Watch: Mid Ulster kids get to grips with history of O’Neills

Cookstown and Dungannon councils have both made significant efforts in recent years to encourage children, to engage with the unique heritage of the Mid Ulster area.

The Hill of The O’Neill & Ranfurly House Arts & Visitor Centre in Dungannon has involved more than 3,400 pupils in its award-winning Heritage Education programme since its opening in October 2012.

Learning from O'Hagan, Guardian of Tullaghoge Fort

Learning from O'Hagan, Guardian of Tullaghoge Fort

Cookstown District Council in partnership with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency has recently embarked upon a £500,000 capital investment programme for the development of Tullaghoge Fort, ancestral inauguration site of the O’Neills.

The recent “Big Dig” project at the heritage site attracted in excess of 800 adults and school children, and afforded visitors the opportunity to get hands-on archaeological experience uncovering the hidden history of the ancient crowning site.

In order to further these cultural programmes and to demonstrate the links between Tullaghoge Fort and the Hill of The O’Neill, Mary Crooks (Arts & Culture Development Officer, CDC) and Peter Lant (Education Officer, DSTBC) organised a joint Heritage Education project, From the Fort to The Hill, for Key Stage 2 pupils on 6th, 7th, 9th and 10th October. Classes from Bush PS, Windmill Integrated PS, St Patrick’s PS, Mullinahoe, and Ballytrea PS participated.

Each day began at Tullaghoge Fort, the ancient ceremonial site where the leaders of the O’Neill clan were inaugurated. In the centre of the mound was a reproduction of Leac na Rí, “the flagstone of the Kings”, upon which the leader of the O’Neills was inaugurated.

With the assistance of the writer and storyteller Liz Weir, and actors from Craic Theatre, the pupils were able to participate in an inauguration, and thus begin to appreciate the historical importance of the fort.

The project then moved to The Hill of The O’Neill in Dungannon, the highland rampart from where the O’Neills ruled this part of Ulster for 300 years, from 1305 until 1602. The children were guided around the exhibition on the Flight of the Earls and the Plantation of Ulster in Ranfurly House Arts & Visitor Centre by Liz Weir and Peter Lant, who also brought them on to the Hill of The O’Neill. Here the pupils were able to witness the view from this site and to recognise the strategic importance of this hill to both Gaelic chieftains and to the leaders of Plantation.

One of the outcomes of each day was the writing of poetry which had been stimulated by the day’s activities, and this session was led by Liz Weir. The children started to write their poems during their visit, and continued their writing on returning to school.

Their poems will be featured in a special volume of poetry which will be launched in the Burnavon Theatre in the very near future.

If you wish to participate in Heritage activities, or if you have ideas about how you would like the councils to extend their current culture and history programmes, contact Mary Crooks (028 8676 9949) or Peter Lant (028 8772 8600).