Heritage activities can have social implications for communities and are as much about building growth and confidence as they are about uncovering the past. In the case of Cuilcagh to Cleenish we adopted a variant of community-led action known as Asset Based Community Development which focused on the unique heritage assets identified by community partners within our heritage landscape footprint. This approach gave primacy to local people and encouraged heritage professionals to engage with them on their terms, and in ways that answered their questions about the past using professional tools and techniques.
As a result, over 18 community-led and place-making projects were brought together in the Cuilcagh to Cleenish Memory Map. The map showcases the range of projects looking at the built, natural, cultural, and archaeological heritage of the landscape of South West Fermanagh, Northern Ireland and includes a suite of films and recordings accessed via the map were made by, and for, local people using accessible online formats.
Giving local communities primus inter pares status in this way is important for all actors involved with heritage activities, including archaeologists. It is essential that engagement work is not done to communities but rather with communities, who must be given agency in their dealings with outside heritage professionals. Greater awareness of partnership approaches by archaeologists and community development theory and practice will undoubtedly lead to more exciting finds and assist in better community development outcomes. As well as focusing on the protection and management of heritage, we should also focus policies on the needs of society and the recognition of the rights of citizens to benefit from cultural heritage through democratic participation.
The Cuilcagh to Cleenish Memory Map project were the winners of the Outstanding Achievement Award and the Public Presentation or Dissemination Award at the 2021 Archaeological Achievement Awards.