Complicating our past; opening up our future

Over the last year I have been working with The Corrymeela Community on ‘Contact, Culture and Conflict around the Causeway’. The project was a partnership with Ulster University, Queen’s University Belfast, the Causeway Museum Service and Belfast City Council. It aimed to ‘complicate our past, challenge our present and open up our future’; to engage people with the complex political and social history of the Ulster Plantation and challenge some of the pervading popular myths relating to that period.

I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of the project and have learnt a great deal from the experience. Each individual in the project team brought different skills and approaches to the project and we were able to share our knowledge to develop what I believe are innovative new ways to engage local communities with contested heritage.

This unique partnership has only been a year in the making, but I am convinced it contains the seeds of something that will grow. Though there remains a deep resistance within our society to anything that challenges our dual narratives of the past, we have been able to provide opportunities for people to look, together, in a different way, to see things they didn’t see before. We have demonstrated that our past is more complex, and therefore more fascinating, than the stories we have been told by our community and political leaders. And we have given people the ability and confidence to step into the unknown, to create a new story about our past that can open up new possibilities for the future.

Our methodology is not only relevant to the history of Plantation in the Causeway area, but can be applied to any historical landscape and to many aspects of our contested past. The partnership is currently planning the next phase of activities, which will broaden our scope and impact. In the meantime, here is a short film we made about what we have achieved to date.