Roving Leader: Recreating Irish history and mythology with Ardagh heritage and creativity centre

This time eight years ago, local relatives Annette Corkery and Ann Gerety-Smyth, embarked on a mythological journey, with the aim of inspiring a renewed love in local history, heritage and mythology among the people of Longford, young and old.

This venture, which goes by either Creative Ardagh or the Ardagh Heritage and Creative Centre, officially opened its doors in August 2011 and has since entertained thousands of people.

Hailing from a family of story-telling enthusiasts, it always seemed inevitable that Ann and Annette would end up sharing their love for storytelling at some point in the future.

Ann explained: “Our family were always telling stories and we are still telling stories.”

Annette added: “We knew the building was empty and years before that, I said I would love to do something creative in there, but then forgot about it, then started thinking about it again.”

It was upon the closure of a restaurant in the centre, that the two cousins decided to take a chance on their idea.

Annette said: “We figured that this must be the time to do it.

“It was a crazy idea, but we are still here.

“We opened for heritage week around the end of August,” she continued.

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For Ann, it was a passion for mythology, history, heritage and fairytales, gained at a young age, which pushed her to pursue their ambitious dream.

Ann explained: “I read a lot of fairytales as a child. I basically lived in a fairy land in my head for all of my childhood.

“I was obsessed with Deirdre of the sorrows for a long, long time as a child.”

For Annette, the history and heritage of her local parish, Ardagh, seemed to follow her every career path.

Annette stated: “Because I went to school here in Ardagh, we would have always known and heard the legend of Midir and Etain.

“Then, when I was in college in Athlone I did a project on the history of Ardagh and I, of course, looked at the legend itself.

“I then went on to do art teaching in Cork and I took the legend as part of my project.”

It was after this that the opportunity arose to stake a claim for the center in Ardagh.

Annette commented: “We knew there was so much heritage and history here in Ardagh.

“I was doing a Masters in Creativity and Education, which was integrating art across the system. So we thought this would be the perfect place to take all of the history and heritage, including natural heritage, history, myths and legends.”
Ann added: “It was all about encompassing the whole environment, stories, history, geography and your sense of place, into learning.”

Almost nine years on, thousands of people have now passed through their doors, including none other than President Michael D Higgins. They have even had visitors from as far afield as the US and Japan!

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Together Ann and Annette now offer guided heritage tours which explore local historical finds and events, host art workshops, cater for parties and family events, while also hosting storytelling programmes which recount some of the area’s most famed tales including: the legend of Midir and Etain, King Maine at the Back of the Hill, the pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne, an Táin and many more.

Annette said: “We also do a lot of school tours and we do 'paint the legend' workshops.”

Stories are told through costume and play to try and inspire future history and mythology loving generations. They also use popular children's literature in many ways to captivate their audiences.

Ann remarked: “There is this notion that history is boring and it’s not. It is fascinating.

“We dress up in Celtic costumes to tell them stories. We tell them a lot about what they did at the time, show them how they weaved, made clay pots and all sorts of different little things, so it is not just telling them a story and they are involved.

“Irish mythology is just as exciting as other mythological stories such as Vikings. We just want to make them proud of their heritage,” Ann continued.

Annette added: “That was another reason why we started doing it.

“There are very few storytellers now in Ireland so we are now trying to bring it back.”

The pair say the reaction to their unique venture has been excellent over the past number of years, with plenty of repeat visitors.
“Most people who come here, come back. There is so much to tell that they want to hear more,” Ann said.

Annette and Ann also use the premises in Ardagh to help promote local craft artists through a crafts shop and they now feature approximately fifty different artists from Longford, Leitrim, Cavan, Westmeath and Roscommon.

Annette remarked: “Originally it was set up as there was no crafts network in Longford.

“There were individuals making pieces but there was nobody to promote them, so our idea was to start promoting them.

“We now have fifty crafts people from around the region stocking up the shop.”

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Such is the enthusiasm of Ann and her cousin Annette for what they do, they are set to appear on Nationwide in the coming weeks. The pair wished to thank Longford county council, Fergus Kennedy Longford Arts officer, Longford tourism office, Martin Morris, Mary Carleton Reynolds, the local tidy towns committee, the local community and many more, for the continued support they have provided over the years, calling it a real community run venture.

Annette remarked: “Mairead the heritage officer has always helped us out and Mary Carleton Reynolds has also been a huge help. She has really helped push things along.”

Continuing, Ann stated: “Basically the whole community has helped us at some stage, whether that’s coming to an event or helping out in some way. The very first day we had 300 people here and a load of people dressed in costume helping out.”

The team of Creative Ardagh now host a number of regular events throughout the year, about which you can find out more via their Facebook page - @creativeardagh. One such event scheduled to take place from October, 21 - 27, is the Ardagh Fright fest.

However until then, should you want to learn a bit more about the history and heritage of the area while also being creative, get on down to Creative Ardagh. There is plenty to explore!

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