In a follow up to his 2013 exhibition and book in support of the City of Culture, architect Manus Deery, Principal Conservation Architect in the Historic Environment Division in the Department for Communities has spent his spare time over the last year looking in depth at the built heritage of Strabane. The result is an exhibition which will run in the Alley Theatre in Strabane from 16th January to 10 February. As with the previous exhibition, a series of pen and watercolour sketches is used to tell the story of the area from earliest times to the present and how this has left a mark on its buildings. The exhibition is free to all with proceeds from any sales going to local Strabane homeless charity Gable, which is part of Shelter-NI.
The area picked for study is the historic Barony of Strabane -one of four divisions of Co Tyrone following the Plantation of Ulster. This covers the natural hinterland of the town, though one or two drawings from Lifford are also included. The 50 watercolour sketches cover: wedge tombs; Plantation Castles; industrial development, ideal villages; and modern developments. The result is a reminder that, though the area has had a turbulent history, past generations have created many beautiful and interesting features and places, and that there is much to be proud of.
Highlights in the exhibition include the town of Strabane itself with many interesting structures such as its Georgian buildings, reflective of the prosperity of the Eighteenth Century and its fine churches. In the surrounding area the Strabane Canal is key to understanding this prosperity as are the watermills in the foothills of the Sperrins. Further out, the village of Sion Mills was a model of benevolent investment in the Nineteenth Century and its buildings strongly illustrate this. Newtonstewart has three castles to tell an earlier part of the story -the influence of the Normans, how Gaelic Ireland responded to that and the more urban focus of the new Scottish Landlords following the Seventeenth Century Plantation of Ulster in this area. Ardstraw reflects an earlier period again with a medieval graveyard on a hill above the village conveying some of the atmosphere of its importance in Early Christian times.
The railways that crossed the area are also a key part of the story, leaving an unusual station at Ballymagory and elegant bridges over the Mourne River. In the more rural area the buildings of the Baronscourt Estate reflect the power of landed gentry to the modern period and their ability to introduce new ideas. In Strabane there are also a number of interesting Twentieth Century buildings. Overlooking it all are the silent, but powerful court cairns, tombs and standing stones of pre-history which are a strong reminder of the long human history of this place.
This personal project reflects a twenty year career visiting historic buildings and sites across Northern Ireland. ‘Through my day job I have been privileged to visit and get to know many of the structures illustrated in this exhibition. The Strabane region has a great wealth of historic features and through these drawings I hope to celebrate and highlight just some of these and the story that they tell. There is much to cherish and be proud of in the Strabane area. I would like to thank the Alley Theatre for making it possible to stage this exhibitionand for their great help and encouragement.’
To coincide with the exhibition, Manus will give an illustrated talk on the same theme, incorporating almost 100 sketches, on Thursday 2 February at 7.00pm. This talk will form part of the Spring Lecture Series of the Strabane Historical Society.
A website, hosting the earlier exhibition and explaining how the architecture of Ulster also reflects its history is available at: www.Marksoftime.com A book looking at the buildings of Derry~Londonderry – ‘Marks of Time’ is also available from Guildhall Press.