Telling Locality

Culture Night, wall of memories, Cork Civic Trust House, Sept 2009


On my digital camera, some of the writing on some of the buttons are worn from overuse. Sure I can take a picture – zoom in, zoom out, set up a shot, play with the light, try to be creative and download the pictures on my computer. The pictures are my framings of place – but there are other camera buttons that look brand new from not being used – I have never fully experimented with the lens and all its features – what I could potentially achieve in taking photos is not harnessed- the camera not brought to its full potential or my own photo skills developed.


The switches on the camera aperture, shutter speed, macro, portrait, landscape buttons create photographs of different results textures. The varied textures are subject to the viewers interactions with place and varied meanings. In the Lee Valley, I have tried to find, use and harness as many of the ’buttons’ of the Lee Valley as possible in order to build a profile of its histories and place. I have tried to find new ways of making local history come alive, make it meaningful and relevant to a modern society. I have attempted to unlock the factualness of local history revealing more about the human connection to the past and cultivating it and harnessing it to comment on modern identity. In particular each year I attempt to do this through my school program, Discover Cork: Schools’ Heritage Project of which there are two editions, a county and city.


On Friday 24 April, 1,000 students from 35 County Cork schools gathered in Silversprings Convention Centre, Cork for the annual award ceremony for the Discover Cork: Schools’ Heritage Project. The County edition is funded by myself, Laura’s/ Buckley’s Schoolwear, Cork, Lifetime Lab on Lee Road, Cork and Sean Kelly of Lucky Meadows Equestrian Centre, Watergrasshill. Prizes in the City edition are funded by Cork City Council, The Heritage Council, Cork Civic Trust and the Evening Echo.


Scoil Eoin Ballincollig at the 2009 award ceremonyEstablished in 2003, the School’s Heritage Project is co-ordinated by myself. I along with the efforts of senior project judge Sean Kelly, Watergrasshill conduct project training workshops in all participating schools. The project is a youth forum for students to do research and offer their opinions on important decisions being made on their heritage in their locality and how they affect the lives of people locally. The aim of this project is to allow students to explore, investigate and debate their local heritage in a constructive and active way. The project is about thinking about, understanding, appreciating and making relevant in today’s society the role of our heritage- our landmarks, our oral histories, our scenery in our modern world for upcoming citizens. So the project is about splicing together activity on issues of local history such as thinking, exploring, observing, thinking, discovering, researching, uncovering, revealing, interpreting and resolving.


The Schools’ Heritage Project also focuses on motivating and inspiring young people, giving them an opportunity to develop leadership and self development skills, which are very important in the world we live in today. The Project is about developing hope and opportunity, broadening young peoples’ opportunities, providing them with new ways of seeing their locality in a relevant and meaningful way. It attempts to build a new concerned generation of Cork people, pushing them forward, growing their self-development empowering them to connect to their world.


Representatives from 30 County Cork Schools involved in the Project at the 2009 award ceremonyThe Project grows strength from students, teachers, parents, family, neighbours and the local community. Students can pick any topic to research and can participate as individuals, groups and classes. The project is open to many directions of delivery. I encourage the development of methodologies to engage with the world around them– in order to make sense of it, understand and work with it. The students are insiders in their local area.  Many are pursuing work on familiar places. So the challenge is to reveal the biographical depth that each place offers and to capture the young imagination.


Students produce a project using and generating primary material through walking- fieldwork, taking- interviews with local people, making models, photographing, cartoon creating, making DVDs of their area. Re-enacting is also a feature of several projects. For example a winning project from fourth class in Rathcoole in Millstreet completed a project on school life in the past and dressed up in the style of clothes from previous decades to gauge an aspect of what life was like. In fact, the Schools’ Heritage Project is more about developing empathy for the past plus working the students not only intellectually into their work but also physically and emotionally.  One of the key foundations in the process is to try to link the present to the past – to think about attitudes in the past. Interpretation is also empowering for the student- all the time developing a better sense of the different ways in which people engage with and express a sense of place and time.


Sean Kelly, the senior judge and one of the sponsors of the Project is giving class tours of Lucky Meadows Equestrian Centre for class winners in the County edition. He noted “As always the standard was very high this year. The top prizes, 60 in all, have been given to students’ projects, which have taken a clever approach to the topic. Much of the work should be published as local heritage / history guides. Students experiment with the overall design and plan of their work. It is great to see students using modern up todate technology to present their findings from mediums such as bebo to websites to camcorders to survey work. As part of the project, students also actively distill the information gathered back into the community. That includes discussing with schoolmates or parents, getting newspaper coverage or creating a newsletter with project work and findings detailed”.


Another key sponsor of the Project in the County Edition Rosarie Murphy of Buckley’s / Laura’s Schoolwear Cork noted:

“we are delighted to support this worthy educational initiative. Young people are an important part of our business. We realise that schools and the voices of students are a central part of community life and building community. They are key to celebrating and sustaining Cork’s rich heritage into the future”.


Student Canovee NS with his model on Inniscarra DamThe overall process and advantages of the Discover Cork: Schools’ Heritage Project are many. An award ceremony takes place for the City Edition on Wednesday 13 May in the Concert Hall, City Hall, where 30 schools and 1,000 students from the city region will receive prizes for their involvement. Long live the local history revolution!