Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tourism in our backyard (blog post no. 700)

(click pic to enlarge) I had lunch today at historic Grace Neill's in Donaghadee. It was a free lunch in one sense, in that I didn't have to pay for it... but I did have to work for it. I was invited by Ards Tourism to give a short talk about the Ulster-Scots story of the Ards for a "FAM" or "familiarisation" visit - to a group of over 30 tourism professionals and local tourism industry operators. What that means is that the audience spanned from people who work for local government to others who are right at the coal-face and run B&Bs for their livelihoods.

As they enjoyed their dessert I told them of how James Hamilton & Hugh Montgomery brought thousands of families across the water, families who worked hard, who rebuilt the ruined buildings and tamed the landscape. I even got one of the guests onto his feet to join me in a reading of an old local poem - "A Rustic Love Making". I took the part of the young man, and my volunteer/victim (a 60-something man who shall remain nameless!) took the part of the bashful young girl. So to the great amusement of the rest of the group we agreed that the poem's conclusion - a secret rendevous at Comber Burn for a kiss and cuddle - was highly inappropriate! Good job his wife was there!

"...Luik, see! There's fowk that gang this way
Whun gloamin'-time is nearin'
Come doon an' walk by Comber burn
That's oot o' sight an' hearin'!..."

Local amateur dramatic company Valhalla Street Theatre also took part, and after lunch they did some "living history" on Donaghadee harbour - bringing to life not only the "big names" of Lady Elizabeth Montgomery and Rev Andrew Stewart, but also a forlorn new settler called Maggie Wilson who wanted to go back to Scotland - "this isnae a land o' opportunity - it's a land o' pain an misery!" she declared. And as the wind whipped around us we all agreed with her.

Local folk, telling our own local stories - stories which have been brought back to local attention through research, scholarship and co-operation - is what it's all about. And if that can then be shaped to be of interest to visitors, then economic benefits can flow.

(nb - you can read the whole poem here on Fiona's blog)