New exhibition puts focus on Presbyterian Church’s rich history and contribution to society

Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast Cllr Emmet McDonough-Brown with the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, Rt Rev Dr Charles McMullen at the opening of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland's new visitor exhibition at its Assembly Buildings headquarters in Belfast city centre. Photo: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast Cllr Emmet McDonough-Brown with the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, Rt Rev Dr Charles McMullen at the opening of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland's new visitor exhibition at its Assembly Buildings headquarters in Belfast city centre. Photo: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

A new visitor exhibition telling the story of 400 years of Presbyterianism in Ireland has opened in Belfast city centre.

Located on the ground floor of the Presbyterian Church’s iconic Assembly Buildings headquarters, the permanent free-to-visit exhibition tells the story of Presbyterianism in Ireland over the last four centuries and the church’s present day work at home and overseas.

Guests at the opening of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland's new visitor exhibition in Belfast city centre check out some of the artefacts on display. 'Photo: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

Guests at the opening of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland's new visitor exhibition in Belfast city centre check out some of the artefacts on display. 'Photo: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

It also tells the stories of some of the influential men and women who have left their mark on Irish Presbyterianism, takes a look at the democratic nature of Presbyterian church government and some of the religious and political controversies, past and present.

Featuring interpretive themed panels, historic artefacts, a video presentation and an interactive zone, the impressive project was developed over the past year at a cost of £127,000 – £90,000 of which has been contributed by Belfast City Council through its Social Outcomes Fund.

Speaking at the official unveiling of the exhibition today, Presbyterian Moderator Rt Rev Dr Charles McMullen stressed that it is not just for Presbyterians interested in their own history.

“In recent years we have seen a huge and welcome increase in visitors to Belfast, coming here from all over the world to experience, not only the city and its sights, but the rest of Northern Ireland too,” he said.

Rev Dr Gordon Gray checks out the interactive zone at the opening of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland's new visitor exhibition in Belfast

Rev Dr Gordon Gray checks out the interactive zone at the opening of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland's new visitor exhibition in Belfast

“While we are an all-Ireland church, the administrative heart of the denomination is here in Belfast and we want to be supportive of the city that we are a part of in so many different ways. In this building we welcome people from across these islands and from around the world, and while we have been able to provide them with some information, we have not been able to really tell them of our church’s rich history and its contribution to society across Ireland.

“Our new visitor exhibition does just that and we are very thankful for the contribution that the city council has made to enable this to happen.”

Performing the official unveiling of the plaque to open the exhibition, Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown described it as “a wonderful space and a great addition, not only to the building, but to the important work the Presbyterian Church does.”

“I am delighted to officially open this new visitor exhibition which has been installed thanks to funding from Belfast City Council’s Social Outcomes Fund,” he said.

Guests at the opening of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland's new visitor exhibition at its Assembly Buildings headquarters in Belfast on Wednesday.' The permanent exhibition tells the story of Presbyterianism in Ireland over the last four centuries and the work of the church at home and overseas today. 'Photo: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

Guests at the opening of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland's new visitor exhibition at its Assembly Buildings headquarters in Belfast on Wednesday.' The permanent exhibition tells the story of Presbyterianism in Ireland over the last four centuries and the work of the church at home and overseas today. 'Photo: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

“This fund was established to support tourism and social economy initiatives to help grow Belfast’s tourism infrastructure, and I have no doubt the exhibition will be very successful in attracting more visitors – both local and out-of-state – to the historic Assembly Buildings.

“Belfast is an increasingly diverse city and this exhibition will help us build an inclusive and shared future based on mutual respect by improving peoples’ understanding of the history of this island.”

Cllr McDonough-Brown attended the launch along with the Deputy Lord Lieutenant for Belfast Dr Philip McGarry.

• The exhibition centres around a number of interpretive themed panels which tell the story of different aspects of the story of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

Key themes include the history of how the Presbyterians came to Ireland, the church’s beliefs and organisation, religious and political controversies down the years, the church’s influence overseas and contemporary church life.

“Across different stand-alone interpretive themed panels and interactive exhibits, visitors can walk through a brief history of Presbyterianism on the island. From the arrival of Scottish Presbyterians in Ulster some 400 years ago, to the founding of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland in 1840, they will discover the work, mission and ministry of the church today,” a church spokesperson said.

There are more than 30 special artefacts on display, many of which have been loaned by the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland. They include an iron wall-mounted baptism font and pewter communion ware, an early ‘pocket sized’ 1655 copy of the King James Bible and a Book of Psalms in Irish.

There are also interactive exhibits and audio-visual installations which will enable visitors to locate the denomination’s 500-plus congregations across Ireland, interact with a 19th century map of Presbyterians in Ireland and view short films on the history, life and work of the church.

The free exhibition at Assembly Buildings, Fisherwick Place is open Monday to Friday 9am-5pm (excluding public and bank holidays).