Events on Irish history

Events on Irish history

2 October 2019

THE Down County Museum recently hosted a major conference on the United Irishmen and the 1798 Rebellion.

Funded by the EU’s PEACE IV programme, the event was the culmination of a course which was part of a cross-community project aimed at increasing awareness of the roots, course and impact of the rebellion and the impact of the United Irishmen in Co Down.

The conference’s keynote speaker was Dr Peter Collins, a senior lecturer in history at St Mary’s University College in Belfast, whose lecture was entitled ‘The Contest of Memory: The Continuing Impact of 1798 Commemoration’.

As a leading expert in this field, Dr Collins was part of a series of skilled tutors who delivered various aspects of the course ensuring participants received a balanced and informed view of this turbulent part of the past in this part of Co Down. 

Other conference activities included an interesting talk by Dr Trevor McCavery, retired headmaster, historian and author on 1798 in North Down, who focused on motivation and legacy.

The Down Museum’s Linda McKenna gave a fascinating insight into court martial records using archive material while poet Ruth Carr read from her recent collection of poems Feather and Bone, focusing on how Mary Ann McCracken had been the inspiration for part of the collection.

The official launch of a 1798 booklet entitled ‘Our Shared History’ formed a key part of the conference, with course participants researching and creating the content for the booklet so their learning could be shared more widely in the community. 

This colourful and detailed publication contains a summary of the course, highlights interesting links between participants and the 1798 Rebellion and includes archive material and an imaginative series of poems written by participants. 

Free copies are also available from the Downpatrick museum and local council venues throughout the district. 

One of the highlights of the conference was a musket from the late 1790s discovered by local man 

Greer Lowe while renovating Slievemoyle Cottages near Strangford. The musket and a creative writing workshop as part of the course inspired Greer to write a poem included in the booklet. 

Course co-ordinator Shirley Lennon said it was a pleasure to coordinate it, explaining that the 30 participants came from diverse backgrounds.

“I was fascinated to see how their learning developed over the course,” Shirley said. ”Many discoveries were made and insights gained into the period but, more importantly, into our attitudes and opinions about this part of the past.

“By choosing the title ‘our shared history’ for the booklet, the participants demonstrated a key part of the learning, showing how intertwined our past is. I was pleased to see friendships developing during the course and a sense of achievement in the creation of the booklet.”

Newry, Mourne and Down Council chairman Charlie Casey — who opened the conference —praised the impact the PEACE IV project has had on the community.

He said that exploring the legacy of the rebellion and the development of the United Irishmen provided participants with an insight into the heritage of their areas and into the very important topic of challenging preconceptions about history, in particular, the areas of shared and contested history.

Cllr Casey said the event also provided participants with a chance to work together “across the community” to discover their own stories and those of neighbouring and different communities.

Further projects on Crime and Punishment in County Down and ‘Preserving or Plundering?’: Museum Collecting from Hans Sloane to Modern Museums’ will take place next year. Contact Down County Museum for further details.