Title: Heritage, identity and community engagement at Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland Abstract

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Title: Heritage, identity and community engagement at Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland


As Northern Ireland transitions out of conflict increased attention is being paid to the role heritage can play in building peace across society and developing a more sustainable future. Recent archaeological investigations at Dunluce Castle have uncovered elements of the site’s Gaelic past and the remains of an early 17th-century town built immediately prior to the Crown-sponsored Plantation of Ulster. The project included a dynamic programme of community engagement and outreach that created opportunities to work as a group in the embodied act of recovering the physical past. This formed a space in which to challenge aspects of the region’s contested past and facilitated the renegotiation of accepted local histories and existing identity constructs.

Key words: Community, engagement, Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland, identity, sustainability

It is debateable whether Northern Ireland really is a post conflict society. Following the outbreak of ethno-nationalist violence in 1968, against a background of a developing civil-rights movement, the country was caught in nearly four decades of conflict (Tonge 2002). It is often portrayed as a civil-religious conflict between Catholic and Protestant communities, but was instead a conflict framed by ethno-sectarianism coupled with complex economic and social grievance sets (Cairns and Darby 1998). While the conflict is viewed as having formally ended in 1998, following the Good Friday Agreement, low-level conflict and sporadic out breaks of violence continue to impact on society (Tonge 2014). It is a place where sectarian divisions remain embedded, where communities of the two main traditions of nationalism and unionism live in different places and are, for the most part, educated separately. It is a society marked by cultural tension and where symbolism and the past continue to have significant resonance for the present. It has a limited economy that remains strongly dependent on its relationship with London with over 30% of its population working within the Public Service. Few areas have seen economic growth, but tourism has been one of the areas targeted for investment and expansion. What role then can cultural heritage play in this fragile society and how can it be integrated more successfully into a future sustainable and peaceful society? It has been recognised by many that museums have a key role to play in society as places of education, learning and understanding (Hooper-Greenhill 1999; Crooke 2001; Falk 2004; Newman and McLean 2004). However, what of the role of archaeology and more specifically archaeological practice and archaeological profession? The recovery of material culture and the interpretation of cultural sites and landscapes can contribute to a community’s sense of identity and belonging (Miller 1998), but can archaeology also lead to more sustainable societies and how can communities be better integrated into the archaeology process (Marshall 2012; Simpson and Williams 2008)? Has archaeology a role to play in peace and reconciliation and can it be integrated into transformative processes of change across this region? We recognise these are complex questions that no single, short-term project can answer. However, for the purposes of this article we focus on the proposition that involvement in the act of archaeology, seen here as an intrinsic component of our heritage practice, can lead to a degree of community empowerment amongst participants and promote dialogue and increased understanding between groups of divergent backgrounds and political/cultural traditions. Further, in our view there are not only multiple interpretations of heritage objects, but also competing views on the heritage process itself, and the relationship between community, identity and heritage. For Smith and Waterton (2009) heritage is inescapably political and contested, and therefore conflict and post-conflict heritage is not a ‘special case’ but gives insight into heritage practices in general. In this paper, we draw on an example of community archaeology in Northern Ireland, to illustrate how community participants in this project not only actively contributed to the construction of heritage meanings, but also reflected critically on the heritage process itself. This process of critical learning and engagement with archaeological practice emerged as one of the core elements of this project and effectively became the guiding aim underpinning our outreach activities. This study focuses on a major archaeological research project recently undertaken at Dunluce Castle, on Northern Ireland’s north Antrim coastline that has led to the development of an ambitious plan to establish a centre of community learning and outreach at the complex coupled with a large-scale redevelopment of visitor and research facilities at the site. Here, we examine the process by which project participants began to challenge accepted narratives of Northern Ireland’s contested past through active engagement with archaeological excavation.
Dunluce Castle
Dunluce is probably Northern Ireland’s most iconic cultural heritage site. Positioned dramatically on a high cliff edge, the ruins command a dramatic vista over the sea (figure 1). There has been human settlement at this location for over 1500 years with the earliest activity marked by a souterrain or artificial underground passage used for both storage and refuge during the Early Medieval Period (Breen 2012). During the thirteenth century an Anglo-Norman manor was established at this site and a number of mills and a farmstead were built. The castle itself was first constructed around the 1500 by the MacQuillans, a clan group who had established themselves in the region from the fourteenth century (Breen 2012). In the middle of the sixteenth century the MacDonnells, from the island of Islay off the west Scottish coast, took the castle and rebuilt many parts of it. The castle remained in their possession following the plantation of Ulster in the opening decades of the seventeenth century; an ambitious scheme where large groups of Scottish and English settlers were brought across the Irish Sea by the Crown to settle seized Gaelic lands following the Irish rebellions of the 1590s. The MacDonnells undertook their own unofficial plantations in north Antrim, remodelled Dunluce castle again and established a mercantile town immediately outside the castle walls from 1608 onwards. The town was attacked and partially burnt during the rebellion of 1641 before being temporarily reoccupied during the 1650s and 1660s. It was finally abandoned by 1690. Recent archaeological excavations have uncovered the incredibly well preserved remains of this town that had effectively been forgotten.

