Blue Plaque for James Viscount Bryce

Blue Plaque for James Viscount Bryce
Unveiling the plaque to James Viscount Bryce at 13 Chichester Street, Belfast on Friday 10 May 2013

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Derry/Londonderry launch of the Guide to Blue Plaques in Ulster

Wednesday 22 June saw the launch of the Guide in the Maiden City. The event was staged in the Verbal Arts Centre which itself hosts the blue plaque to playwright George Farquhar. The Centre had kindly given us the use of their premises free of charge and the Circle acknowledges this act of generosity.

Prof. Patrick Murphy, speaking on behalf of the Heritage Lottery Fund, defined the difference between history and heritage by suggesting that history is the past that we read in a book, whereas heritage is about the past that you could see, feel, taste and touch.

Chris Spurr, Aideen McGinley, Wesley McCann and
Prof. Patrick Murphy
Some say its about landscape that was here from the beginning, some that it was about buildings – museums, castles and the like, others that it is about the arts/music/culture. It was all about that but he defined it as two themes - one, it was about people, shaping the landscape and being shaped by it; and - two, it was about a sense of place, and if heritage is people and place then the modern day people who spotted this and combined the two is the Ulster History Circle.

Because what the Circle does is to give us a sense of people, not in the abstract sense of characters from the past but to commemorate people from the past and give them relevance by pointing out where they lived or worked, about where they were when they invented, or composed or created, how they interacted with those around them in terms of thoughts and inspirations and hopes and dreams. These are living people that the Circle has brought to us: not just in the abstract sense of books on dusty shelves but in the sense of bringing them into our streets, our country roads, our villages and towns and our industrial heartlands. They are no longer located in those dusty books.

He said that the Circle actually cheats, very slightly but very cleverly, because it’s not just about history, it’s also about geography, a sense of place; it’s about linking place and people, it marries history and geography in a wonderful way, which gives us the heritage that we are celebrating here today. These people are not ‘the great and the good’ or those with a high historical profile, they are ordinary people who did extraordinary things.

Prof. Murphy said that to bring real people to life you need real people and that the people of the Ulster History Circle to us are absolutely real. He said that the heritage movement in Northern Ireland owes a great debt of gratitude to the Ulster History Circle for what is a major contribution to heritage here. On behalf of the Heritage Lottery Fund he thanked the Circle and wished them well in the future.
Dr. Aideen McGinley, Chief Executive of Ilex, the company involved in the regeneration of Londonderry, said that she was honoured to be asked to launch the Guide. She recalled being visited some ten years ago while in DCAL by Jimmy Hawthorne, who was looking for money to develop the Ulster History Circle. Heritage was a subject that fell between stools in government; it wasn’t DCAL, or DOE or DRD’. So who ‘owned’ heritage? Was it tourism, was it social development? She had been impressed by the spirit of people like him trying in a voluntary capacity to encourage a pride in people and place, to ensure that we did not lose something that was important. She said that the gap had been filled by the Heritage Lottery Fund by funding a five-year package to enable a sustainable approach. It built on and underpinned the voluntary principle and was and is recognition of the importance of the work.

She said that while it was great to have information on websites it was nice to have this Guide that you could put in your pocket and take around with you. Coming from Enniskillen it was great to see mention of Oscar Wilde. However, there also was Kathleen Bridle, an inspirational teacher and artist. So it was not just internationally known people that were being honoured but ordinary people as well, who had made a difference. It’s about poets and philosophers, geographers and geologists. It’s the whole raft of human endeavour and it is important that it continues.

The Circle worked closely with local authorities and from personal experience she knew that it is highly respected and regarded by those it works with. Government does respect what the Circle is doing but there remains the need to tackle the ‘between stools’ issue the issue needs to be picked up by the authorities such as the Tourist Board, Culture NI and others and turned into a trail that becomes part of the tourism product. The City of Culture will take cognisance of this resource.

Dr. McGinley said, "John Donahue has a lovely phrase ‘We all leave an imprint of ourselves on the ether of place’ and I think that what you are doing is making this tangible by these blue plaques."

Formally launching the Guide she congratulated the Circle and wished it continuing success.

The Guide is available in Libraries, Tourist Centres and Museums. View a copy at

No comments:

Post a Comment