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Town transformed into giant art gallery to celebrate link to Beckett and Wilde

Both men went to school in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh

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The town of Enniskillen has become an immense living chess board with the installation of The Isle of Enniskillen Samuel Beckett Chess Set, a permanent public artwork by artist Alan Milligan (Brian Morrison/PA)

The town of Enniskillen has become an immense living chess board with the installation of The Isle of Enniskillen Samuel Beckett Chess Set, a permanent public artwork by artist Alan Milligan (Brian Morrison/PA)

The town of Enniskillen has become an immense living chess board with the installation of The Isle of Enniskillen Samuel Beckett Chess Set, a permanent public artwork by artist Alan Milligan (Brian Morrison/PA)

Enniskillen has been transformed into a giant art gallery and chess board as part of a new interactive tourism initiative highlighting the area’s link with Nobel laureate Samuel Beckett.

The new public art installation will see a live game of chess played across the Co Fermanagh town throughout the year.

It is the next phase of a literary tourism project that aims to capitalise on Enniskillen’s association with Beckett and Oscar Wilde, who both attended Portora Royal School – now Enniskillen Royal Grammar School.

The Beckett Enniskillen Chess Set is a permanent work created by sculptor Alan Milligan comprising 32 1.5ft tall bronze chess pieces representing characters and motifs from the work of Samuel Beckett, and 64 1ft sq steel cubes as chess squares in bronze mounted on wood.

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Game for Beckett – Enniskillen’s Gambit. Picture by Brian Morrison.

Game for Beckett – Enniskillen’s Gambit. Picture by Brian Morrison.

Game for Beckett – Enniskillen’s Gambit. Picture by Brian Morrison.

The pieces will be mounted in 64 different indoor locations across the town, within Enniskillen Royal Grammar School (Portora site), Forthill Cole’s Monument, Enniskillen Castle Museums and National Trust Castle Coole forming the four corners of the chess set.

A game will be played throughout the year, with performances at three key times.

The bronze pieces will be in their starting positions from January until Good Friday – Beckett was born on Good Friday – and will then be moved by hooded figures as part of the opening game.

The middle game takes place in August, to coincide with the town’s Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival, and the endgame is on December 22, which was the date of Beckett’s death.

Beckett was fascinated with the game of chess – it appears in his plays Endgame and Play and the novel Murphy. He attended Portora Royal School from 1920-23.

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The first part of the literary tourism project saw the installation of 150 swallows in gold leaf across the town over the summer, to celebrate its link with Wilde, who attended Portora between 1864-71.

The swallows were designed by artists Simon Carman and Helen Sharp to mark the 150th anniversary of the playwright’s last year in Enniskillen.

Wilde’s most popular fairytale, The Happy Prince, is believed to have been inspired by Enniskillen’s Cole Monument, which he could have seen from his dormitory window at Portora. In the story the statue of the Happy Prince pleads with a swallow to distribute his jewels and gold leaf.

The swallows have been placed on the exterior facades of retail stores and community buildings across Enniskillen and visitors are encouraged to follow a walking tour and find all of the swallows to discover more about the life of Wilde.

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The town of Enniskillen has become an immense living chess board... Picture by Brian Morrison.

The town of Enniskillen has become an immense living chess board... Picture by Brian Morrison.

The town of Enniskillen has become an immense living chess board... Picture by Brian Morrison.

Sean Doran, artistic director at Arts Over Borders, the organisation delivering the project, said: “The Flight of the Little Golden Swallow over the past few months has been wholly welcomed by Enniskillen’s traders and wider community and has fired the imagination of many who understand exactly what the project aims to achieve and how it can be maximised to the town’s advantage.

“Literary tourism is an emerging niche sector within the wider cultural tourism sector, where places with literary heritage offer author and fiction-related literary tourism opportunities, along with opportunities arising from literary festivals, trails and book shops.

“Following the installation of the swallows, Enniskillen BID (Business Improvement District) has commissioned a mural of Wilde’s Happy Prince, the council has agreed to gild Cole’s statue, which it is believed inspired Wilde’s story, and traders are considering incorporating Wilde into their offering from jewellery design to menu items.

“All of these things help to build the tourism offering in the area.”

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A new mural of Oscar Wilde’s fairytale The Happy Prince in Enniskillen (Jonathan McCambridge/PA)

A new mural of Oscar Wilde’s fairytale The Happy Prince in Enniskillen (Jonathan McCambridge/PA)

A new mural of Oscar Wilde’s fairytale The Happy Prince in Enniskillen (Jonathan McCambridge/PA)

Christopher Brooke, vice-chair of Tourism Ireland, said: “Culture and literary events are hugely important to the work we do. To create standout attractions is particularly important in such a very competitive global travel market, especially coming out of Covid.

“While nobody owns Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett, they are a product of the island of Ireland and closely associated with Enniskillen. It is appropriate that Enniskillen has taken the initiative, a lead role in celebrating their lives and work in such an innovative way.

“The swallows, together with the Beckett chess set are world-class island of Ireland attractions. It can only grow and will do in popularity every year.

“Wilde and Beckett have a huge world following. The creation of a swallow trail and the chess set will bring a much wider audience to Enniskillen.”


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