Contested Identities
As with so much of Ulster’s heritage, the site has contested interpretations. These interpretations reflect the dominant political discourses within Northern Irish society between the two major cultural traditions. On the one hand, the Unionist community, who wish to remain within the United Kingdom, see Dunluce as a site associated with the planter settlers who came from Scotland, the descendants of whom are now referred to in certain quarters as Ulster-Scots. The last decade has seen a significant increase in interest in this assignation of identity. The government agency with responsibility for its promotion defines Ulster-Scots as being linked to the large-scale migration of mostly low-land families from Scotland during the plantation to Ulster and the surviving cultural traditions associated with this movement including dialect, dance and music. One three separate visits to the archaeological excavations, Unionist politicians and representatives of the Ulster-Scots community referred to the settlers in the new town at Dunluce as ‘Ulster-Scots’. A number of prominent Ulster-Scots advocates have posited the interpretation that the settlement at Dunluce was the first Ulster-Scots town in Northern Ireland while the movement of people to this town was recently referred to by the presenter in the BBC ‘Kist o Wurds’ radio programme, sponsored by the Ulster-Scots Agency, as a ‘homecoming’ (broadcast 4 September 2011). By contrast, the nationalist community in Northern Ireland, who look politically and culturally towards a united Ireland, would instead see Dunluce as a centre of Gaelic lordship and a place that was part of a broader patchwork of Gaelic clan groups that governed Ireland before the advent of British colonialism. The plantation when viewed through a traditional nationalist perspective was a largely negative process that displaced the Gaelic Irish from their native lands and destroyed the national unification aspirations of the Irish chieftains. Neither perspective bears detailed historical scrutiny. In truth, the connections with Scotland and the movement of peoples between the two areas had been taking place for thousands of years (Lane and Campbell 2000). The town at Dunluce was home to people from a myriad of backgrounds while the vast majority of the lowlanders who arrived at the town in the opening decades of the seventeenth century returned to Scotland at the outbreak of the 1641 Rebellion and never returned. Similarly, the MacDonnells at Dunluce do not fit the mould of a traditional Gaelic chiefdom. They were a family primarily interested in their own political promotion and economic advancement and had little interest in devolving any of their assets in the interests of an Irish, or indeed, Scottish nation. Ultimately, the majority of people who lived and worked the lands had little interest in any argument associated with national sovereignty or allegiance and were more interested in the everyday challenges of survival. Dunluce was instead a place of multiple identities and voices and was a place that featured in all aspects of Ulster’s past. This was not a place exclusive to one identity or another and was instead a place that exemplifies the fluidity and diversity of past societies.
Whose heritage, whose Dunluce?
Today Dunluce is a marketing brand used to promote Northern Ireland as a visitor destination. This process began in the 1800s when images of the castle appeared on postcards and in tourism literature while the site also appeared on posters advertising the Causeway tram, a line that connected the castle to the Giant’s Causeway (figure 2).(FIGURE 2 NEAR HERE) Today the castle functions as one of the region’s primary tourism destinations on the Causeway Coastal Route, which is promoted internationally and featured prominently at airports and at the main train stations as well as on stamps and television marketing campaigns. There is a very definite sense that this image is being used to promote this place to an external audience, to people abroad who might come, spend time, and possibly invest in the north. However, while this external promotion has been visually apparent, there was an increasing disconnect between the site and the local community. Some of this separation was due to changing economic circumstances when public fairs and events that would have been organized at the castle up to 2011 were discontinued due to financial constraints. These events attracted large groups of people from the local region and effectively served as free open days. The event was re-initiated in 2014 and attracted over 5000 visitors on that day. Over the same period, entrance costs rose significantly and are now perceived as prohibitive to potential repeat visitors from the local area. There was also a sense that the castle had transformed into a ‘national’ rather than a local site, a castle that had become embedded in the national psyche rather than a site with a strong local resonance. It was managed by the state with imposing entrance gates, high charges and few initiatives to attract people from the local area. A similar process was seen at the nearby World Heritage Giant’s Causeway site where this landscape had become a place where others came to visit, but few from the local area engaged with the site or visited it. As part of a major redevelopment of the site, the National Trust have worked intensively with the local community in the nearby town of Bushmills to overcome this disengagement and have integrated the town and its residents into its management approaches. This proactive approach has been successful, and the town is enjoying something of a revival as a consequence, evidenced by its enhanced streetscape, a documented rise in business and the adoption of a number of public engagement events. No such connection with Dunluce has been created. Graham, Ashworth and Tunbridge (2000, 61) discuss the concept of an idealised landscape, largely culturally invented and notionally unspoilt places that exist with a collective cultural consciousness. In a sense, Dunluce had become such an idealised landscape or place, a place that was known for its dramatic beauty and landscape position rather than a place where real, and often brutal, history had taken place. It had almost become a natural static entity rather than being a cultural monument with an associated set of changing human narratives. As no concerted attempt had been made to document the architectural or archaeological histories of the site little was actually known about the place, and there have been few attempts to develop historically accurate narratives about its chronology and societal role. Even the guide booklets produced by the State were often widely inaccurate and, until recently, had not been updated since they had first been produced in the 1940s. In the public mind, the site is largely understood simply as a picturesque photographic opportunity.

