The Belfast exhibit, which highlights the role of the Ulster-Scots in the US Declaration of Independence, was opened by US Special Envoy to Northern Ireland for Economic Affairs Joe Kennedy III on Thursday, April 20. 

The Ulster-Scots Agency and the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) partnered up for the exhibition which features an original US Declaration of Independence on loan from The National Archives (UK), which is on display in Belfast for the first time.

The exhibition is open to the public at PRONI through July 24 and admission is free.

The exhibition was opened yesterday by @USEnvoyNI Joe Kennedy III

You can watch the exhibition opening event on our YouTube channel 👇

The declaration is on display for the first time in Belfast in our Titanic Quarter building until 24th July!


— PRONI (@PRONI_DFC) April 21, 2023

"The contribution that your forefathers made to the traditions and values of the United States is profound," Special Envoy Kennedy said at Thursday's opening of the exhibition.

"I want to thank the Public Record Office and the Ulster-Scots Agency, organizations that preserve our shared history for future generations. It is through moments like this and these documents that we commit ourselves to the values and the ties that united us in the first place."

It was a privilege to open this exhibition highlighting the vital role of the Ulster-Scots in shaping the Declaration of Independence, another example of our deep and historic U.S.-NI ties. Thank you @PRONI_DFC and @UlsterScotsAgen!

— Joseph Kennedy III (@USEnvoyNI) April 20, 2023

Ian Crozier, Ulster-Scots Agency Chief Executive, said: "This is a landmark day for the Ulster-Scots community and a celebration of our greatest achievement, helping to establish the United States of America," Ian Crozier, Ulster-Scots Agency Chief Executive, said at the exhibit's opening on Thursday.

“Our achievements and even our existence is often much better appreciated outside Northern Ireland, particularly in the US, than they are at home and we hope this will be a timely reminder that we are a vibrant community with a global legacy that should be appreciated at home and abroad. 

“The cultural ties that bind Ulster and America – particularly as we approach the 250th anniversary of American Independence in 2026 – can and must be a part of our future development, creating economic opportunities and inspiring current and future generations of our people.”

You can watch the launch of the The Declaration of Independence Exhibition at PRONI here:

John Dunlap and the Declaration of Independence

John Dunlap, who was born in Strabane, Co Tyrone and was later based in Philadelphia, secured a printing contract for the Continental Congress in 1776. On the night of July 4 of that year, 28-year-old Dunlap was ordered by signatory John Hancock to print broadside copies of the Declaration of Independence.

In a 2008 op-ed for The New York Times, historian Ted Widmer wrote: "There is evidence that it was done quickly, and in excitement —watermarks are reversed, some copies look as if they were folded before the ink could dry and bits of punctuation move around from one copy to another.

"'We were all in haste,' John Adams later wrote."

Dunlap printed an estimated 200 copies which were distributed throughout the colonies, to dignitaries including George Washington, and, of course, to England. The first newspaper outside of America to publish the first text was the Belfast News Letter in its August 23-27, 1776 edition.

Today, less than 30 copies of Dunlap's broadsides are known to still exist.