Schools Classic Conference in the Ulster Museum 2020 Review

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CANI’s full February of events continued with our now annual Schools Classics Conference in concert with the Ulster Museum. Showing the sustained popularity of the Classics in Northern Ireland, this event was expanded to two days, 7-8 February, and encapsulated various levels of education and the general public.

This seemingly ambitious move was to be born out as over the course of the two days…

Day 1 – AM

20200207_131605The morning of Day 1 saw over 140 primary school children from Stranmillis Primary School, Our Lady’s Girls Primary School and St. Joseph’s Primary School packed in the UM Lecture Theatre with CANI convenor, Helen McVeigh welcoming everyone and explaining how the day would work with the children separated into three groups to cycle through three stations in turn.

In the UM Lecture Theatre, CANI’s Amber Taylor, overcoming some unforeseeable technical difficulties, presented on Ancient Greek Theatre. Her fantastic, interactive presentation was met with considerable enthusiasm and plenty of questions and answers from each group.20200207_105429

In the UM foyer, the craft exercise involved the making of an Ancient Greek theatrical mask. The use of colour, glue, sequins and glitter (even if the latter got everywhere…) saw the creation of dozens of masks fit for the Ancient Greek stage. CANI would like to extend our thanks to Mrs Isabel Bredin for taking on the craft tables.

Throughout the day, the UM foyer also hosted the return of the Roman reenactors of Legion Ireland. An annual fixture in the CANI calendar, Martinus and his legionaries again showed off their expertise in the Roman army. They again proved a big hit with the schools and the public at large, answering questions on various aspects of their Roman military equipment, demonstrating its use and helping guests try on armour and helmets and wield swords and spears.

Day 1 – PM

In the afternoon, another 100+ secondary school pupils from Belfast High School, Strathearn, RBAI and Belfast Royal Academy as well as members of the public enjoyed not just the continued presence of Legion Ireland, handling sessions and the Museum’s collections but also two talks in the UM Lecture Theatre.


Natalie Haynes called upon her considerable memory and stand-up comedienne background to deliver a whirlwind ‘Reprisal of the Iliad,’ summarising its 24 books in (around) 24 minutes. In this breath-taking tour de force, she addressed various episodes including but not limited to ‘Achilles and the longest strop in history’, ‘Hera, Zeus and the Magic Bra’ and ‘FIGHTING!’ The enraptured audience was not quite sure what had hit them, but they knew it was special!

20200207_144040Day 1 was rounded out by Dr Greer Ramsay (Curator of Archaeology, UM) speaking on ‘Why have we so few Roman objects in the collections?’ This involved looking at the other ancient displays in the UM collection, including the fascinating work being done on the museum’s mummy Takabouti and the Inch Bulla. Dr Ramsay also looked at how some of these antiquities came to be in the UM before moving on to the limited Roman material, focusing on the recent discovery in Murlough Bay (soon to go on display) and the Coleraine Hoard, still the largest Roman find in Ireland to date.

Day 2

On Day 2, Legion Ireland reprised their role from the previous day, but with the addition of a series of displays pointing out a lot of their equipment and day-to-day life.

20200208_140302Over 60 members of the public then made their way into the UM Lecture Theatre first to hear CANI Convenor Helen McVeigh present on the ‘Classical Influences in Harry Potter.’ Using an array of pictures and videos, Helen looked at several characters with classical links – Hermione, Argus, Fang and Fluffy and some of the spells and potions which use classical languages – Expecto Patronum, Expelliarmus, polyjuice and veritaserum.

For those of you interested in this chapter of classical reception, but were unable to attend on the day, you can listen to the talk and view the accompanying presentation of slides and videos below…

20200208_144131The weekend of events was then completed by Dr Ramsay repeating his talk of the day before for the public and the Belfast YAC @QUB.

CANI and the UM could not have been happier with how the event went. The talks programme alone over the course of the two days welcomed well over 300 people while the numbers engaged with Legion Ireland and the handling sessions were too many to keep track of.


CANI would very much like to thank everyone who helped make this event the success it was. To Martin and his men of Legion Ireland for trekking all the way up North and making camp in order to show off their expertise once more. To all of our speakers, Natalie Haynes, Amber Taylor, Dr Greer Ramsay and Helen McVeigh for providing such a wide variety of talks, slides and videos. To all of the schools who came along and showed such interest and enthusiasm for the Classics and Ancient History. To the Ulster Museum for playing host to our Schools Classics Conference once more.

Next year is already in the planning!

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