Wednesday’s Editor’s Choice was a real delight. Whilst NI’s European Heritage Open Days might seem vastly different this year, one terrific element of it going virtual is that it has never been easier this week to traverse Northern Ireland from Belfast to Omagh, Fermanagh to Down in less than an hour.
We at Heritage NI are particularly fond of County Fermanagh, having worked with lots of local community groups there and building up firm friends and fond memories. In this regard, the Cuilcagh to Cleenish: A Great Place community group produced a terrific video which made us (especially our Editor!!) have pangs of longing to venture back Erne-wards. With a bit of luck, we’ll be back in Blakes of the Hollow before we know it!
If you were ever looking for a snap-shot of south-west Fermanagh in 18 minutes, this is it. Made by a young film studies graduate, Bigger McDonald, the video begins with the dulcet tones of the superb Henry Glassie, renowned American anthropologist and folklorist, who spent some time living in Fermanagh, penning one of his classic works Passing the Time in Ballymenone: Culture & History of an Ulster Community (University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia 1982), a much thumbed book on our Editor’s shelf. Continually interspersed throughout with some of Glassie’s musings, he reminded us of the following, most pertinent to us at the Heritage Hub and Heritage NI: ‘…and as soon as someone else becomes interested in it, then it doesn’t just become memory, it begins to become heritage. And when its heritage, it becomes precious’.
The Cuilcagh to Cleenish initiative is a largely community-led and driven endeavour to promote greater appreciation and understanding of the heritage – built, environmental, cultural; tangible, intangible – of the area of South West Fermanagh, between the great Cuilcagh mountain and Cleenish Island in the Upper Lough Erne, ensuring local engagement and sustainability.
This video highlights some of the work that has been undertaken so far by the project from biodiversity at the Marble Arch Caves UNESCO GeoPark to Bronze Age rockart. We were delighted to see some of our friends and former project partners such as Marion Maxwell (Local Historian, Bellanaleck Local History Group) who gives an erudite synopsis of the history of the now ruined Nixon Hall, built in 1793, an exquisite mansion house constructed from stone cotted down Lough Erne from the remains of the ecclesiastical settlement on Cleenish Island. Marion also shared her knowledge of the living legacies of First World War on the Island, referencing the housing scheme created under the Irish Land Act for ex-servicemen returning from the Front and their failure to fully adapt into post-war life. Eddie Brogan (we love Eddie!) gives some insights into the Arney Forge, particularly in relation to casting bronze.
Dr. Paul Logue offers a superb account of the importance of community archaeology, championing the crucial connections heritage practitioners and providers need with the public – they are the custodians of the land, those who know the stories, the folklore, the oral traditions. He pulls focus on the community-inspired, community-funded, and community-led excavation of Clontymullan Fort, which resulted in being the first example in Irish archaeology of a Gaelic moated site ever to be dug on the island of Ireland (as far as we know.)
Tuesday’s Editor’s Choice came via a 10-minute video produced by Hearth (Hearth Historic Buildings Trust). The focus of the short documentary was the history and recent restoration of College Green House on Botanic Avenue in South Belfast.
As a Belfast native and having spent many years as a student and employee at Queen’s University, our Heritage NI editor was ashamed to admit that having walked past this historic property countless times, and indeed eaten in the adjoining Molly’s Yard restaurant, that they knew absolutely nothing about it!
College Green House is a substantial Victorian red-brick, terraced building with a wonderful building biography. Constructed in 1870, it began life as a grand private home, complete with coach house (now Molly’s Yard bistro), harness room, and stable space for five horses.
A decade later, it was operating as a Church of Ireland collegiate school. In the 1890s, it was the residence of Freemason John McConnell, the Managing Director of Dunville’s Whiskey, an iconic Irish whiskey, globally recognised, it successes reflected in the many associations with the Dunville family across Belfast including Dunville Park. McConnell’s youngest daughter Mabel would become a leading light in Northern Ireland’s Suffragette movement, a committee member of the Gaelic League and one-time secretary to George Bernard Shaw! Enjoy the video to learn more about Mabel and her political activism and elopement to Desmond Fitzgerald.
By 1934, the building had been converted into city flats, housing gentile residents including Queen’s University academics, spinsters and artists including Louis MacNeice. Thanks to the interventions by Hearth, the building has been listed and restored (see video for an overview of the restoration work), now serving as luxury holiday accommodation.
I’ll never walk by this building again without thinking twice about its many lives and incarnations, and its buildings archaeology.
Monday’s Editor’s Choice of the day came courtesy of the National Trust. Several National Trust properties around Northern Ireland continue to open their doors like the iconic Castle Ward in County Down and the Argory in County Armagh, albeit with restrictions in admissions and essential prebooking, some favourite NT sites remain firmly closed.
