A unique project to map the role of community volunteers in literary heritage has been launched by Happy Days Enniskillen.

Funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund as part of its Heritage Innovation Fund, and working closely with the Young Foundation, the project – ‘Festival Tales’ – will capture, record and celebrate stories and memories of local volunteers, artists, businesses and supporters involved in Enniskillen’s 10 years of world-class summer festivals and public art projects.

Over a 10-year period (2012-22), hundreds of volunteers gave their free time to the successful realisations of stand-out international programmes so uniquely knitted into the civic, topographical and social landscape of Enniskillen and Fermanagh.

The Festival Tales project is using story-telling techniques, research and workshops to catalogue the important role volunteers play in shaping their literary heritage.

Digging deep into an unearthed treasure trove of stories, conversations and experiences, the aim is to capture the essence of Enniskillen’s literary heritage through its 10 years of carefully curated performative literary programmes, and the lessons learned that can be built on for the future.

Speaking about the ‘Festival Tales’ project, Paul Sternberg, the Co-Chair of the Happy Days Enniskillen festival, said: “We are very grateful to The National Heritage Lottery Fund for supporting this project.

“We always instinctively knew that Happy Days Enniskillen has been about more than literature, great writers, and outstanding performances – it’s about people and place, community connection, wellbeing and community involvement.

“It’s about meeting new people, learning, doing, being part of something civic and international, and sharing experiences.

“Support from The National Heritage Lottery Fund has enabled us to go much deeper in understanding the civic and social impact of Happy Days Enniskillen.”

The project will include teachers, students and business owners who were involved in the widely-acclaimed cultural heritage art projects developed by Happy Days in Enniskillen during the time of the pandemic, when performative festivals could no longer take place.

The 150 gold leaf sculptures of swallows (designed by Fermanagh artist Simon Carman) which adorn buildings throughout the town centre link and celebrates for the first time Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Happy Prince’ tale with the island town.

Similarly, The Isle of Enniskillen Beckett Chess Set – representing characters and props (pawns) in Samuel Beckett’s plays (designed by Fermanagh sculptor Alan Milligan) – is now permanently displayed throughout the town, interpreting and playing on associations with its shops, cafes, churches and heritage buildings.

Commenting on the literary heritage of the 10 years of festivals, Happy Days Enniskillen Co-founder and Director, Seán Doran, said volunteers have been crucial to the successful curation of this creative heritage journey.

He continued: “Nobody ten years ago would have foretold that Enniskillen would feature on the global literary map for its association with literary giants Samuel Beckett and Oscar Wilde.

“By initiating a bio-festival model, we were able to create an environment where both Wilde and Beckett were brought to life through imagined and meaningful reconnections to the town for the benefit of its citizens to celebrate today, all amidst an extraordinary setting.

“This would not have been realised without the endless commitment, welcoming nature and incredible skillset of our community of volunteers.”