National Museums NI has introduced a new project, Languages of Ulster, which will offer people the opportunity to explore the rich and diverse language traditions associated with Irish-English, Irish and Ulster Scots.
The project aims to communicate that language, in all its diversity, belongs to everyone and that people from all backgrounds and traditions have a stake in its future. By sharing the stories of the people and places around us, National Museums NI will challenge the assumptions that can be made about local languages and dialects and those who use them.
A new educational trail entitled Cúl Trá-il - deriving its name from the Irish place name for Cultra (Baile Chúl Trá) - is a self-guided tour exploring the story of the Irish language through the places and people of the Ulster Folk Museum. It is the first output of the Languages of Ulster project with research work also already underway to introduce an Ulster Scots trail to celebrate additional local languages and culture.
Cúl Trá-il participants will enjoy the trail through an illustrated booklet or smartphone app, both of which will be available in English and Irish. The trail leans on the living museum’s heritage setting to demonstrate authentic links between language, buildings, people and places.
Visitors will learn that the 1900s residents of Ballycultra townland, the site of the museum, included Irish speakers from various counties, classes and denominations such as an architect from Belfast and his wife from Louth, a mason from Donegal, a stationmaster’s daughter from Antrim and a sculptor of Dutch parentage. Also revealed is how Cluan Place in East Belfast, ‘Cluan’ meaning meadow, was named after the home of a British army surgeon.
Speaking about the trail, Donal McAnallen, Library & Archives Manager at National Museums NI said: “Cúl Trá-il will be the first of many new language resources produced by National Museums NI. It has been designed to tell an inclusive history, revealing how language across Ulster formed a much more nuanced and interconnected weave than is often presumed.
“Language is a powerful tool when it comes to understanding our wider sense of heritage and identity. Having spent the past few years renewing our institutional knowledge of the vast language-based collections and archives we hold, we are excited to launch this trail and begin looking forward to new opportunities to work with a wide range of people, schools, volunteers and partners.”
The project will see National Museums NI work closely with local universities, language bodies and local groups to develop new interpretations that bring languages to life in accessible ways for new audiences. Activity will include the digitisation of several significant heritage assets including the Ulster Dialect Archive manuscripts and new resources based on the Tape Recorded Survey of Hiberno-English which contains 539 tapes of people in every county of Ireland recorded between 1972 and 1981.
William Blair, Director of Collections at National Museums NI said: “Language offers an important lens both on the history of this place and who we are today. Through it we can build greater mutual understanding and respect.
“Our museums and our collections are for everyone to share in and we are pro-actively working to unlock their potential to ensure that they can be accessed and utilised as a resource for language development. Our role is to offer people new ways of learning and the opportunity to consider new perspectives on our weave of diversity.
“National Museums NI has been a custodian and champion of the languages and dialects of Ulster and Ireland for many years, stretching back to the 1960s. Our new Languages of Ulster project will renew the significance of our museums and our unique language archives, and showcases the important civic function we play in promoting languages and local heritage.”
For more information and booking visit https://www.nmni.com/whats-on/languages-of-ulster.