie, to surf monster waves on the west coast of Ireland. The original was created by Derry-Londonderry-based Rosy Surfboards, who made the replica especially for the exhibition.

Items also include men’s and women’s rash vests created by OceanR in County Cork, designed for extra warmth the polyester in the sustainable vests is made from recycled plastic water bottles which are cleaned and shredded before being transformed into clothing fibres, and the Gecko helmet worn by Al Mennie during a serious wipeout whilst surfing at Mullaghmore Head, Co. Sligo.

Big wave surfer Al Meannie at the opening of Celtic Wave at Ulster Transport Museum


Speaking on the opening of the exhibition, Al Mennie said:

“It’s been a great honour to work with the Ulster Transport Museum to bring Celtic Wave to life. The exhibition captures surfing in its many eras to date and acknowledges some of the most influential characters in surfing from across the island.

“The surfing community has a really rich history and Celtic Wave is all about the people who have shaped this and their passion for the sport. There really is something for everyone to experience and learn about including my personal favourite feature – a simulator where visitors can sit on a jet-ski and tow me onto a big wave off the west coast of Ireland at St John’s Point!”

Admission to Celtic Wave is included in general admission to the museum.