“Art at the heart of the Peninsula” is a community-based engagement and participation programme addressing the Ards Peninsula’s shared and diverse history of migration and immigration. Aimed at fostering social inclusion peace and reconcilliation, over 18 months the 75 participants have engaged in cross community and cross border initiatives aimed at developing understanding and communication between residents.  They explore the area’s diverse social history learning about its significant contribution to Kindertransport, Polish Air Squadrons, Kelp Farming, Straw Hat Making, Life boat Rescues and the Viking and Norman heritage.   A sustainable legacy of the programme is the creation of six pieces of public art with visual artists Eleanor Wheeler and Alan Cargo and writers Frank Ormsby, Jan Carson, Kathleen McCracken, Siobhan Campbell, Paul Maddern and Maureen Boyle for placing in the villages of Millisle, Ballywalter/Ballyhalbert, Greyabbey, Kircubbin, Portaferry and Donaghadee.

Art of Heart Illustrative Peninsula Map

Ballyhalbert/Ballywalter

The Pole – by Frank Ormsby

When his plane crashed in the peninsula
in 1945, he was the first foreigner to settle here.
He could turn his hand to anything.
The neighbours brought their cars to him, the yard strewn
with old exhausts and gear-boxes and damaged tyres.
On sunny mornings he threw his workshop open
and scanned the sky like one who dream of flight –
not as escape but as a return to the air.
He was more than himself among us,
though standing apart.

Even the veterans of the First war saluted and called him the Pole.
So we trusted that, in time he would begin to think of himself
as one of the survivors, that, in time
his stubborn otherness would belong.

The Lovers – by Frank Ormsby

We met on the beach at Ballywalter,
lovers at first of the migratory birds.
Anonymous shapes in the sky, anonymous sounds.
The strange becoming familiar.
Endlessly urgent, restlessly driven.
No choice but to live the life we are given.
Afraid that he too might take flight,
I asked him to stay.
Forty years on we take the same walk
with our grandchildren, where land and ocean mingle
And the birds preside

The Birds – by Frank Ormsby

It is busier and noisier on the peninsula
than in a city airport.  The birds establish ownership
of the sea and the sky.  The earth also belongs to them.
So much room in which to be restless! We too are restless
from time to time, as people are where there are migratory birds.
No matter how settled we look, we look up with a kind of hunger
from the day they arrive.  From the day they arrive
the birds are preparing to move on.
They land on the page not written
And the winged places I us that long for completion.
Each bird is a scrap of spirit renewing itself
for the next journey, for setting off again
in a stamina of white wings.

Kircubbin – by Jan Carson

Walk the bay’s soft bite from Monaghan Bank to White Bank’s peak. The sky’s hem is trailing in the sullen lough. Turn and tide the same route home. Nothing leaves here which is not drawn back. Brent Geese summering in Canada. Hollow boats gone to fish themselves full. Scallops, winkles and buckie whelks: everything’s bound to the circling tide. Think of straw shipped in from English ports – teased and tamed by local fingers – sailing forth as ladies’ hats. Scottish muslin, finely embroidered; the women sprigging by candle light. The same deft hands picking slip-skinned kelp, burning it down to Soda Ash, sending this powder to Dublin or Glasgow. Picture it returning as fine blown glass to grace a window or finely embroidered tablecloth. For nothing leaves here which is not drawn back. It is only a matter of time and tides.

Greyabbey

Affreca and the Rooks – by Kathleen McCracken

In a thicket of question marks, where can a noblewoman turn to speak?

When you prayed for landfall and unwrecked
the ship streamed into salvation, through the storm’s teeth
whose voice did you hear incanting – Mainistir Liath, Mainistir Liath?

Did you promise Grey Abbey to God, a gesture of thanksgiving
or take the chance to stake a place of your own, bolt-hole half way between Dundrum and Carrickfergus, one castellated stronghold and the next?

Affreca – Gaelic, Saxon, Scottish. Affreca – small hill of reproach.
Godred’s daughter, de Courcy’s wife.  What did the locals, the blow-ins
the holy men make of your outlandish name?

What did it mean to marry a Norman knight, maverick mercenary, the Earl of Ulster who ate and slept in his armour, the most devout warrior in Christendom? What price to you his kingdoms?

Where was he warring while you praised the yew trees and welcomed the white monks from Cumberland
all that singing, all that silence?

When they raised the crossing tower, paved the cloisters
appointed the chancel’s lancet windows
did you fear erasure?

Restless on moon nights did your green skirt’s hemline
dust and polish the garden’s limit, gathering the medicinal
signatures of pennyroyal, feverfew, foxglove?

What disturbance made you ask yourself whose idea were the rooks
their round the clock canticles cherishing oak groves
like you cherished saltmarsh, samphire, otters, egrets?

Did you write, plant, sketch, embroider alone or in company
saunter solo or flanked by greyhounds
a silver merle, a sable, a brindle blue?

What colour were your eyes when you scanned the lough
for your Viking father, your Irish mother, the brothers and sisters
you wouldn’t see again?

Was it your wish to be buried here, French barley in your left hand
rosemary in your right, a white shell under
your multi-lingual tongue

the rooks relentlessly questioning what the gods gave back to you?

Portaferry

Longboat at Portaferry – by Siobhan Campbell

At the mouth of the Lough, I approach by the narrows
from fast-running tides to the place of strong currents.

I have bided my time, observing the flux,
the seals and the plover beside me beguiled.

I am still in my heart in search of safe harbour –
the wide shallow basin I’ve heard called a haven.

Like the waders and geese, I come back each season,
a to-ing and fro-ing since nature began.

I can see us some springtime, both new-come and native,
bathed in the light of a ferry at sunrise

when the eelgrass and thrift, the aster and thyme
are budding and thriving in warmth re-arriving,

and along all the narrows are sponges and corals –
a riot of colour remembering to bloom.

Donaghadee – by Paul Maddern

This space is reserved for you, filled as it is
with the bright and shade of your memories:
a sudden scatter-shot of oystercatchers,
that first leap from pier to harbour waters
and your calculation of the sea’s capacity for cold,
the bedlam of storm waves, lifeboatmen and bravery—
and those they could not save—then the welcoming of calm
and the slow motion theatre of a sail billowing.

Millisle

Swallows – by Maureen Boyle

You came with the swallows in an early summer storm
our own flock, brown and tired from the journey
The birds ribboning the sky while your mind
Reaches back as small bodies are carried forward
Across Europe on tracks and behind you
A curtain closes on a different life.

These are the birds that built their nests in the Temple
And on the altar of the unknown god in Greece
Now flown into the barns and stables of Gorman’s farm
Just as you sleep there on straw in the outhouses
In your first nights in this new place.

You must learn everything afresh – no longer the Ringstrasse
But the wet fields of Ards and the sea always near
So that it becomes its own solace and the swallows,
Skim its grey top for flies when you sit on the sea wall
Trying not to become lost again.

As the season ripens the birds recover and darts
Of blue-black, red and white flash above you
And on the ground as you first help sow and then harvest
Turnips and cabbages, potatoes and maize.

They come with you on summer walks
Flashing fast around your feet, swooping low on the warm roads
To the windmill and to the Regal Cinema in Donaghadee
Where your dubious celebrity means you get in free.

It is there, eventually, in the Pathé News,
That you begin to see what became of love
In the winter you left behind.

One day the swallows settle on the wires
Chittering in the excitement of preparation.
You too will leave to start your own story
Grateful for the welcome you received
And friendships made in the Island of the Mill.

Project supported by the European Union’s PEACE IV Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB)