If you go down to the woods today…then make your way through the trees…and pop out the other side (just like the Ancient Clan O'Neill probably did around the middle of the thirteenth century) you might find yourself (if you happen to be near Cookstown, County Tyrone) at Tullaghoge Fort.
I've been working as an interpretive designer now for nearly two years. It's been great. Revealing. I've learned all about Irish history and have some grasp of the whole Northern Irish 'situation', something that we can all have an opinion on but can't understand, in a fair and balanced way, unless we have some insight into its origins. Tullaghoge played no small role in Ireland's story – a fascinating story of intrigue, general sneakiness and skulduggery – the stuff of legends.
If there's an overriding thing I've learned over the last two years it's how certain forgotten, hidden or just carelessly misplaced episodes in our collective past can hold their own against the most thrilling works of fiction. In many ways, the job of the interpretive designer is to present these episodes as such – as thrilling works. That's how we approached the Tullaghoge story; a story of conflict, conquest, betrayal and, well, more conflict.
Enter the fabulous work of Will Freeborn. When we looked for an illustrator to help us tell the Tullaghoge story, we didn't want to commission technically accurate historic reconstructions, we wanted to capture a sense of drama…that sense of legend…a ghostly dream-like peek into a sensory past. The illustrations Wil gave us are mean, moody and messy.
The project involves much more than these illustration. It's a whole outdoor visitor experience with landscape architecture and sculptural interventions. Our hope is that it'll feel like a story book brought to life. Not 'Disney-fied' though, it's gritty and, probably, quite mudding – this is, after all, Northern Ireland. By the spring, it should all be finished and I can show you the whole thing.