Marie Heaney, together with the Chair of Mid Ulster District Council, Councillor Cathal Mallaghan, have officially launched a new outdoor visitor experience which for the first time brings Seamus Heaney’s literature into the landscape of South Derry which so inspired him.
Seamus Heaney HomePlace ‘Open Ground’ is a series of 5 locations, all of which held a significance for the poet, from the Strand at Lough Beg to the banks of the Moyola River.
Seamus Heaney’s poetry is not only visible in each place where interpretation panels explain the literary connections, but also audible with the poet’s own voice heard via listening posts on site, as well as via a dedicated Open Ground App, with elements of augmented reality adding a new dimension to the experience.
Open Ground has been developed by Mid Ulster District Council which manages Seamus Heaney HomePlace, with funding from DAERA, and represents an overall investment of £750K.
The Strand at Lough Beg, a place of ‘special memories’ for Seamus Heaney, has been made accessible to visitors for the first time.
A newly constructed boardwalk leads to a woodland pathway which gently opens out into a clearing with uninterrupted views across Lough Beg to ‘Church Island and its soft outline of yew’.
A riverside walk along the Moyola River, where Seamus Heaney walked, fished and thought, is now also more accessible to visitors who can meander alongside those same river banks, retracing the steps of the poet who was ‘at home on the water in all sorts of ways’.
Sculpture is at the heart of the remaining three locations, with a tall, steel structure at the Eelworks in Toome, symbolising the twists and turns of eels as they swim, and reflecting the poet’s fascination with both the lifecycle of eels and the fishermen who trapped them.
An alleyway in Magherafelt is now home to the sculpted silhouettes of people walking towards the town’s bus station which featured in Heaney’s poetry, with the ‘agitated rooks’ from ‘Route 110’, the poem which takes its title from the number of a local bus, flying just above their heads.
The existing Turfman sculpture in Bellaghy has benefited from an extended and freshly landscaped seating area, creating a new space for visitors to contemplate both the art piece and lines from ‘Digging’, one of Seamus Heaney’s most well-known poems.
Speaking at the launch, Chair of the Council, Councillor Cathal Mallaghan, said:
“This is a truly unique development which brings Seamus Heaney’s poetry alive in the places which were so much a part of his formative years and had such an influence on the body of work which brought him literature’s highest accolade – the Nobel Prize.
“If you read Seamus Heaney’s speech from the day on which he became a Nobel Laureate, you will be left in no doubt about his roots being in South Derry and their significance on his journey from his home in the ‘traditional thatched farmstead’ to the stage on Stockholm.
“I consider it an honour to be launching Open Ground and to celebrate further the man, his work and his deep connections to this area”.
Chris Heaney, speaking on behalf of the Heaney family, said:
“The names of the locations that make up this particular open ground – Bellaghy, Magherafelt, Toome, Moyola, Lough Beg – are familiar to people from this locale but they have also become familiar to readers of my father’s poetry throughout the world. The development of five sites linked to different poems was a great idea from the start and there is something special and genuinely powerful hearing the poems read in their own “home places”.
Director of Rural Affairs at DAERA, Paul Donnelly said:
“Tourism has the potential to create jobs and opportunities for our rural communities and economy and I am delighted that we have invested £471k from our Rural Tourism Scheme into the Heaney Open Ground Experience. This project will highlight the literacy significance of the sites in the life story of Seamus Heaney and in doing so will hopefully attract more people to visit the area and stay longer.”
This project was part funded under Priority 6 (LEADER) of the Northern Ireland Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and the European Union, with contributions also via DAERA’s Environmental Challenge Fund, Department for Infrastructure and the Lough Neagh Partnership.
For further information visit www.seamusheaneyhome.com
A Step Back in Time at Crumlin Road Gaol
Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has visited the five-star tourist attraction at Crumlin Road Gaol Visitor Attraction and Conference Centre which reopened to visitors last month.
The Minister was given a tour of the historic Gaol, Northern Ireland’s only remaining Victorian era prison, by Managing Director Phelim Devlin.
Speaking afterwards the Minister said: “I am delighted to be here to experience at first-hand the fascinating insight into more than 150 years of history and see it brought to life with the latest technology, amazing figures, furnished cells, films, sound effects and exhibitions. I also had the opportunity to hear of future plans to enhance the visitor experience further.
“Crumlin Road Gaol has experienced a protracted period of closure due to Covid pandemic restrictions but it is pleasing and reassuring to see the measures which have been put in place to ensure a safe and enjoyable return for visitors.
“I would encourage everyone to visit the Gaol for a tour of this historic building and with all the new exhibits now on offer I can highly recommend a return visit to those of you who, like me, have visited in the past. The experience is both captivating and educational with something for all ages to enjoy.”
Managing Director of the Gaol, Phelim Devlin commented: “We were delighted to have the Minister visit the facility. During lockdown we took the opportunity to improve the historic tour and to introduce a more hands on visitor experience. We are thrilled to have been able to re-open our doors again and welcome visitors to the site.”
The Walled City of Derry Makes Shortlist for Leading Emerging Tourism Destination
Derry~Londonderry has made the shortlist for Europe’s Leading Emerging Tourism Destination 2021 at The World Travel Awards; a prestigious global tourism awards programme nicknamed the Oscar’s of Travel. The Walled City of Derry is one of eight finalists in with a chance of scooping the big prize and is competing alongside other emerging city destinations across Europe.
Renowned as one of the finest examples of a Walled City in Europe and the primary destination for cultural and heritage experiences on the island, Derry is a worthy nominee and needs your votes to help scoop the top spot.
Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Alderman Graham Warke, commented: “We are delighted to be nominated for this award. We know our historic and dynamic city is unique and deserves to be recognised on a worldwide stage. Tourism is a key economic driver for the region, and we are thrilled it has been recognised as a rising destination in Europe. It is a major boost for the local tourism industry and provides great publicity for the city region and Northern Ireland.”
Odhran Dunne, Chief Executive of Visit Derry continued: “We are delighted Derry has been nominated for Europe’s Leading Emerging Tourism Destination. Being a finalist in this prestigious award, puts us on a world stage as we begin to emerge from the covid crises and rebuild tourism. It strengthens our international appeal and rewards the commitment of all players in our local industry to position the city region as a must-visit destination. We have all the ingredients of a standout destination, centred on our historic City Walls, heritage, renowned lively cultural and events scene and strategic geographic location to be nominated for the award is fantastic. We look forward to the global industry and travel consumers recognising our emerging potential and giving us their vote!”
International voting is now open, and the winner will be the finalist who gains the most votes. To vote for Derry as Europe’s Leading Emerging Tourism Destination, visit www.visitderry.com/vote. Voting closes on 14th July 2021.