This notion of the gradual alienation of the site from local community is further reflected in the lack of engagement with primary or secondary school audiences. It could be assumed that a site of this kind would be a significant asset for local schools and would be an attractive location for fieldtrips and learning outside of the school environment. However, neither the castle nor its associated regional set of chronological histories feature on the curriculum and its educational potential has not been fully realised by schools. Traditionally, primary level children (ages 4-11) have instead studied ancient Egypt, the Vikings and aspects of Victorian life within the UK as a whole, but did not engage with the past peoples who shaped and defined their local landscape. The recently revised Northern Ireland Curriculum now places an emphasis on skills-based learning rather than focussing on specific themes or topics (Northern Ireland Curriculum, 2014), but many teachers continue to teach the subjects they are familiar with albeit with different learning objectives. Schools are encouraged to incorporate local historical events, buildings or monuments in their teaching plans, but available learning resources on local heritage are extremely limited; there been no central attempt to develop local histories or associated resources. When teachers do engage with local sites and histories it is under their own initiative or perhaps that of a local museum, and most examples lack sufficient or sustainable resourcing. The Northern Ireland Environment Agency, which manages the Dunluce Castle site no longer employs a regional education officer and provides no curriculum-based educational resources or activities at its publicly accessible sites, the exception being Carrickfergus Castle. Many children then came to Dunluce with a strong familial understanding of the site learned from parents and had constructed their own unofficial history of the site and their area, much of which was centred on folklore. Few had any real sense of the actual histories of the site.

Similarly students at secondary level (ages 12-18) have limited interaction with their own histories. A theme of ‘Cultural Heritage’ was embedded in the curriculum under the 1989 Education Reform (NI) Order in order to understand and develop awareness about respective cultural traditions including the two dominant sections of nationalism and unionism. However, researchers have identified a clear tendency amongst teachers to avoid potentially controversial issues at all levels of the educational system (Smith 2003, 22; see also McCully 2006; King 2009). Teachers tend to avoid examining certain historical areas in case they antagonise certain communities. Many of the events that occurred at Dunluce would fall into this category and include the contested and controversial events surrounding the advent of the plantation and the 1641 rebellion for example. In many ways the castle and its associated landscape cultural histories are a microcosm of the history of Ulster over the last 1500 years, so it is not possible to discuss its past without reference to controversy and disagreement. Studies of secondary level education in Northern Ireland clearly found that students actively look to their school curriculum to learn and develop more rounded understandings of their past heritage, not necessarily to counter their own unofficial histories but they recognise that there are limitations to these and want to develop more nuanced understandings (Barton, Cully and Conway 2003). Given the underlying reticence amongst teachers to engage more overtly with this past there is then a strong sense that the educational system needs to be more proactive in engaging with how the recent past has informed the present.

