The Liverpool Irish Festival is pleased to confirm its intention to begin work on regenerating the Liverpool Irish Famine Trail. Originally researched and built by the Great Hunger Commemoration Committee in the late 1990s, some sites have already been lost to time and others will benefit from the advances we have made in the last 25+ years, including internet connectivity, accessibility recognition and mapping systems, which will allow users to walk specific trails and access relevant information.
We are still in the early days of the project’s development, awaiting funding decisions that will enable us to proceed at pace. That said, we hope to start sharing information and resources to help people access the Trail, which have long been out of service.
Below is a map of the existing sites and here is a link to the original 1997 leaflet that we hope to regenerate with community group assistance.
The Great Hunger, or An Gorta Mór, changed the shape of Britain’s society, particularly here in England’s North West. The existing ‘Trail’ is an unrealised asset in Liverpool’s cultural offer and a missing link in the search many Irish diaspora people undertake to trace their families. Our initial project plans will
- resurrect the 1990s work of the Liverpool Great Hunger Commemoration Committee
- establish custodianship of the relevant sites
- lay down technical frameworks for future community projects, including digital infrastructure and recommendations as well as creating points of contact for future projects
- site test and condition report existing plaques these as well as making recommendations for future site markings, in accordance with greater access, digital integrations and modern capability
- formalise links with international sites, such as Strokestown Park Museum and Trail (Ireland) and Quinnipiac (Canada)
- create community networks, begin public awareness raising, funding campaigns and research groups
- develop a self-guided walking programme for the trail, as well as a water tour, partnering with Sovino group and the Pride of Sefton
- build resilience for the custodian organisation, also stabilising the legacy of the Trail.
Building a case for support (March 2021)
2020 marked 175 years since the beginning of the 7 year stretch that was An Gorta Mor Although primed to submit a Heritage application last year, C-19 prevented us, by days, after 8 months of preparation. The anniversaries are passing and the existing plaques are failing. One is already lost to time.
Members of the Great Hunger Commemoration Committee have already passed on. Before we lose any more -and whilst we have access to one of its pioneer members- we are keen to get working and break ground. We currently hold the IP for the idea and have the blessing of the Committee, but if we falter much longer, others may outpace us to create a commercial venture, rather than a societal one, which truly considers deep heritage and cultural approaches. As a team, we believe this will miss considerable opportunities to build community projects, document personal stories and involve the people at the heart of this history in its development.
One plaque has been lost and it is clear custodians have moved on. It is imperative that a meaningful, well considered and long-term plan is developed to secure the sites, share the history and maintain the heritage for audiences now and in to the future.
There is a known desire to see the Trail up and running; we know community groups, institutions and cultural organisations who are keen to use it now. Under Covid conditions, we -in partnership with the Great Famine Voices Roadshow and the Institute of Irish Studies– were able to engage 2418 people in online sessions about the Famine in May 2020. Since then, a further 6,007 people have watched those sessions. In Oct, we premiered a new film of individual stories about Irish migration, which reached 1.6k on social media and has been viewed almost 500 times.
Changing perceptions and understanding
Famine awareness has altered; revisionist history is revealing new truths/perspectives that warrant investigation, appreciation and recognition. Migration also has changing connotations, which must be reappraised to consider emotional wellbeing, identity, compassion and community cohesion. Indeed, hunger and public health are topics more relevant now than ever since WWII, making now an ideal time to raise this project.
This trail’s 7 plaques and (min) 8 sites are linked by little but a few people’s remaining knowledge, despite its deep significance to the city’s history and heritage. It needs recognition, particularly for those tracing their genealogy or tourists (local, national and international) connecting with Liverpool’s life.
If we can secure this funding for the initial stages of this work now, we can use October’s Festival to start awareness raising and, ideally, an initial crowdfund with SpaceHive (who are already primed). We believe there is a minimum of 5 years of work to grow this historic and significant concert in to a tour de force.
Cultural asset and organisational stability
The Festival originated this idea in 2019 and believes the regeneration of the Trail will not only build a ‘new’ asset for the city, but that it will stabilise the Festival’s core work by providing a year-round asset for people to invest in. That said, Liverpool Irish Festival‘s heritage capacity, without specific support, is limited. We need to get it moving or move on. This is why it has taken us since summer 2019 to mount this application, having come through 3 complete rewrites already. We cannot continue investing in reshaping/scoping the project and consulting without investment. We are under-resourced and unable to sustain activity in this area without relevant funding. Our expansion plans build capacity and this project forms a significant part of that, contributing to roles and developing programme that will feature within the Festival (annually). Covid-19 should not rid us of long-term inspirations; but must push us to secure our heritage.
- A working, accessible trail, with online support
- A detailed recommendation for the next steps and stages, outlined in our business plan, including digital plan, site restoration/marking recommendations
- Increased awareness of the trail and a concept to link and hang community generated projects on^.
The Trail work will be owned by the Festival and will acknowledge all support received throughout its life. The plan is to use the foundation built in Stage 1 to grow citizen projects to improve at-site access to information, identified by an app and a website, with AI or AR technology. We expect to develop films, signs, artworks, songs and more, that people can access whilst on the trail or from international locations.
If they are willing, there will always be more research for our research groups to undertake and bandwidth on our website for additions to be made. We hope to create a long-term network for them and a space in which they can develop their learning, share stories and grow our understanding of the migrations, influence and impact that make up the An Gorta Mór story.
We will maintain year-round contact with specific site custodians and link events to the Trail every Festival, telling stories and sharing information found and projects undertaken across the year.
All our work will be documented and shared online and we will produce trail maps, excursion day ideas and fact sheets about the different sites. Our information will be shared with the Council and other tourism operators, as well as cultural networks we are part of so others can cheerlead, too.
We will use the success of this project to leverage sponsorships and private investment to progress work, as well as make a brief to create a Trail specific app, with web integration if possible. This work needs resourcing and the R&S for this will take place in this project.
^Future work we anticipate includes
- assigning located custodians to report or act on plaque decay
- expand the history groups researcher’s work and numbers
- raising funds for reconditioned/new plaques (materials to be weather ready and designed to last (e.g., bronze or something similar))
- linking events and audits to our annual festival in October
- website/app maintenance, keeping it secure and controlled. It will be linked to active sites such as Trip Advisor and Wikipedia to ensure it is usable and accessible from non-festival media. We will build in KPIs for this sub-site so that it is monitored year-on-year.
Our long-term plan develops rich content and art work for each of the sites (stages 2 and 3). We will then celebrate wider connections by taking the message of this project further afield – i.e., partnering with international famine trails such as those in Ireland and North America; making Eamonn O’Doherty Famine Memorial (sculptor) linkages; creating specific site linkages with departure points on the island of Ireland and international sister walks.
The project self-evaluates, ending in a series of recommendations. As the project grows, participants will evaluate their engagement, evidencing long-term impacts/outcomes of the project and catalysing the next stage. Trail and digital usage will be monitored year-on-year, alongside people’s online responses to their experience and testimonials.
Interested in getting involved?
Contact Emma Smith on [email protected]