ARTS OVER BORDERS
Enniskillen Co. Fermanagh Northern Ireland
World-wide, the writer and wit Oscar Wilde is second only in familiarity and popularity to the name of William Shakespeare, yet there is no single global heritage destination that proactively associates itself with Wilde in the way that Stratford does with Shakespeare.
Wilde spent seven years of his childhood in Enniskillen at Portora Royal School between 1864-1871, the longest he spent anywhere outside Dublin and London. His most popular short story, The Happy Prince, is directly inspired by Enniskillen’s heritage assets, most notably Cole’s Monument which is situated atop Forthill on the east side of town. The statue looks down on the town like a Nelson’s column, yet is a mostly ignored aspect of the town’s heritage landscape. Wilde would have viewed it daily from his dormitory window on the furthest hill on the west side of town. Many features of the story remain part of Fermanagh’s heritage today: Cole’s statue, Cathedral, Town Hall, market town/traders, the lake and its reeds. In 2015, it was discovered that a watercolour by Wilde residing in the British Museum that had been thought for over a century to depict Lough Corrib in Galway actually depicted Devenish Island on Lough Erne.
There is no current interpretation of Wilde’s childhood presence in Enniskillen beyond a blue plaque at Portora Royal School and no appreciation or conversation in the wider community about how important Enniskillen and Fermanagh (as a town and a landscape) and his schooling there (igniting his love of Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece) impacted on the imagination of one of the world’s most loved writers. This is the need and the opportunity to reanimate the Wilde story with Enniskillen, one to be shared throughout the whole community and materialized into a home for Oscar Wilde and his compelling story, Wildetown.
A key issue that WILDE-THINGS will address is seasonality for Enniskillen and Fermanagh as principally a summer only tourism destination. The WILDE-THINGS model aims to ignite the spark to transform the area in the future into a year round 365 day tourism destination as WILDETOWN ENNISKILLEN associated with Oscar Wilde. It will holistically connect place, events, performances, businesses and community.
The project builds on the work laid down by the Arts Over Borders destination literary tourism festivals in Enniskillen and Fermanagh on Samuel Beckett and Oscar Wilde that have been developed over the past several years. These are short 3-4 day festivals only and do not have continuous year round impact that WILDE-THINGS could help develop. However, these existing LT events have established the process of associating literary tourism with this part of the world. Tourism NI has recently recognized the potential and benefits of literary tourism with its support of the Seamus Heaney HomePlace in County Derry.
WILDE-THINGS: A MODEL DESCRIPTION
Arts Over Borders will begin its work with a research project storyboarding and mapping the immediate tangible heritage locations associated with Wilde’s time in Enniskillen and his classical storytelling (Cole’s Monument, Cathedral, market town, the Town Hall, lake and reeds Devenish Island, Portora Royal School).
We will draw in the wider Fermanagh heritage and contemporary social fabric which has a latent natural affinity and the potential to be reinterpreted in a Wildean context: Big Houses (National Trust’s Castle Coole, Florence Court, Crom & private Belle Isle, Colebrooke etc.), Enniskillen Castle (its Watergate tower a fairytale feature), historical ruins (Boa island, White Island, Inishmacsaint), the high street SMEs, small design and crafts artisan SMEs, restaurants, food and drink SMEs, accommodation and hospitality linked SMEs, leisure and recreation SMEs, gardening and outdoor landscape SMEs, etc.
Bearing in mind Wilde’s passion for the decorative arts (he designed his own book covers, was an interior designer, loved beautiful objects and flaunted his fashion sense) we would engage a Northern Ireland’s wide SME engagement in crafts, design, jewellery, ceramics, painting, sculpture, textiles, clothes and other products to join the Wildean theme of ‘It’s not life that influences art, it is art that influences life’, thereby offering their products greater reach. The Buttermarket Craft Village, High Street businesses and wider Fermanagh and NI SMEs can be involved.
The primary aim of this model is to demonstrate how an entire small urban community in all its facets of business, culture, education, tourism, services, leisure, hospitality industry etc., can be holistically brought together and united under a single literary tourism concept, a case of the whole being made greater through this model than the sum of its parts. This has strong transferability possibilities to other small towns and villages with the following flow-on transferability benefits:
- Animating year-round tourism
- Evidence that a temporary connection between writer and place need not restrict successful literary tourism model
- Possibilities for SMEs right across the region(not just the immediate locality)
- Model for working with local and central governments Tourism NI, Tourism Ireland, Arts Council of Northern Ireland and local councils
- Growth of local civic pride
- Associated economic and employment benefits to Ireland, N.Ireland and local area.
- Community Regeneration
ENSURING SUSTAINABILITY BEYOND LIFE OF THE SPOT-LIT PROJECT
It is planned that the WILDE-THINGS LT model be helped sustain beyond SPOT-LIT through the efforts of Arts Over Border’s own WILDETOWN initiative which will be one part of the overall WILDE-THINGS Spot-lit Pilot Project. Guaranteeing this one foundational element underpins and offers more feasibility to all other joined up WILDE-THINGS elements to also sustain alongside.