Across communities there are many versions of the past and schools essentially facilitate these multiple narratives through avoidance of contention at primary level. Most communities have instead generated their own political narratives rooted in a variety of ethno-narratives. Interpretations of particular events can be highly divisive, and both the state institutions and museums in Northern Ireland have mostly chosen to avoid contention and deal with past events in a very generalist sense lacking commentary and engagement (Crooke 2001). Witness, for example, the recent refurbishment of the Ulster Museum, where a gallery on the recent conflict in Northern Ireland has been restricted to a series of illustrated panels which, for the most part, simply outlined the chronology of what is known locally as ‘the Troubles’. No artefacts are displayed and no interpretation is offered (Jones 2010).

Rassool (2010) has written about how power relations are an integral part of the production of heritage knowledge. We were conscious from the outset of our project to avoid the propagation of the expert as the dominant heritage voice in this process and were keen to develop equitable inputs from our community partners. Across Northern Ireland, there is a linked argument that both culture and heritage have been used as political tools and instruments of power by both government and particular communities (Crooke 2010, 20). Shea (2010, 290) argues that ‘the past has been wielded to justify the present by those on either side of the conflict…heritage and memory work serve primarily to calcify difference and to provide safe cocoons for separateness in Northern Ireland, nurturing polarities instead of facilitating convergences’. The use of past historical events, symbols and artefacts from the past are continually used to justify particular standpoints or courses of action. Increasingly, we are witness to government-led initiatives that are designed to both strengthen and enhance the separate set of identities that exist in Northern Ireland. So, for example, the Ulster Scots Agency has invested heavily in the promotion of intangible elements of that identity promoting their dialect, poetry and dance. In 2012, the Agency supported a three-year programme of archaeological investigation of Ulster Scots settlement in seventeenth-century Ulster and funded a six-part television series that examined archaeological sites associated with the Ulster Scots. McDowell (2008, 407) has highlighted the issues relating to single-identity interpretations of politicised landscapes that have emerged as a product of ‘conflict’ or ‘political’ tourism within Belfast where individual interest groups have created an ‘exclusive’ version of heritage. Similarly, Crooke (2010) has examined the development of the Free Derry Museum. This community enterprise in Derry was established to present a nationalist perspective on the early era of civil rights in Northern Ireland and interprets the events surrounding ‘Bloody Sunday’ when 26 unarmed civilians were shot by the British Army during a Civil Rights march in 1972. Both studies have argued that care needs to be taken that such initiatives do not enhance division within society and need to be counter balanced by more historically rigorous interpretative initiatives.
Community Engagement
The traditional view of heritage emphasises objects, artefacts, and the lead role of heritage professionals in interpreting and conserving these objects (Smith and Waterton 2009). In contrast, those who see heritage as a cultural process put weight on the socio-political processes that give these objects their meaning (Smith 2006). This perspective stresses the multiple ways in which heritage can be interpreted; how the distribution of power and resources within societies are instrumental in ensuring that some versions of heritage ‘stick’ whilst others are ignored or excluded; that the heritage process should be organized so that all groups can participate in the heritage process; that heritage is inevitably bound up with wider political questions regarding the forms of community and public life we want to create, and, that heritage professionals take a step back from leading this process, and instead recognize the expertise of others and enable their full participation in heritage meaning-making and community building (Smith and Waterton 2009).
Central to the cultural perspective is a critical rethinking of the relationship between community, identity and heritage, and in particular the challenge of finding a midpoint between the ‘politics of universalism’ and the ‘politics of identity’ (Fraser 2001, 1995, Taylor 1995, Young 1990). For Waterton and Smith (2010), the traditional version of community within the heritage sector is an example of the former. In these terms, community is a group of people with a shared (universal) identity and way of life. A common heritage is part of this identity and is natural and inherent within communities. The skills of the expert are required to uncover, maintain and interpret this heritage for communities. For Waterton and Smith (2010) this notion is problematic as it helps perpetuate an apolitical, naturalized view of heritage and an expert-led approach that gives a passive role to communities. The alternative is to acknowledge that heritage is a dynamic and contested political process in which communities compete to define themselves and have these identities recognized by others. This perspective usefully highlights the constructed and contested nature of heritage, but is problematic to the extent that heritage becomes an element in an unregulated politics of identity in which powerful groups assert their identity over less powerful others. For Waterton and Smith (2010) the desired midpoint is to be found in ‘a status model of recognition’ (Fraser 2001).
In our view, this is a valuable way of rethinking the relationship between community, heritage and identity and in this paper we identity with the critical observation made by Waterton and Smith (2010) that it will often be heritage experts who take the lead in developing this relationship. Both regard this form of hierarchical relationship as problematic and potentially detrimental in terms of community input into projects. However, Smith (2004) has recorded instances of Australian Aboriginal communities using heritage to challenge official narratives about their past and assert their own versions of identity and belonging. Our experience of heritage sector work in Northern Ireland shows that in post-conflict situations all sections of the community, (not just heritage professionals), understand heritage as a contested cultural process and can routinely use all three versions of the community/identity/heritage relationship discussed above as they consider ‘how to deal with the past’ (Shea 2010). We illustrate this point by drawing on qualitative evidence collected as part of a community archaeology project run at Dunluce Castle from 2008-11 and discuss its wider implications for the role of professionals in the social construction of heritage. In our view, this means acknowledging the expertise of others in these political processes and the potential limits of the heritage expert’s role. The shift in emphasis from a detached interpretation of heritage objects towards a recognition of the political process inherent in heritage interpretation raises the challenge of creating new relationships between community, identity and heritage.

