The Story so far

Who is the project aimed at who are the organisers of the project?

Upper Springfield Youth and Community organisation, Glór na Móna, applied for the Heritage lottery’s ‘Young Roots’ scheme to engage local Irish speaking young people in an innovative, participatory community youth project that uncovers the unique heritage of the Black Mountain and brings its extensive history to life for the benefit of the community in West Belfast. It draws its inspiration primarily from the Black Mountain uncovering a series of articles, photographs, interviews and video recording gathered by community and environmental activist Terry Enright Snr.

It also looks at the historical timeline of the mountain of the mountain and attempts to place the current community on that timeline. In doing so, the project will uncover the historical, social, cultural, physical, archaeological, industrial, botanical and ecclesiastical heritage of the Black Mountain as part of participatory community education project that will engage local schools, youth groups and residents.

What are the benefits or outcomes of the project. who does it impact?

The project reconnects local communities to the mountain and helps facilitate their reclaiming of this unique natural resource. The work involved in ‘Athmhúscailt an Fhathaigh’ strives, in the longer term, to create a sustainable social economy project, which creates employment opportunities for young people from an area of widespread socio-economic disadvantage. For example, our home-grown local guides offer walking tours to schools, youth groups and tourists who wish to avail of and enjoy an informed Black mountain experience. Our guides organise and lead guided walking tours and interactive treasure hunts on the mountain that encourage local people to walk the local mountain routes and access the fascinating history and heritage of an of outstanding natural beauty. Our archive provides community members with instant access to the history of the Black Mountain, spanning its archaeological history through to the recent campaigning history of the ‘Save the Black Mountain’ campaign. In educational terms, the mountain is relevant to the school curriculum where the social, cultural, physical, archaeological, industrial and botanical heritage of the hill will act as the information through which people can learn, organise and engage in the positive exploitation of the jewel on our doorstep. The health benefits of the project are many.

Where is this project situated and what history of the location is there?

By engaging local people in the project, providing them with opportunities to get onto the mountain, the project will strengthen both the physical and mental health of participants. The project offers a real and tangible challenge to mental ill health in terms of its ability to engage people in learning and physical exercise. This approach overlaps seamlessly with the ‘world around us’ theme, which has a multidisciplinary focus that informs subjects such as history, science and geography.

Why is there a need for this project?

Athmhúscailt an Fhathaigh is a Glór na Móna project and is therefore situated in the Upper Springfield area of west Belfast. Despite the Upper Springfield being the most economically deprived area in the north of Ireland, suffering from extreme levels of inter-generational unemployment, educational under achievement, and housing and health problems, and despite its violent history relating to the conflict and its legacy, there is a strong community spirit and cohesion. The generation of Irish language community activists working on the project derive their mentality and their ethos from a long line of community activists. In particular, the activists facilitating the project are drawing on inspiration from those who planted the seed of the contemporary Irish language revival in the Shaws Road Gaeltacht.

When is this project running?

Irish language activists down through the years have inspired local parents to establish Irish schools to cater to the needs of the ever-expanding community. Local examples of this heritage is found the two local Gaelscoileanna, Bunscoil an tSléibhe Dhuibh and Gaelscoil na Móna, who provide Irish language projects with a mass of young Irish speakers from the area. The area now boasts the highest proportion of Irish speakers in north of Ireland, the majority of whom are young learners. It is fitting therefore, that the young people who took part in this project came through the Irish medium system in the Upper Springfield and have become community activists in the process, engaging with, and exploring their history and developing an outlook on their location that places value on it. In addition, it is worth noting that more reflective elements of the project that did not directly involve physically engaging with the mountain, for example group work and archiving, were carried out in Glór na Móna’s building, Gael-Ionad Mhic Goill. The history of the area and the adopted ethos of the Shaws Road Gaeltacht is encapsulated in the naming of the new building. The Gael-Ionad, as it’s come to be known, was named in honour of, Seán Magaoill, a locally born visionary and leading contributor to the Belfast language movement who has his roots in the first efforts at community development and regeneration in the Upper Springfield area in the 1960’s and 1970s.

How was this project created?

To create the project, local activists, who at the time were working as youth workers in Irish language youth clubs, began a conversation about the mountain. After engaging with a group of local young people, and carrying out a number of sessions aimed at discussing the possibility of making practical use of the Black Mountain, the group negotiated access to the Terry Enright Snr ‘Black Mountain’ archive, in order to delve deeper into the history and heritage of the Black Mountain. The archive was gathered from 1988 until 2012 by Terry Enright Snr, who was founding member of the Upper Springfield based ‘Black Mountain Environmental Group’. Terry helped organise a community campaign against quarrying on the mountain and through his involvement in the Belfast Hills partnership, was instrumental in the eventual return of Divis and part of Black mountain to public ownership via the National Trust in 2005.

Having worked with local schools for over twenty years as an environmental education officer, Terry had researched and gathered the history of the mountain and provided innovative school and youth programmes that revealed the social, cultural, physical, archaeological, industrial, botanical heritage of the hill. Much of the material was used for old-style physical presentations and slide shows. It makes up an untapped community resource that has never been archived, collated or digitised. Without intervention, this hidden history was in danger of being lost to future generations. Therefore, in this project, Glór na Móna employed a qualified youth worker to work with a cohort of young people (aged 14-18) to collate, curate and digitise the Terry Enright Archive over a six month period. They engaged the support of specialised digital archivists in the Cardinal Ó Fiaich Library to help them with the process of archiving. They also engaged with two local heritage experts who specialise in social/cultural/environmental/natural history and wildlife of the Hills. This involved working with the young people to bring them on the mountain for exploratory fieldwork, which informed their experience of the mountain as well as creating practical opportunities to engage in processes that help illuminate the beauty of the hills.