Northern Ireland news

Ulster Museum to display former mayor Tom Hartley's artefacts and documents

Tom Hartley, "A Collector's Story", The Ulster Museum. Picture by Mal McCann.
Matt Fox

HUNDREDS of historical documents and artefacts which were contributed to the Ulster Museum by former Sinn Féin politician and historian Tom Hartley are to go on display.

Mr Hartley, a former Sinn Féin mayor, is also known for his keen interest in history and his west Belfast cemetery tours.

Since 2001, Mr Hartley has donated more than 2,000 objects to the museum, ranging from a bin lid featuring a portrait of Ché Guevara to a city hall flag protest ‘hi-vis’ vest.

Speaking after the launch on Wednesday, he said he was "pleased" that his contribution had been recognised.

Ulster Museum curator William Blair and Historian Tom Hartley, Picture by Mal McCann.

"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.

"I started collecting maybe back in the 1970s, posters, pamphlets, leaflets... I have to say, I don’t throw anything out. I think everything has a historical value in terms of a story that has to be told and there’ll often be a story about how I acquired an item.?

"I collect with an eye... If I’m talking to you and see you wearing a badge, I’ll ask you for it. Doesn’t matter if you’re a nationalist or a unionist, I just think there are just so many stories to be told and I hope that my collection really reflects the sense of the thousands of narratives that constitute [Northern Ireland’s] story."?

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

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.”

Entry to 'A Collector’s Story' is free as part of wider admission to Ulster Museum. For more information visit

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