After a fantastic 2 days of exploring behind the facades of some of Northern Ireland’s built heritage during the European Heritage Open Days in 2015 (which you can read about here) I was kindly invited to take a sneak peek at what EHOD has in store for us this year.
Keeping it local I decided to visit the Victorian Corridor at the Royal Victoria Hospital. Dr Stanley Hawkins who has carried out extensive research on the social history of the hospital was my guide for the morning. The corridor situated in the main hospital building along with a few rooms, is still in use today however all that remain of the old wards are the bricked up arched doorways. Adorning the walls are the plans of the old ward, nostalgic pictures of the wards and their staff and commemorative plaques including one commending the various sponsors who contributed to the construction and maintenance of the hospital.
Dr Hawkins explained the history of the hospital, how it was first set up as a fever hospital in 1817 in Frederick Street and in 1875 became known as the Royal Victoria Hospital in 1899. It then moved to it’s current location on the Grosvenor Road in 1903. Along with the relocation came the beautiful stained glass window which now draws you to the end of the Victorian Corridor, it was presented to the Belfast Royal Hospital in 1886 by Dr William Whitla.
Above the doorway of each numbered ward you’ll find familiar names such as Shaftesbury, Riddel, Barbour, Mulholland and Harland to name only a few. All well known merchants in the various Belfast industries like shipbuilding and linen at the turn of the twentieth century. Most notable is ward 5 opposite the entrance hall which is dedicated to the Viscountess Pirrie. The plan to build the forward thinking hospital began with Lord Mayor William Pirrie and his wife Margaret raised £10,000 for the ward along with over £100,000 for the naming of beds. You will learn much more of the truly marvellous work of the Pirries on the tour.
Visitors to the hospital can explore this historical section at any time but only on the Open Days will they be able to explore the original marbled entrance with it’s domed roof, the imposing statue of Queen Victoria and the wonderful facade where patients and their families would have stood awaiting the doors to open.
I found this a fascinating tour with so many stories to be heard and explored of our local ancestors. I highly recommend a visit!
This weekend you can also explore the Pump House which stills houses the original steam engine and fan of the ventilation under the Victorian Corridor. Tours will run at midday and 2pm.
Travelling a little further afield my other sneak peak took me to Fermanagh to the Marble Arch Caves. I hadn’t visited the caves in well over 20 years so I looked forward to seeing how the visitor experience would be as an adult.
Waiting for our scheduled tour in the visitor centre I took in the exhibition of the past present and future of the caves and the wider Geopark in which the caves are located.
The 1 and a half hour tour will take you through the damp ash woodland where various rock formations are pointed out until you reach the cave entrance. We heard about explorer Martel and his companion Jameson who were the first to discover the caves and explore them. The caves first opened to the public in 1985 and I’m delighted that the boat trip I so fondly remember from my childhood visit is still a feature on the tour today.
Throughout the tour our friendly and knowledgeable guide Anne pointed out the typical limestone cave characteristics and rock formations including stalacmites, stalactictes and flowstone. You’ll also be shown the Paddy Fields, the Porridge Pot, cross the Moses walk and see the Lost City of Atlantis…. in a manner of speaking.
The dim lighting softly illuminating the unique features like the 250,000 year old stalactite, the cool air and the underground watery landscape create a wonderful atmospheric experience for young and old.
The Marble Arch Caves are a new edition for EHOD 2016 and will be hosting lots of family friendly events over the weekend alongside the tours. Take time to explore the woodland park with it’s river walk and cascading waterfalls.
Whatever you decide to do this European Heritage Weekend be sure to avail of the wonderful opportunities provided by the Department for Communities and all their partners to explore, discover and enjoy the unique historic heritage of Northern Ireland