Carrickfergus women complete six-week ‘Exploring Our Identity’ project

A group of Carrickfergus women have been learning about the history of Northern Ireland and the peace process during a six-week course supported by Clanmil Housing.
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The Exploring Our Identity project was funded by the Department for Communities and the NI Housing Executive as part of a Good Relations plan for the new ‘Housing For All’ shared housing development on Belfast Road, Carrickfergus.

Janice Hill of Carrickfergus Community Forum said: “The women’s group meet here weekly to socialise, do crafts and crochet and generally support each other. As a diverse group of different ages and backgrounds, the idea of a cultural identity project was put forward by the women and thankfully Clanmil was able to support us in running it.

"Over the course of six weeks, we visited a number of sites including the White House in Newtownabbey to view a film called The Quest for Dalaradia, and other sites and museums in Belfast, Derry/Londonderry and Limavady, as well as having some classroom-based workshops.

Some of the women with Austin Kelly, Community Investment Officer with Clanmil.  Photo: Clanmil HousingSome of the women with Austin Kelly, Community Investment Officer with Clanmil.  Photo: Clanmil Housing
Some of the women with Austin Kelly, Community Investment Officer with Clanmil. Photo: Clanmil Housing

“The topics over the six weeks covered everything from the first settlers in Northern Ireland; the story of St Patrick’s Day; the history of the Orange Order and the origins of the Irish tricolour, amongst others.

"We also heard first-hand about the Good Friday Agreement from one of those who had been involved in the talks. One of the highlights was a visit to Theatre At The Mill to see ‘The Man Who Swallowed a Dictionary’, a play about the life of David Ervine.

“There has definitely been a trickle-down effect, whereby the women shared their knowledge with family members. They got so much out of the course, and they are keen to learn about other cultures in Carrickfergus as the population becomes more diverse.

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The women's group at their weekly meeting.  Photo: Clanmil HousingThe women's group at their weekly meeting.  Photo: Clanmil Housing
The women's group at their weekly meeting. Photo: Clanmil Housing

“It’s amazing to think that the group started with just two women looking for some help after the COVID lockdown, and now has grown so much.

“To me, the group exemplifies ‘good relations’ as it’s been about building relationships, camaraderie and support.”

Austin Kelly, Clanmil Community Investment Officer said: “This is one of several cross-community projects Clanmil has supported as part of our Good Relations Plan for Carrickfergus, as we prepare to complete new homes at Belfast Road.

"Not only has this project helped to reduce isolation, but it has also helped the participants learn more about their own culture and discover more about other cultures and the history of peacebuilding in Northern Ireland. We look forward to hearing how the women get on as they continue to learn about the increasingly diverse population of Carrickfergus.”

One of those who took part was Andrea Ellis. “When we were discussing ideas for a course, I suggested learning about cultural identity because there are so many cultures coming to Northern Ireland that we’re not aware of and we can’t really learn about other cultures until we discover our own,” she said.

"I grew up in one culture and I know nothing about ‘the other side’ as they call it here, and it would be good to explore that, and that’s how it came about. ‘Exploring Our Identity’ has been an eye-opener, not only by learning from other women in the group and understanding what has formed their opinions, but also by discovering different museums and places in Belfast that I never knew existed.”