The Integration of Art, Design, and History in Glencolmcille’s Cultural Children’s Cottages

Presented by: Katherine Ehninger, Dr. B. Jeanneane Wood-Nartker

The Folk Village in Glencolmcille, Ireland wanted to expand use of their small storage cottages to create learning environments for local and visiting children. With a growing interest in the Donegal tourism industry, Folk Village Director Margaret Cunningham wanted to keep tourists interested in Glencolmcille through the celebration of local history and gearing educational activities towards children, as opportunities were limited prior. At the same time that Margaret was brainstorming how to engage children, a university study abroad course traveled to the village of Glencolmcille in an effort to learn about the role of artisans’ trades within their rich history, and to complete a service learning opportunity within the community. This project focused on celebrating the pilgrimage of St. Columba in Glencolmcille in one of the small cottage available, and local maritime folklore in the second small cottage. The design solutions focused on the integration of the social, religious, economic, historic, artistic, and cultural roots of Glencolmcille. The village of Glencolmcille in County Donegal has a storied history, and traces its roots back 5000 years to the Stone Age, when farmers and fishermen established themselves in the area. During the Christianity movement through Ireland in the 5th century, St. Columba, one of the three patron saints of Ireland, traveled to the northern regions of Ireland. St. Columba is the patron saint of Donegal County, and he established a pilgrimage route in Glencolmcille comprised of 15 pilgrimage sites, or turas. The area became impoverished after the Great Famine of 1845 and emigration became very prevalent due to unemployment and ruined farmland. Father James McDyer moved to the area in 1951 and recognized the intrinsic gifts inherent to the people of the region. He worked tirelessly to revitalize every aspect of Glencolmcille in order to bring employment and visitors to the area through community projects. In 1967, Father McDyer helped to create the Glencolmcille Folk Village Museum, as a more permanent way to draw visitors to the northern Donegal village. The museum has expanded throughout the years and now consists of individualized cottages that encourage visitors to experience life during the 1700’s, 1800’s, and 1900’s in Glencolmcille. The proposed solution of the new children’s cottages was meant to enhance the Folk Village in an effort to revitalize the area again as Father McDyer did in the 1950’s, and display more of Glencolmcille’s storied history to a new audience: children. This particular cottage was designed to celebrate St. Columba’s pilgrimage through Glencolmcille, and the 15 turas, or sites, were displayed in the cottage with large frames on the walls. The locations were placed around the cottage in numerical order, with accenting Gaelic names and site numbers with them, to teach visiting children about the pilgrimage. These framed pictures were placed atop an Irish landscape scene painted by the visiting students. Large rolling hills were painted with some attention to dimensionality, but both the hills and accompanying clouds were stylized to make the cottage feel like an environment meant for children’s learning. Student leaders organized the design of two cottages for children to learn and play in, with solutions revolving around an understanding of Donegal’s history, culture, and art. The completed research was transformed into a feasible and welcoming design plan to create the Children’s Cultural Center from two small existing storage cottages and a gazebo for parents. Preliminary sketches of ideas were enhanced on the computer to create a three-dimensional feel within the cottage. These plans saw implementation when the study abroad program traveled to Glencolmcille from May 13th through May 16th, 2016. The final completion of the project occurred later in Summer 2016 as the Glencolmcille Folk Village worked to finish the cottages after student departure.


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