A collaborative programme of research commenced at Dunluce in 2008 involving Ulster University and Queen’s University, Belfast, supported by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. Initially, the archaeological research design for the project took little cognisance of the existing narratives and public understandings of the site. However, as the archaeological potential of the site emerged questions of relevance, impact and the societal contribution of archaeology began to develop. What began as a traditional field investigation quickly changed to something that had significantly more potential, a process that had potential to facilitate community engagement and enable transformative learning at the castle. At first, no particular model or theory or engagement was implemented, the team were simply keen to make the excavations at such an iconic site fully accessible to the local community and visitors. However, what started as informal participation through invitations to various schools and community groups became a more structured process of community engagement through the opportunity to partner with the local museum service. This process, in itself, challenged our own assumptions about perceived ‘expert roles’ and the process of heritage production. Through our own informal discussions, and through more formative evaluation interviews, it became clear that the university archaeologists (Breen and others) initially saw themselves as heritage experts who were there to facilitate site access to what was essentially ‘their’ study. The museum practitioner (Reid) brought a far more nuanced perspective to the evolving project and framed it more firmly within a practitioner-based approach, de-cluttering the project from the remote, theoretically driven research agenda constructed in a university environment. It took many months before a degree of symbiosis began to emerge between the two bodies.

The Causeway Museums Service (CMS), which represents a partnership between the four local authorities of Coleraine, Limavady, Moyle and Ballymoney, has established a strong role in community engagement, with an emphasis on community-led partnerships and skills and knowledge sharing networks. In developing this project both the CMS and the Northern Irish universities came to recognise the potential of community projects of this kind to build social capital and empower both community groups and individuals (Mansuri and Rao 2003). Projects of this nature also intrinsically contribute to sustainability through the enhancement of the social and cultural health of these community groups (Stephens and Tiwari 2015). As with other parts of the UK and the Republic of Ireland community archaeology (in all of its facets and manifestations) has developed rapidly over the past decade. In a similar fashion to many European countries (van den Dries 2014) engagement, prior to the recent developments, tended to be passive and mostly involved archaeologists conducting talks, tours and facilitating site visits (Duffy 2014). Increasingly, a more engaged arena has emerged as archaeologists across the island have come to appreciate that archaeological practice needs to be more engaged.

In Northern Ireland, practitioners have been additionally conscious of the contested nature of various aspects of the past and the oppositional perspectives that exist (Horning 2013b). Addressing both plurality and diversity adds a layer of complexity to these projects that may not necessarily by present, or indeed relevant elsewhere (Horning 2013a). In regions where supposedly intractable conflict continues to persist, similar dialogues have taken place. Scham and Yahya (2003) discuss reflexive reconciliation in the Israel and Palestine conflict and argue that rather than seeking understanding through the promotion of common pasts it may be preferable to acknowledge the shortcomings in particular narratives without rejecting them. In a similar vein, Basu (2008) argues that heritage plays an intrinsic role in peace building in Sierra Leone, but considers recent attempts to interpret that county’s past from a paradigm of ‘peaceful coexistence’ fails to recognise the complexity of its history. A deliberate strategy of confronting the region’s difficult past is instead advocated. Each partner involved in the Dunluce project was acutely aware of the contested nature of the past in Northern Ireland. As the project developed, one of its primary emergent objectives was the encouragement of discursive field-based dialogues where the past could be confronted in a constructive, informed and applied manner.

