Open Doors & Open Gates

Some reflections on Derry Walls Day 2017 and European Heritage Open Days 2017 in the Walled City.

The Friends of the Derry Walls is an experiment. Can you establish a membership-led charity around a monument whose history is conflicted? Can you make history into an excuse for enjoyment and enrichment rather than something which defines and divides?  Can a deeper personal and collective knowledge of the history of a place, instil a greater sense of attachment to and value of that place?

Watermarked7(2017-09-10-0636)With a maximum budget of £5,000, the Friends endeavoured this year, not only to mark another key stage in the building of the Derry Walls, but also to give support to the property owners within the Walled City who valiantly open their doors every year for Northern Ireland’s version of European Heritage Days.

So what did we do?

We assembled all the events happening into one events page on this site and we promoted the Walled City as a Great Place for a Great Day Out.

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We enlisted the help of social media and anyone else we could rope in.

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We created banners for each of the properties to let passersby know that the historic buildings were taking part in European Heritage Open Days.

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We assembled a team of living historians from the Playhouse, Footsteps and Past Pleasures to help bring the stories of the buildings alive: the 1617 Master of the Free School; a woman of rank recently arrived from London in 1617; an 18th century minister of First Derry; a 19th century nun. We created, in the Verbal Arts Centre ,an impression of a room in the Free School of 1617.

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In the morning, we organised a tour about the geology of the buildings of the Walled City led by geologist William Lynn.

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In the afternoon, we organised a sketching tour, led by fine artist and Derry song creative, Caoimhe Sweeney.

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We wrote a Schoolmaster’s Treasure Hunt, encouraging people to move from property to property and to engage in conversation with the living history performers and guides in finding the answers to the questions. Prizes were provided by Foyleside. See how you would have got on, Treasure Hunt 2017!

We encouraged properties to put on special activities. The Guildhall put on an exhibition about their archive of beautiful hand drawn architectural drawings.

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And St Columb’s Cathedral put on a special lunchtime musical recital on their organ.

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Andrew McClelland, a postdoctoral researcher at Maynooth ran a twitter conversation all day about what makes people value a place as a heritage site #myvaluedplaces 

In spite of the weather, people turned out. Some initial numbers indicate the overall turnout: 38 on the Geology Tour, 26 on the Sketching Tour and First Derry recorded 574 through the doors.

Heritage Week, organised every August by the Heritage Council of Ireland, successfully mobilises communities in every county to discuss and showcase their natural and built heritage.  The Walled City lends itself to a similar exposition, discussion and celebration of heritage.

The most recent Troubles and the Siege are the two dominant themes of the Derry Londonderry narrative and rightly so. However presented as our sole stories, they tend to reinforce our bipolar green or orange cultural identities, and communicate that we are separate communities continuously in conflict with each other.

The 400 years old Walled City has a narrative which is challenging, complex, and rich. Imaginatively presented, the Walled City offers the opportunity for people who are looking for inspiration, entertainment, and enrichment to connect with others in a really great place. We saw a little of this potential yesterday.

2018 will be a significant year for heritage as both the Heritage Council of Ireland and the NI Department for Communities will be marking European Year of Cultural Heritage.   It also will be the lead-in year to the quadricentennial of the Derry Walls in 2019. The Friends of the Derry Walls will be meeting with our members over the winter to plan our   events for 2018. We would love constructive feedback on Derry Walls Day 2017. Get involved by becoming a Friend of the Derry Walls.

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