Bringing literature to Donegal and Derry streets with hip hop

By Grainne McCool   @grainnemccool

A group of young people from Donegal and Derry joined together to produce hip hop slants on our literary heritage with ‘Unwrapping Words.’

It’s true that for many youngsters, the art of literature can become somewhat of a bore. They are taught English in school and university and the last thing a lot of  kids want to do when they have free time, is appreciate the greats.

That’s why the ‘Unwrapping Words’ scheme literally brought things back to the street – fusing literature with hip-hop culture, examining writers such as Joyce Cary, Frank McGuinness, Brian Friel, Mabel Colhoun and Brigid O’Toole, connected to Inishowen in Co. Donegal, making them relevant to young people today.

Michael McDermott from Moville Family Resource Centre, said:“It is an exploration of our literary heritage in a creative and artistic way that engages kids and makes them aware.”

The project engages with two youth groups: one in Inishowen and one in Derry City. Both these groups reinterpreted the literary work recording a rap CD inspired by the words of the writers and their local connections.  They also made a mural and short film about the project which was shown at Moville Family Resource Centre in Inishowen.

Brian Friel, featured on the mural
Brian Friel, featured on the mural

The mural is more than sixty yards long and ten feet high. This artwork along the Derry/Moville roadway at Redcastle is one of the largest of its kind ever undertaken here. It features images of Brian Friel, Frank McGuinness, Bridget O’Toole, Mabel Colhoun and Joyce Cary.

Artist Eben Barnard travelled from Cork to complete the most intricate faces of the figures. The mural is due for completion and will also feature a selection of quotes from the writers work.

McDermott said: “The inclusions on the wall of globally-renowned playwrights McGuinness and Friel were certain form the start, while Joyce Cary’s face is also most appropriate. Cary, died 59 years ago, was a celebrated novelist during the early to middle part of the last century whose family came from the townland of Castlecary, between Moville and Redcastle.

The inclusion of two women writers – Bridget O’Toole and Mabel Colhoun, is also noteworthy.

O’Toole lived nearby in Gleneely and died five years ago, was a lecturer in Irish literature at Ulster University and author of ‘At Miss Mulligan’s and other stories’. Colhoun mapped the peninsula in her definitive ‘Heritage of Inishowen’ publication.

Mabel Colhoun in purple prowess
Mabel Colhoun in purple prowess

This project has been funded by The Erasmus + Programme of the European Union and Leargas. It has enabled the coming together of these young people and encouraged them to interpret the literature which was widely unknown to them in their own way.

The mural created for the 'Unwrapping Words' project
The mural created for the ‘Unwrapping Words’ project

Poetry workshops were held with Raven, a well known Dublin based performance poet and ‘Unwrapping Words’, the CD was the end result. This features three tracks and is the culmination of the young peoples interpretation of the literature they read and how they viewed it from young eyes and minds in the contemporary world.



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