Both the geography and politics of the Dunluce region influenced the inception and subsequent direction of this project. The four council areas, covered by the Museum Service, amount to approximately one third of Northern Ireland and represent a range of cultural, political and religious identities. Coleraine and Limavady Council areas lie west of the River Bann, in County Londonderry, and therefore were included in the Londonderry Plantation, which was led by the London guilds under the Honourable the Irish Society with the support of the English Crown (Robinson 1994). Coleraine was the first town to be built by the Honourable the Irish Society, which remains an influential landowner in the area. The town of Limavady was also built under the Plantation and, like Coleraine and Londonderry, received its town charter in 1613 (Blades 1986). Both Coleraine and Limavady councils are now dominated by Unionist councillors, and both councils had chosen to deliver a year-long programme of events and activities to commemorate each town’s 400th anniversary in 2013. Coleraine Borough Council’s ‘Coleraine 400’ programme was co-ordinated by the Causeway Museum Service, and was subtitled ‘reflecting on the past and looking to the future’ on a recent press release. Positioning the project in this way acknowledged the turbulent nature of this period of history and invited community groups to come forward with plans to ‘recognise’, rather than celebrate, the 400th anniversary (Coleraine Borough Council 2013). The ‘Limavady 400’ programme took a less considered approach; a news item on the council website entitled ‘Celebrating Limavady 400’ made no mention of the historical context of the town charter, and invited local community groups to submit suggestions for events, projects or exhibitions to celebrate the history, music, art, business, community and sport that make Limavady ‘a great place to live, work and visit’ (Limavady Borough Council 2013). In contrast, the Moyle council area, which lies east of the River Bann in County Antrim, formed part of the Earl of Antrim estates and was not included in the Honourable the Irish Society Plantations. Randal MacDonnell, the 1st Earl of Antrim, was descended from the Scottish Clan Donald and was one of the few Gaelic lords that managed to retain their lands through the Plantation. It could be suggested that as a nationalist dominated council, Moyle prefers to align itself with this Gaelic sense of Irish identity and might not regard commemorating the Plantation as relevant to its communities. However, as the excavation at Dunluce is revealing, Randal MacDonnell undertook a plantation project of his own, at least as ambitious as that of the Honourable the Irish Society, and brought many Scottish and English Protestant settlers to the area (Breen 2012).

CMS has been aware for several years of the necessity to mediate between these conflicting interpretations of the Plantation period and to provide opportunities for dialogue between Unionist and Nationalist communities about this aspect of their heritage. Since 2008, the museum service has been delivering a programme of events and activities designed to encourage people to re-examine the complex history of the period and the legacy of the religious and cultural divisions it created. The museum service’s reflective approach enabled it to take the lead in planning the 2013 commemorations in Coleraine, which included a major interpretive exhibition, a town heritage trail and a large-scale workshop programme with local schools. This programme was in line with feedback from community consultations that asked for more opportunities for learning and community dialogue1 and the programme aimed to challenge the myths and misinterpretations of the period that are perpetuated by today’s communities.

The excavation programme at Dunluce Castle offered a unique opportunity for people all communities, albeit drawn primarily from people from both of the dominant Nationalist and Unionist traditions, to actively engage with a previously overlooked story of the Plantation that challenges many of contemporary misinterpretations. Through funding from the Peace III North East Partnership, part of the EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the Border Region of Ireland, and from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council, CMS and Ulster University were able to bring three invited community groups from diverse social, cultural and religious backgrounds together to explore the history and legacy of Plantation in relation to their own definitions of heritage and identity. The participants visited key seventeenth-century sites across the area where archaeological research has demonstrated a much more complex relationship between ‘Planter’ and ‘Gael’ than public interpretations allow. Then the participants worked on the excavations alongside the archaeologists for a number of weeks, with individuals working an average of six days each on the project sharing in all aspects of the site work, learning about the process of archaeological investigation and interpretation. The groups shared their thoughts and experiences in a workshop with other community groups involved in the museum service’s peace and reconciliation programme and produced a small touring exhibition that was made available to local schools and community venues.

