Friday, December 20, 2019

Preserve, Demolish, Restore?

I was down at Sketrick Castle again a few days ago, tucked away on the sheltered side of one of the islands on Strangford Lough. It's been there for about 500 years. Today it's the worse for wear - a shadow of what it was in its heyday, now eroded by the forces of nature and also neglect. In our post-Troubles era, ambitious developers have flattened many an important building to make way for something flashier and more profitable. Some old buildings in prime locations have mysteriously, conveniently, burned down over the years.

But Sketrick is culturally important for many reasons, and so it has been shored up by specialist building conservationists over the years, to maintain it for the public to appreciate, and to pass on to future generations. It would even be possible for experts to produce an artistic impression, or digital reconstruction, to show what it was like at its proudest moment. The remains bear enough evidence, the printed records have enough description. In theory the missing walls could be authentically rebuilt.

In many ways, buildings like this across Ulster can be seen as a metaphor for Ulster-Scots language. Centuries old, certainly not what it once was, today very eroded – but with tonnes of published literature, still culturally and linguistically evident, and still important.

The recent - and inaugural - Ulster-Scots Language Week at the end of November was inspiring and thought-provoking in many ways. The speakers and contributors from Scotland were superb. Making meaningful connections across the water could bring us all sorts of fresh momentum.

Our choice now is do we merely preserve it? Or do we let the ambitious new generation of cultural developers demolish it to make way for something new? Or do we actually restore it, renew it. revitalise it?