HMS Caroline shortlisted for best museum

The last surviving British warship from the greatest naval battle fought in European waters is in line to become the museum of the year.

Jutland veteran HMS Caroline – a former Royal Navy light cruiser turned floating tribute to Irishmen who served at sea between 1914 and 1918 – is lined up for the Art Fund Museum of the Year and a £100,000 cash prize.

The light cruiser is one of a handful of Great War vessels to survive more than a century on from the conflict – thanks largely to her role as the home of the Royal Naval Reserve in Belfast more than 80 years when her front-line service ended.

She was taken over by the National Museum of the Royal Navy and underwent an £18m renovation/conversion to a memorial and visitor attraction in the heart of Belfast’s new Titanic Quarter.

It is a magnificent museum which reveals the human side of World War One, how life at sea during conflict was experienced and the impact of this on later generations.

Captain John Rees

That conversion helped pull in 42,000 visitors last year and has earned Caroline several awards and labelled a ‘must-see’ attraction by international travel guide Lonely Planet.

She similarly impressed judges from the Art Fund – a mix of artists and journalists – who’ve shortlisted the ship/museum for the 2019 prize alongside Nottingham Contemporary, Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford,St Fagan’s National Museum of History in Cardiff and the V&A in Dundee.

All receive £10,000 for reaching the top five; the winner, announced on July 3 at the Science Museum in London, will receive ten times that sum.

Caroline’s project director, Captain John Rees, said the ship had become much more than a museum since opening to the public in 2016, hosting events across Northern Ireland’s political divide because the ship was seen as neutral ground.

“It is also a magnificent museum which reveals the human side of World War One, how life at sea during conflict was experienced and the impact of this on later generations,” he continued.

“HMS Caroline has also become a platform for dramatic art productions, cinema screenings and other engaging activities bringing some much-needed regeneration to this docks area of Belfast.”

If you’ve visited Caroline and enjoyed the experience, the art fund wants to hear your story and see you picture via Twitter using @artfund #museumoftheyear.