Wellbrook Beetling Mill near Cookstown is one such NT property that has not be reopened yet. A popular destination on past European Heritage Open Weekends, it was particularly sad that its doors remained shut as 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of this industrial gem opening to the public on 19th June 1970. We’re sure in our pre-COVID days, many celebrations of this momentous occasion were being planned.
Our Editor (an historical archaeologist) is particularly fond of the Wellbrook Beetling Mill as it stands as an important reminder of Ulster’s industrial heritage and its once flourishing linen trade. As the name suggests, this mill focused on ‘beetling’, the process of hammering or pounding the linen to ensure a fine lustre finish on the final product. The mill permanently closed in 1961 as demands for linen fell due to the rise of synthetic products, and the site fell into ruin until the National Trust took over custodianship in 1967.
To mark the occasion of its 50th year of engaging the public with Northern Ireland’s linen heritage, the National Trust created a short video and associated article of the history of this terrific site. Our editor found these very insightful and learned something new about the conservation of this historic site.
While you’re at it, why don’t you give us a follow on Twitter @Heri_Hub and @NIMuseums
#EHODNI #EHOD2020 #LoveHeritageNI #HeritageNI
Unlocking: Erosion & Erasure
19th July 2020
Burnt Buildings (Dr Duncan Berryman)
The Larne Sea Dragon (Larne Museum)
Kerry’s Monastic Landscape (CHERISH Project)
And just like that, our final theme – Erosion and Erasure. Time does fly when you’re having fun…
It saddens us to hear, that at the time of writing, Nantes Cathedral is ablaze, just 15 months after the catastrophic fire that tore through Notre Dame in Paris. Another cultural catastrophe for France, and the world. Erosion and erasure thus in one fell swoop. It was perhaps quite apt that one of our festival supporters and contributors, Dr Duncan Berryman of the Ulster Archaeological Society, shared this two-part piece he had penned on ‘Burnt Buildings’, sharing considered thoughts and perspectives on the loss of medieval architecture and current cultural heritage.
On the premise of Erosion, particularly set within the Council for British Archaeology’s wider festival theme of Climate and Environment, it was terrific to hear from our colleagues at the Discovery Programme based in Dublin, and their involvement in the CHERISH Project (Climate, Heritage and Environments of Reefs, Islands and Headlands). This is an exciting six-year, Ireland-Wales interdisciplinary project raising awareness of the impacts of climate change on iconic Irish and Welsh coastal cultural heritage. The CHERISH Project shared several examples about the effect of coastal erosion and the washing away of parts of Kerry’s monastic landscape, Dunbeg Iron Age promontory fort and Clonmines Augustinian Friary. Sobering reads. To find out more about this great CHERISH initiative and their work, read here.
The Larne ‘Sea Dragon’ very much grabbed our attention. Jurassic worlds in Larne? Larne Museum & Arts Centre contributed to our discussion of erosion and erasure by sharing the discovery in 1999 of the fossilised remains of an Icthyosaur, an extinct marine reptile, resembling something of a dolphin which disappeared c. 65million years ago. These remains, now in the Ulster Museum, were found at the promenade at Waterloo Bay in Larne, as a direct result of coastal erosion and weathering.
We were delighted to post an opinion piece from Heritage Hub’s resident Professor of Archaeology, the stellar Audrey Horning, who wrote in ‘Praise of Ugly Artefacts’. Professor Horning offered an usual yet truly refreshing take on the theme of ‘Erosion and Erasure’, by ruminating on the power of objects whose beauty or aesthetic allure have faded or eroded, or how the perceived beauty of an object can be erased and eroded through deeper understanding of its origin and history. Drawing on her work on sixteenth- and seventeenth- century material culture, we were ask to consider ‘handsome’ objects given pride of place in museum collections but the terrible histories and biographies they obscure. For instance, ‘Think of those wonderful golden salamanders from the wreck of the Armada ship, The Girona, on display in the Ulster Museum…the gold that was skilfully crafted into those beautiful pendants was plundered from Central or South America, perhaps once an Indigenous icon stolen and melted down by a Spanish adventurer, or panned from rivers of New Grenada (now Colombia) by enslaved African captives’. In case you missed it, be sure to give it a read here.
If you missed any of the great posts during our ‘Erosion and Erasure’ themed days, simply type the phrase ‘#HeritageNIErosionErasure’ into your Twitter and Facebook search bar and enjoy!
While you’re at it, why don’t you give us a follow on Twitter @Heri_Hub and @NIMuseums
15th C. Astronomical & Medical Tract (Royal Irish Academy)
Tirkane Sweat House, Maghera (Love Heritage NI)
Theme 4! And some brilliantly diverse posts appeared throughout our #HeritageNIHealthMedicine media threads from workhouses and infirmaries, to sweat lodges via medicine cabinets. Here are a few of our favourite posts!