Through the available evaluation data, generated at the end of the project through the submission of individual evaluation forms, it is possible to identify a range of outcomes because of the project. These were guided, in part, by Rounds (2010) thesis that the participants were driven by a combination of factors including ‘identity work’, the processes through which we both construct and maintain our personal identities. Several participants expressed how excited they were to have the opportunity to gain first-hand experience in archaeological excavation and to observe how the interpretation of the site evolved as more of it was revealed. These observations were noted initially through informal conversations but were later recorded formally through an end of project evaluation exercise where each participant submitted an evaluation form. For example:

It was an educational as well as a social experience, and a physical one! I learnt some new practical skills, like different ways to use a trowel! I learnt a lot about archaeological methods
It was amazing to see how the site changed over the process. It was really dramatic. And our thoughts about it changed as the site changed.
We were the first people to walk on that road and stand in those houses for 400 years. I really got thinking about those families – what were their lives like? It inspired the imagination.

Some participants were obviously a little intimidated at first by the prospect of working with professional archaeologists, but after the project they said that all the excavation team were welcoming and made them feel like part of the team. Hands on engagement with the excavations broke down traditional barriers between the ‘expert’ and ‘community’, allowing the groups to develop their own investigative and interrogative capacity:

The archaeologist...gave us the understanding and confidence to have a go. More importantly he made it accessible, not elitist.
It’s about ordinary people, hands on, discovering their history

Enabling communities to explore the archaeological evidence from a range of different sites and to participate fully in the process of archaeological excavation facilitated a more critically reflexive and discursive approach within which they could examine and question taken for granted assumptions about heritage and identity. This was partly achieved simply through working together on site and developing relationships between the groups, but also because the participants were encouraged to discuss and debate what they were learning and experiencing throughout the process. For some, the experience opened up many questions about the past, challenging their existing understandings and initiating a revaluation of their sense of identity and heritage. This in itself was a complex process and was one where we were very aware that we were effectively adopting the lead role as educators. This was not ideal but emerged from the fluid origins of the project’s inception. In subsequent project work that we have undertaken a far more equitable partnership model has begun to emerge. However, at Dunluce the extent to which we led this process of revaluation was certainly varied across the groups. Theoretically we were not forcing change but the ‘professional’/ community participant relationship certainly varied in terms of its equity and depth between participants. We constantly strived to demonstrate that we can never recover the ‘truth’ from the past but we can interrogate the past in a more nuanced manner:

There are no differences between us. We developed real camaraderie between the [different] groups (i.e. participant community groups)

We were getting to a different period of Irish history, one that’s scary for Protestants; it’s stereotypically linked to Catholicism and Irishness. Protestants don’t know where their identity is linked. It’s about respecting each other. Yes bad things happened, but we have to move on.
Some of the feedback illustrated the learning that was emerging from the project and here we must acknowledge the emergence of the primacy of expert-led knowledge. This was effectively an unconscious element of the project at that time but subsequent reflection on the process does illustrate that this form of relationship was dominant, but was not actively constructed.
They blew so much out of the water. Stories and myths that we have accepted as truth, stories we grew up with.
In one instance, the discovery that the story of the castle connected with a variety of cultural backgrounds recognised by each of the participating groups encouraged a sense of ownership and stewardship towards their built heritage:
What I will remember most is learning for the first time that there is Irish, Scottish and English architecture in Dunluce Castle. I was in awe. I feel like I am part of it, more than before. It is my roots. It belongs to no one side, it belongs to us all. My perspective has completely changed.

Most of the participants expressed a desire to develop their engagement with local heritage further, and to encourage other members of their community to get involved too:

We were really engaged with the subject, something I knew nothing about previously, and now I am interested in finding out more
I want to go and do more, get more involved, question the facts and stories
I will be going back into the community with more knowledge and a desire for even more. I am enthused, willing to spread my knowledge and challenge misconceptions in the community

