Not many of us like the usual associations. Say you’re from Northern Ireland and chances are, you’ll be met with one of the following responses.
1. Are you a protestant or a Catholic? (Variation, do you see yourself as Irish or British?)
2. Have you ever seen anyone shot?
3. Do you know my Granny? She’s from Cork.
I realise that we’ve largely brought this on ourselves. Nations who appear to be addicted to belting the crap out of one another can’t really be surprised when belting the crap out of each other seems to be the number one visual association.
On the other hand, we’re not just good at being bloody. We’re also bloody good at telling yarns, making people laugh (like proper belly laughs) and spinning tales. No coincidence then that some of the greatest writers, musicians and artists to have committed thoughts to air and paper have come from good old Norn Iron. I wonder why, often.
Could it be down to the collective argumentative streak (read belligerent), or the non verbalised, insecurity complex (we’re in denial), might it have something to do with the identity crisis (too many to list here), but the truth is we do like to undo people’s prejudgements. Quite often by being wittier, smarter, more articulate than people expect us to.
Whatever psychology lurks beneath, it doesn’t extend to a national level. Northern Ireland is full of creative talent. Designers, writers, artists, poets, illustrators, photographers, composers, all doing wonderfully evocative and provocative work. Can’t we put this on the agenda for discussion? Just a thought, but wouldn’t a regional identity based on creativity help our economic situation? We can’t keep apologising to the rest of the world for our internal struggles, so perhaps it’s time to change the topic of conversation.
(Lucy Caldwell and Karys Wilson have been paired with The Clonmore Shrine – a miniature classical tomb that housed relics of Christian saints, decorated in a native, pre-Christian style.)
26 Treasures at the Ulster Museum is a starting point – one way to reconnect words and images with vestiges of people and places from our past. Writers randomly paired with artists, randomly paired with our most beloved treasures, each pair exploring new ways to retell their secrets centuries later. And on 23rd June, 52 of our most cherished creative talents came together at the Ulster Museum to discover their object and their partner. Lucy Caldwell, one of our 26 writers and award winning author and playwright, is already excited about her treasure, the Clonmore Shrine:
“The Ulster Museum is full of such wonderful treasures – those I remember from my childhood, instantly dramatic, such as the dinosaur and the mummy, and many more which are no less evocative. Between them they’ve seen centuries – millennia – of life, death, strife, freedom, secrets, hope, certainty, fear, doubt, yearning, love. Walking around the Ulster Museum, you can’t help but think: if only each object could tell just one of its stories – one of the times it’s lived through or lives it’s seen! So when I was asked to take part in this project, alongside some of our best poets and writers, I was immediately inspired by the thought of teasing one of its myriad stories from my object. A few days in, and I’m starting to wish I had 6,200 words, not just 62.”
My hope is that 26 Treasures at the Ulster Museum will go a small way to celebrate how creativity, history and collaboration can touch our lives, challenge us to reflect, think and articulate ideas and thoughts we never thought possible. Who knows, it might even go some way to sorting out some of those identity issues.
(Poets Michael Longley and Ciaran Carson enjoy a cup of tea at the launch of the working group for 26 Treasures at the Ulster Museum on 23rd June.)
Written by Gillian Colhoun
Organiser of 26 Treasures at the Ulster Museum