A collaborative art piece echoing Ulster’s links with the Appalachians and a reflection on contemporary migration to Ireland.
International Appalachian Trail
The idea to create the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) started in the 1990s, linking parts of the world that were once very close together. This trail travels through Canada, Greenland, Ireland, Scotland, Norway, Spain, Portugal, and Morocco, with the Irish section concentrated in Ulster, running from Slieve League in Donegal to Larne.
To commemorate the significance of the International Appalachian Trail, Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, in collaboration with National Museums NI, commissioned a distinctive piece of public art. The Folk Park was chosen as we are very close to the IAT walking route and our site features stories and houses of Ulster migrants to the Appalachian Mountains.
Artist Kevin Killen was commissioned to create a piece, aptly titled "Murmurations," drawing inspiration from the coordinated movements of flocking birds. The sculpture that you see today offers a tangible connection to the rich history and international significance of the trail.
Some of his thoughts were;
“The curves and peaks of the sculptural form will be shaped from words and phrases marking the stories of the travellers who have walked the trails and made the migrations.”
“The swoops, twists and turns of the words will mirror the momentum of the people who have made these journeys and will encourage people to walk around the work, reading it and connecting with it. In essence, the overall form is an amalgamation that reflects both the topography of Appalachia and the journeys of the people, symbolised by the murmuration feel to the artwork.”
The words chosen for the sculpture reflect the human links between Ulster and America over the past 300 years. The piece echoes the ebb and flow of migration to and from this part of the world, with an emphasis on the connection of the people and of the geology.
There was a great deal of public engagement throughout the project, which wasn’t the easiest of tasks as we emerged out of the pandemic! Thirty academics across Ireland, Britain, America and Europe made contributions and gave constructive feedback on the project. More importantly the project was embraced by a multitude of communities.
The project grew organically from the artist’s initial idea of creating a murmuration of words to reflect links between Ulster and the Appalachians. The murmuration is a metaphor for the many phases of migration to and from Ireland over the past centuries, it also reflects movements of the continents and the connectedness of people.
A cross-tribal group of Native Americans from the Appalachians were also involved in the project. The work was a symbol of healing between Ulster and Native Americans who suffered during our migration to their lands.
A group of African Americans with Irish family heritage contributed to the words included on the sculpture. They reflected on the positive and negative aspects of Irish and African American interactions along the Appalachians.
Phrases and words were also taken from Ulster Scots and Irish languages which echo feelings around migration. New communities that have formed in Ulster over the last 100 years, now live along our International Appalachian Trail. They contributed words and phrases reflecting on their individual migration experience. The result was an intermingling of words and phrases across time, countries and peoples.
Many of the migrant experiences shared with us had similar themes, meaning that you can't differentiate between what group made the contribution and from what time. Although there were many universal themes, there was one in particular that stood out, hope. The hope that nearly every migrant carries with them as they venture out to make a new life.
The word hope features in the sculpture in many languages, the Native Americans, who saw this sculpture as a symbol of healing, contributed the word hope in five of their languages. The sculpture features over 20 languages including Polish, Filipino, Yiddish, Arabic, Chinese, Somali and Cant (Irish Traveller language). Every word in the sculpture was given by one of the collaborators.
The blue of the base represents the ocean crossing. The lines within it represent the shipping lanes. Some of these are shaped like railway lines. This reflects that the sculpture stands on the old Portadown to Derry-Londonderry railway line which took so many Ulster migrants to Moville. There they caught the Scottish steamers coming out of the Clyde heading to America.
The project was supported through the Fermanagh and Omagh Local Action Group’s Co-operation Scheme and funded by the Department for Agriculture and Rural Affairs and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.