The Heritage Lottery Fund Landscape Partnership Schemes are led by partnerships of local, regional and national interests which aim to conserve areas of distinctive landscape character. These programs, in the whole, are people and community centred. So perhaps the Landscape Partnership would be best called a People-scape Partnership. For it is through people that these partnerships work.
If The Glens of Antrim never had people, it would not need a Landscape Partnership as it would already contain a balanced environment of plants and animals in its uplands, Glens and shoreline. It would have great forests of oak, elm, ash and hazel, with wolf, boar, deer and bear which would exist in a natural equilibrium, as they did for thousands of years before our arrival. But people did come. This area is one of the oldest settled areas of Ireland, with people living here for some 10,000 years.
The changes in the landscape over the millennia, have reflected that extra element that we bring. From the ancient people right through to our modern day, we ourselves have changed little, but the cultures, values and technology that we employ have changed and it is these elements that people bring that have shaped the landscape.
Today, the agriculture of The Glens is dominated by sheep and cattle and a few fields of spuds, something that we think may have been here forever. However, only a few decades back many a rushy hill was blue with lint for the linen industry. Ancient pastures teamed with life, but due to post war policy and international forces this has changed, with old pastures reseeded with rye grass and ancient hedges taken out.
Academic papers from The Ulster Archaeological society speak of the great forests of The Glens that survived until the plantation of Ulster. So a little more than 400 years ago, a squirrel could have moved through each Glen without touching the ground. These trees, survived because of the people-scape, The Brethon Laws, some of the most sophisticated laws in the world, protected the woodland as a prized natural resource.
Our people-scape also protected now prized places with unwritten laws. One important area of woodland is Bruíon (Breen) Forest Nature Reserve, just on the edge of Glenshesk. A bruíon is a fairy fort and local lore tells us that this is the reason this remnant of ancient oak wood was never fully cleared, for fear of upsetting the ‘good people’.
Industry has played a huge part of the Glens, agriculture, fishing, and right back to flint and porcellanite industries that saw the ancient ones trade this precious resource from The Glens to as far as Africa.
We have the oldest salt panning in these islands which was carried out at Carraig Uisnigh in Carey which due to this industry is also known as The Pans Rocks. This salt industry was tied with coal mining, which the great Industrialist Hugh Boyd brought to the fore along with many other industries.
Up at An Pháirc Mhór (Parkmore) we have iron ore mining which along with Sand Stone Quarrying was common place in The Glens. The Lime industry is also part of our tradition from small local Kiln’s to the bigger operations setup by the Londonderry Estate at Carnlough.
What about the other factors on the people-scape? What lifts the heart of local folk? The Glen’s festivals, sports, tennis, golf, soccer, and the more ancient sport of hurling. This modern but still mythical game goes back into the mists of time being played some form by all Celtic people, as a way of avoiding warfare, although it is sometimes the cause of warfare in The Glens!
A people-scape is about connection. Is a Butterfly, such as a rare fritillary, that swoops through the Ancient Glenarm forest as important as music festivals and artisan markets that celebrate human creativity and attract much needed business. Is a newly planted hedgerow as important as a well maintained and healthy flock of greyface ewes that sustain a local family? Is local dialect and native language important? Be that the tones of the lowland Scottish settlers, the earthy rhythms of Hewitt to our ancient Gaelic. All these things and traditions sit within this landscape, within this people-scape. Indeed many of them are born of The Glens, be that a physical birth or that born from inspiration.
The Landscape partnership is about people and place, and it is about all of the Glens and their gateways. It is not about a hierarchy of one Glen or one community above others. This will be no easy task as each Glen and each region, parish or area is often fiercely proud and independent of the other. But Na Glinnti, the Glinnes, the Glens is a plural, not a singular and no Glen exists without its siblings.
The Glens is sadly one of the best kept secrets on this island. People, living close by often do not know of beautiful Glenarm, and the McDonnells, McQuillans, Mc Allistars, Mc Cauleys and the other clans that make this place. They do not know about the huge expanses of Gearán (Garron), Lorg Eadáin, Taobh Buile, the ladder farms, Knocklayd and off course Benmore. They have no knowledge of the Glens and natural links with Scotland, and how close we really are! By a conspiracy of history, Glenariff ‘The Queen of the Glens’ and her waterfalls that sometimes never reach the ground, have only been discovered by a few. Our places, industry, music, language, and dialects remain hidden. The Glens people, independent even if they are sometimes suspicious of a newcomer or ‘stranger’, have a strength that can only be imbued from living in such a place as this.
These all are the treasure of the Glens. It is always changing, but it has always been The Glens. The LPS programme is not a quick fix. T he funding involved over 5 years, on a very large Landscape Partnership Area, is really very small. What it is about, is taking another tiny step, in our evolution, on our journey. For old Glens families and newcomers, to work together for this wonderful landscape, for this People-scape. From biodiversity, to language, from festivals, to stonewalling, from archaeology to digitization we are keen to help. If we can in some small way, through partnerships with local communities, act as a catalyst for a new festival, provide that space to reflect on a great wealth of history or tradition; if we can help someone to learn a traditional skill that may sustain them in employment while conserving the heart of the landscape; if we can help create more access by local people and visitors alike to the countryside, or to ancient and sacred sites of this landscape. If we can, in some small way, help with the economy and sustainability of this community, then we know our projects have been a success!
Every opportunity comes with challenge, so it is our challenge on the LPS team and your challenge, to work in partnership. This scheme is not about creating a fanfare, it is deliberately a quiet understated affair. With 21 projects this People-scape partnership aims to help, to improve understanding, co-operation, sustainability, knowledge, respect for, and pride in this place, its people, its landscapes it past, present and future.