Local community groups give the Sam Henry Collection a new Lease of Life

Connecting with the Past, Collecting for the Future Project Overview
14th March 2019
Ballymoney Agricultural Show
15th March 2019

Local community groups give the Sam Henry Collection a new Lease of Life


Project Attributes


Sam Henry


Coleraine Museum


14th March 2019

“I feel inspired to keep Sam Henry’s work alive”

Between April and June 2017 four groups from across the Causeway Coast and Glens area participated in a series of workshops with Quarto and Coleraine Museum. The workshops introduced Sam Henry and his collection of over 11,000 items to the groups and enabled them to get hands on access to this remarkable archive. Through examining actual objects and artefacts, participants were inspired to develop exhibition materials, events and create new written pieces.

Each group approached the collection from a different angle.

The Roe Valley Ancestral Research Group produced a banner titled ‘A Journey through the Roe Valley with Sam Henry’. They explored songs and poems collected in the Roe Valley area by Sam and presented this alongside their own relevant research. This was displayed at Stendhal Festival in Limavady and animated by a musician playing some of the songs that Sam collected.

The residents of Rathlin Island chose to concentrate on Sam’s photographs of Rathlin and its people. The islanders added valuable information to the photographs, telling the stories of the people that they featured. They produced a slideshow of the images as well as a booklet. The slideshow is on display in the Manor House on Rathlin Island.

Dominican History Group wrote new labels for objects from the collection. Pupils appreciated the opportunity to handle and examine real artefacts and were inspired by the photographs and cameras within the collection.

Flowerfield and Ballymoney Writer’s group developed written pieces in response to the collection. They hosted an event in Flowerfield to share their new pieces and to reveal the items from the collection which inspired their creative works. Singer, Len Graham, was a special guest at this event, singing songs from the Sam Henry collection.

“I feel inspired to take photos and take part in the community more”

“I learned the importance of collecting stories before they disappear”

Between January and November 2018 a further four groups from across the Causeway Coast and Glens area participated in a series of workshops with Quarto and Coleraine Museum.

“[Sam Henry] seemed like a nice man, going round the country gathering songs and poems.”

Again, each group approached the collection from a different angle which is reflected in this exhibition.

The Friends of Ballycastle Museum organised an evening of local songs from the collection sang by members of the Ballycastle Comhaltas/Baile an Chaistil. These songs were all collected by Sam Henry either in the Ballycastle and surrounding region or were about the local area. The Friends gave a fascinating talk on some of the photographs in the collection – adding a great amount of detail about people and places featured. Some of Sam’s glass slides were displayed using a magic lantern, as he would have done when presenting them in lectures that he gave across Northern Ireland. This event, held in Portnagree House was part of the Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival.

History students from Cross and Passion school were interested in Sam’s cameras and photograph collection, particularly the photographs of places that they recognised and could identify with. After making their own pinhole cameras, the pupils photographed their local area, alongside experimenting with Polaroid cameras and other SLR film cameras. For these students this was possibly the first time that they had taken a photograph and not instantly seen the end result. Their photographs will all be added to the Museum Collection.

After exploring the songs with the Museum Service, Scad the Beggars hosted an event in Ballymoney Town Hall sharing some of the songs from the collection. One of these songs, Bonny Portrush, that Sam Henry wrote the words for, was played for the very first time by the musicians. They finished with an excellent rendition of Whisky in the Jar and I’ll Tell Me Ma. Following on from this they ran a workshop with pupils from Portstewart Primary School and St. Colums’s, Portstewart.

The Causeway Yarn Spinners enjoyed exploring Sam’s collection and were inspired to reflect upon his life and work. They were enthused by his diaries, his interest in ornithology, his photographs, and his songs. Some of the members of the group visited places that Sam wrote about, took their own photographs and recorded their thoughts on the place today, even writing new poems. The Yarn Spinners organised an event in Kilrea Town Hall.

On pinhole photography – “It’s something cool because your ancestors were doing it.”

“How important it is to retain archival material.”

“I feel inspired to keep my own diary and keep a log of nature around me throughout each season.