Once again, the Irish Historic Town Atlas delivered a superb selection of themed posts, primarily focusing on institutional buildings in the maps and memoirs, however, the Editor’s favourite posting was of an early 15th century Astronomical and Medical Tract(RIA MS B ii: Cat. No. 1216) held by the Royal Irish Academy, a truly interesting view filled with geometrical drawings, signs of the Zodiac and the planets.
The Historic Environment Division (Love Heritage NI) shared some great photographs of excavated sweathouses, particularly focusing on the Tirkane sweathouse just north of Maghera, and explaining how these outdoor sauna-type constructions were used in the 18th and 19th centuries to cure rheumatism, aches and fevers. This was a nice connection to one of our first posts of the Festival by Armagh County Museum, who shared the contents of the recently digitised volumes of the South Armagh Ramblers’ memoirs, which showed an outing to the sweat house in Glenmore on the slopes of the Carlingford Mountains.
In line with the re-opening of The Argory in Dungannon, the National Trust NI shared a great photograph of Lady Bond’s medicine cabinet, displaying a wonderful collection of late 19th/early 20th century medicine bottles reflecting the early modern interest in healthcare and the Bond family’s quest to look after their health.
Quite appropriately, Enniskillen Castle Museum shared a touching tribute from their oral history archives about the introduction of the National Health Service in 1947, and how it changed the access to healthcare in the countryside in Fermanagh. Listen to it here.
Something we were thrilled to see under this themed #hashtag was from The Northern Ireland Museums Council who highlighted the ‘healing’ power of heritage, drawing attention to the launch of their successful new initiative, LOVE2MOVE, a dementia-friendly programme in collaboration with Mid-Antrim Museum, the Northern Ireland War Memorial and the Tower Museum in Derry. The programme is primarily a chair-based exercise programme that also combines historical-based reminiscence activities through objects. These have been done virtually during lock-down to address social isolation during COVID. Looking forward to hearing more about this most-worthwhile venture!
We were delighted to hear from our very own Heritage Hub Co-ordinator, Prof. Keith Lilley, who combined his enthusiasm for holy wells and historic maps to give us Memoirs and Memories: Remembering the Rituals and Curative Qualities of Our Holy Wells. This is a truly excellent account on the theme of Wells and Wellness and if you didn’t catch it, be sure to read it here!
If you missed any of the great posts during our ‘Health and Medicine’ themed days, simply type the phrase ‘#HeritageNIHealthMedicine’ into your Twitter and Facebook search bar and enjoy!
While you’re at it, why don’t you give us a follow on Twitter @Heri_Hub and @NIMuseums
Another great couple of days, this time relating to #RiversBogs.
The National Trust NI delighted us with fantastic photos of some cracking bogs.
We learned about early Irish dairying through objects recovered from boglands around Ballymena from the Braid Mid Antrim Museum. The Tower Museum in Derry shared the ‘Madonna of the Bog’, a possible rendition of the Virgin Mary found in a bog in 1978 in Lettershendony, with curious dates.
Enniskillen Castle: Fermanagh County Museum were on top form, sharing a lovely tribute to every archaeologist who stuck a trowel in the mud during the Drumclay Crannog excavations! We particularly liked learning from them how to poach fish from the great Eddie Brogan at Arney Forge! We hope you also have been enjoying Enniskillen Museum’s ‘Guess the Mystery Object’ conversations!
Once again, Quarto gave us another terrific example of effective community engagement, this time in relation to the importance of peatlands and their collaboration with the Lough Neigh Landscape Partnership with the most gorgeous photo montage accompanied by community voices and memories, that speak to the intrinsic value peatlands have and continue to hold for us.
National Museums NI shared not one but two blog posts (Tales from the River Bankand Don’t Try This at Home) from which we heard everything from Vikings to snakes, and the hazards of attempting to play bronze age horns! (Poor Robert Ball!!!!) They also treated us to a video from their archives of the superb Prof Audrey Horning (one of our resident experts at the Heritage Hub) who told us all about the enigmatic Dungiven Costume – a set of patched and tattered, culturally mismatched clothing remains, recovered from a bog just outside Dungiven, that questions the concept of identity in late 16th/early 17th century Ulster. Watch it here.
We were thrilled to see the Seamus Heaney HomePlace engage in our theme, treating us to a glimpse of a first edition, limited print-run, signed copy of Seamus Heaney’s famous Bog Poems, under lock and key at the HomePlace! A real delight!
The Irish Historic Towns Atlas based at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin REALLY excelled themselves in their posts under this theme!! We were treated to a plethora of topics, for instance, the importance of rivers in 17th century Ulster Plantation towns like Derry-Londonderry where they were used not only for commerce but also defence. A terrific feed that we will be revisiting again and again! Be sure to check it out under #HeritageNIRiversBogs on Twitter!!!
