Our Museums

A Collector's Story

Ulster Museum has launched a new exhibition showcasing the contribution made to the Ulster Museum’s collection by Tom Hartley, the celebrated local historian and former Lord Mayor of Belfast.

Tom Hartley at Ulster Museum
Date published
06.17.2022
Read time
2

Entitled A Collector’s Story, the exhibition will be on display in Ulster Museum’s Belfast Room until January 2023.

Since 2001 Tom has made a sustained and significant contribution to the Ulster Museum, donating over 2,000 objects across a broad political and social spectrum, ranging from a bin lid featuring a portrait of Ché Guevara to a City Hall flag protest ‘hi vis’ vest.   

The exhibition showcases a selection of these objects and highlights Tom’s passion and talent for ‘collecting the now’. Collections serve as a collective memory bank and provide a powerful stimulus for conversation and debate.  We all have the truth of our lived experience, and exhibitions on contemporary history are only truly complete when they encounter our visitors, who weave their own memories through them and curate their own meaning.

Commenting at the launch of the exhibition, Tom Hartley said: “I’m pleased that the Ulster Museum has recognised my contribution in this way. I believe that significant moments of history, moments of change, can be seen in small ephemeral things that can appear unimportant at the time. To me, collecting material like that is important as over time they will become an archive for future historians.”

Tom grew up in the Falls Road area of Belfast and has been active in the republican movement and Sinn Féin since the 1970s. He acted as the party's General Secretary and National Chairperson, before being elected to Belfast City Council in 1993.

William Blair, Director of Collections at National Museums NI, said: “Tom has been a supporter and critical friend to the museum for many years now.

“This exhibition celebrates his flair for collecting and acknowledges his contribution to the Ulster Museum’s collection. He has collected material that we simply couldn’t have collected ourselves, and the key to his success is his extensive networks across a broad spectrum of society, and the personal relationships that enable him to ask for items in the moment. And key to these personal relationships is the warmth and esteem in which he is held.”

Tom Hartley made a significant contribution to the 'Collecting the Troubles and Beyond' project and objects from his collection can also be seen in the 'Troubles and Beyond' gallery at the Ulster Museum. The central aim of the project was to develop the collection to ensure that it can be used to represent the complexity of the conflict and support a full and inclusive narrative. The Tom Hartley collection was one of a number of large acquisitions made as part of the project and as a result, we have gathered a significant and wide-ranging body of material.

Objects on display in Ulster Museum
With 1.4 million objects across all four of our museums, we're continuously adding to our collection to ensure it is a relevant and representative record of the world around us; and the people, places, events and ideas that shape who we are. Museums are dynamic institutions with evolving collections that we hold in trust for the benefit of both current and future generations.

Entry to A Collector’s Story is free as part of wider admission to Ulster Museum.