Limitless cultural horizons in our youngest county
The diversity of people living in Fingal is echoed in the county's cultural plans for its young
With the youngest, fastest growing and third biggest population in the country, the north Dublin county of Fingal is flying at light speed into a new era of multi-cultural creative energy. Launched this week by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the Fingal Culture and Creativity Plan 2017 has set out its stall for a programme of arts as ambitious as it is diverse, reflecting both the people and the landscape of the county.
Taking into account the county's age demographic - more than one in four is under the age of 15 - the first pillar of Creative Ireland, enabling the creative potential of every child, is at the heart of the programme. But rather than tell young people what they could look forward to in the months and years ahead, Fingal Council is asking the young people to tell them.
The brainchild of Emer McGowan, director of Draíocht Arts Centre in Blanchardstown, a creative conversation called 'Your Say, Your Way' is a public consultation for and about young people to be held at Draíocht on September 2.
"Creative Ireland meetings tend to be discussions with professional adults, held when children are at school," Ms McGowan says. "We're now inviting anyone between the ages of 13 and 18 who lives in Dublin 15 to come along and have their say. Tell us what you want, what kind of arts and cultural activities you're interested in, how can we as adults provide what you want?
"We will facilitate a conversation, and in return the participants will have access to different art forms on the day, including spoken word, comic strip artwork, dance and stop-motion workshops."
She says Draíocht (Irish for Magic) was the natural home for such an event, because the centre has a history of engagement with young people.
"We have an extensive youth arts programme for kids from 0 to 18, with music workshops, youth theatre, creative dance for children with extra intellectual needs, a 'toddler takeover' for the under-threes, a film group… and we reach out and work in schools too. Last year, we visited schools in Dublin 15 with our 'Lucky Penny' centenary project."
The 'Your Say, Your Way' consultation is to be used as a model for local authorities nationwide, so young people everywhere will get a chance to be heard.
"A young person in Dublin 15 may have different needs from those of a young person in Gweedore," says Ms McGowan.
"That's why the local approach is so important. Local authorities play a vital role in arts and culture provision, and Creative Ireland enables that in a way we've never witnessed before. For those of us in the arts sector, we've been crying out for this for years, because we know the positive effects that art and culture have on people's self-esteem and wellbeing."
As well as activities and events for children, Draíocht also supports local emerging artists in creating new work, as it is currently doing with Castleknock artist Aoife Dunne, whose highly praised installation, 'Limitless', is showing at the theatre until August 26.
Hundreds of other Fingal residents are getting the wow factor from a far older pursuit - digging for treasure in the grounds of Swords Castle. Running from August 18 to September 6, the community 'Digging History' archaeological project invites members of the public to join archaeologist Christine Baker and her team in the excavation of this historic site.
"It's great fun, and for many it's a voyage of discovery too," she says. "It's also about integration. It creates an opportunity to engage with people that you wouldn't ordinarily meet and become part of a new community.
"As well as pottery, part of a human skull, clay pipes and other artefacts uncovered in the last few years, we found over 15,000 charred seeds in the soil, so we know that up to 1,000 years ago, people here were producing wheat, oats, legumes and other foods. On August 29, we're planning to tie in with a couple of interpretive artists to have a 'Seed-to-Loaf' day. The idea is still germinating, but it's likely to feature recipe salons, bringing together old Irish recipes with those of ethnic communities."
Of approximately 300,000 people living in Fingal, over 18pc were born outside the country - in Africa, Eastern Europe, India and elsewhere - and more have settled from other parts of Ireland.
"Among the challenges facing us are how to make this a great place for that diversity," says Gerry Clabby, heritage officer with Fingal County Council.
"The Digging History project connects us with 1,000 years of history, but it also reminds us that the world is constantly changing; we're only passing through. The challenge now is how we use that information to create the kind of arts that will be appreciated by generations after us.
"Heritage is also about making cultural spaces where people can meet and mingle. It used to be that people would meet at church at the weekend, but now it's about using libraries and public spaces, like Swords Castle and grounds, Newbridge House and Malahide Castle, all set in beautiful public parkland enhanced by historic buildings. These provide wonderful places for people to gather and be inspired, and have a social outlet."