There was a strong sense amongst both the project and community coordinators of this project that working with archaeologists and other participants during an excavation provided a deeper and more immersive experience of heritage and identity (Bruck 2005). This is perhaps in contrast to the standard experience of visiting a heritage exhibition or taking part in a guided tour or learning workshop at a museum or heritage site (Newman and McLean 2004). Individuals were part of a team and were contributing to recovering architectural and material culture from the past themselves in a non-prescriptive environment. Constant archaeological questioning and re-evaluation on site illustrated the complexity of interpreting the past and allowed for the introduction and understanding of multi-vocality and the multi-layered narratives that constitute our understandings of the past, and indeed the present. More specifically, the project researchers came to accept more fully the role past Scottish’ communities played in this landscape. From a contemporary perspective the researchers also came to understand and fully appreciate the lived experiences of the community participants of the ‘Troubles’ and how the various Nationalist/ Unionist historical-political narratives came to be constructed and disseminated. The comments above suggest a sophisticated understanding of the role heritage can play in creating new forms of public life. One born out of ‘living with unassimilated otherness’, rather than retreating into defensive segregated identities or wishful thinking that glosses over the real conflicts between communities. They show how CMS participants routinely comprehend heritage as a contested political process and understand it in similar terms to the politics of universalism and difference and the tensions between them. Far from being the sole concern of heritage professionals, these issues, concepts and approaches are part of the everyday understanding of the lay public across all sectors of Northern Irish society (Shea 2010). Typical to most community archaeology projects, which unfortunately are usually delivered within restricted timeframes and financial resources, we were unable to gather evaluation data relating to the longer-term impact of the project on individual participants and the wider community. However, some of the groups have maintained and developed their engagement with community archaeology through current initiatives led by Ulster University and the team is continuing to develop methodologies for evaluating social impact and sustainability.

Crooke (2010) discusses the widely used concept of a museum as a ‘contact zone’ (Gere 1997) within the context of Northern Ireland, where communities can engage and participate with ‘heritage’. This is a complex process and can be contested (Boast 2011; Srinivasan et al 2010). The embodied and interrogative nature of the excavation provided a context that enabled deep engagement by CMS participants. It is a context where the community can be more fully immersed in the recovery of history and contributed to the construction of the interpretation of the site. The excavation contact zone offers opportunities for engagement with these processes because of the continually evolving nature of on-site findings, or interpretation. An excavation site is a dynamic entity where interpretations are ongoing, participative, live and active. Traditional museums displays, by contrast, can be viewed as static and unreachable. This is changing and there is an increasing trend to involve the museum visitor in a more engaged manner with material displays but many museums can still be perceived as being remote in a metaphorical sense where visitors witness the interpretative facade within a building, but rarely encounter the curators and process of exhibition production (Witcomb 2003). The excavation process by contrast can be more inclusive where both professional and volunteer can work side by side in the partial recovery of the material past. The intensity of the work, in often less than ideal conditions, can be a great leveller where all parties have to physically co-operate in the investigation literally on their knees (figure 3). The value of working as part of a group with a shared purpose and identity should not be under-estimated. Common endeavour and experiences helped to create and sustain the narratives and interpretations that were co-produced (Byrne 2012).


The archaeological process at Dunluce could then be viewed as a counter-balance to the single-identity interpretations associated with a number of Belfast dark tourism initiatives or to some of the community museums that operate at various locations across Northern Ireland (see for example Crooke 2001; McDowell 2008). There was no central agenda such as recovering the history of the Ulster Scots, for example, but the excavations were instead working to investigate all pasts without giving undue weight to any particular period or event. The inclusivity of the investigations allowed both individual and group engagement with their own regional pasts through excavation and allowed for more nuanced and informed understandings of their personal pasts. This was strongly reflected in the feedback from the groups involved. Each commented on how they valued the opportunity to participate in the excavations and how this has both questioned certain aspects of their knowledge of regional history and developed a more informed understanding of the area’s past. Relationships between groups from differing traditions also developed and the groups have established both formal and informal links. This encouragement and support of inter-group dialogue has been one of the most promising outcomes of the project to date.
A key difference between a museum and an excavation project of this kind is longevity. Museums, especially those with state support, are embedded within communities on a permanent basis while retaining a degree of adaptability and flexibility. Community programmes can be developed and changed over many years, and it is this sense of permanence and willingness to change that is one of their greatest strengths. Excavations on the other hand tend to be short-term events that lack a longer-term presence. They are often conducted with limited budgets with a number of very specific objectives in place. It is then far more difficult to embed programmes of cultural-based reconciliation within their schedules. Participants in the Dunluce project were acutely aware of this discrepancy and have advocated for a multi-year programme of investigations to be put in place at the site that will allow for the fieldwork programme and associated interpretative and educational facilities to evolve and reflect developmental change.
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