After a great introductory weekend relating to all things ‘People and Places’ heritage related, we kicked Monday off with a two-day programme on the theme of ‘Life and Death’, and goodness, did we get tagged in some interesting stuff! From Murder Mysteries at Milford House to butchered dogs at Carrickfergus Museum! Fascinating material!
It was terrific to hear from National Museums NI’s Curator of Archaeology, Dr Greer Ramsey, who shared some superb insights into recent interdisciplinary research on Takabuti, the mummified body of a young woman from Thebes who rests in the Ulster Museum. The blog included the most up-to-date results of a range of scientific analyses, shedding new light on what she might have looked like, details of her autopsy and evidence of how she died. In case you haven’t read the blog post yet, I won’t spoilt for you! Read Takabuti: Unwrapping Her Hidden History if you haven’t already…or want to read it again…and again.
A particular favourite came from Larne Museum & Arts Centre, who shared a short, unusual oral history audio clip, recorded in the 1970s, entitled ‘Death Customs in the Glynn’ – we heard from Sam Cross all about the history of Glynn, where the local dentist was also…the local coffin maker!
Down County Museum shared a special short film** which sheds light on what life and death would possibly have been like in Medieval Downpatrick. The video showcased two seasons of excavation work at Down Cathedral, undertaken by the Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork/Community Archaeology at Queen’s University Belfast, and showed some of the wonderful finds recovered! Definitely worth a watch!
**The project was funded through the PEACE IV Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) and was supported by Newry, Mourne & Down District Council.
To catch up on past activity from the Life & Death themed days, simply follow the threads on the #HeritageNILifeDeath Join Us! @Heri_Hub #FestivalofArchaeology @NIMuseums #heritageNI #ArchaeologyUnlocked
Unlocking: People and Places.
11th - 12th July 2020
Belfast Entries (Daisy Chain Inc)
Making Place (quarto)
The Smuggler’s Head, Bloody Bridge, Co Down (@MourneLive)
Dr Celeste Ray – Well, Well, Well
Wow! What a terrific weekend for the world of archaeology and heritage in Northern Ireland, and across the CBA Festival! I’m sure, like us, that your head was spinning with all the great activity across Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Zoom….
With such an incredible line up of heritage content feeding into our Social Media channels around our #HeritageNI theme of People & Place, it has been really difficult to simply pick and share only a few with you! But here we go…
One of many offerings made that really piqued interest in our editor’s home was finding out more about the fantastic Daisy Chain Inc initiative showcasing Belfast’s Entries, those meandering networks of passageways around the city centre that we often navigate without ever really pausing to consider just how remarkable they are in terms of Belfast’s history and our social and cultural heritage. Combining streetscapes and street art, it was wonderful to hear how fresh investment from Belfast City Council is breathing new life into these neglected spaces! Be sure to catch the terrific Twitter feed for some unique heritage from Belfast’s cobbled streets!
The Daisy Chain Inc. posts were nicely complemented by a great two-part blog post from Gemma and Bryonie Reid of quarto collective , in which they share their experiences of working as cultural practitioners in NI, and their understandings of ‘making space’ through art, heritage and reconciliation. Great reads that certainly provided some food for thought!
Another popular highlight from the #HeritageNI threads was finding out about the hidden heritage of the extensive smuggling activity at the Brandy Pad, the beautiful hiking trail that winds its way through County Down’s Mountains of Mourne from the Mourne Heritage Trust . The Editor has greatly missed hiking this route whilst in lock-down so was thrilled to see such a post. With all that contraband floating around, no wonder this trail became so popular! It was brilliant to see the public engage, sharing their own photos of iconic heritage sites around Mourne and their memories, including the beautiful Silent Valley and Legananny Portal Tomb.
Speaking of ‘hidden’ heritage and engaging with the public, the launch of a new interdisciplinary project ‘The Hidden Heritage of Holy Wells’ at the weekend was a definite highlight! Made up of a team of geographers, archaeologists and linguists from Queen’s University in Belfast, the #WellWellWell Twitter feed was most active indeed! We enjoyed reading their introductory blog written by Dr Celeste Ray, an expert on holy wells based at the University of The South (Sewanee), that gave a great overview on the history of Irish holy wells! In case you missed it, check out ‘Oh Well? The Who, What, Where and Why of Holy Wells’. Be sure to hear more from the Northern Ireland Place Name Project while you are at it – fair to say I learned a lot over the course of the weekend!
What caught your attention over the weekend? Why not let us know @Heri_Hub
To catch up on past activity from the People and Places themed days, simply follow the threads on the #HeritageNIPeoplePlaces Join Us! @Heri_Hub #FestivalofArchaeology @NIMuseums #heritageNI #ArchaeologyUnlocked