Jazz musician Melanie O’Reilly invited us to take part in a conference in Ouistreham, in Normandy. This town has a harbour that serves as the port of Caen. It is also a lively and touristic town with many cultural and social events. As part of the French Heritage Week, the Mayor of Ouistreham decided that Irish culture and heritage should be put in the spotlight with concerts, conferences and exhibitions. Wexford was very well represented with Tom Mooney, Catherine McPartlin from Ferns Heritage Project, David Creevy and Kevin Lawlor from the Wexford School of Music and Chris, Alan and I from the Heritage Park.
The conference started and finished with two concerts led by Melanie O’Reilly and the director of Wexford School of Music. Chris had two presentations to do over the weekend: one about the Heritage Park and one on the Carrig Project. We were well prepared for the presentations, Alan had made videos and I had added French subtitles. Chris’ presentations went really well, I translated most of it and helped with the questions and answers. We enjoyed our time in Ouistreham and are very happy with the connections we made there.
While organising our trip to Normandy, we decided to visit Ornavik, a 25-acre park that tells the story of Normandy in the 10th and 11th centuries. I had been to Ornavik two years ago during my holiday back home and was hoping that Chris and Alan would enjoy their visit as much as I did back then. We met up with Pascale, the director of Ornavik, who is a lovely, driven and very open-minded lady. We exchanged a lot of ideas and decided that it would be great to work together on different projects in the coming years. Pascale agreed to come and visit us next spring.
Ornavik works on a volunteer scheme: they have 3 employees and 150 volunteers from all over Normandy and from different backgrounds. They do not require skills to sign up but they try their hand at different projects (stone work, thatching, blacksmithing…). There were about 25 volunteers that day, all dressed up in costumes and going at their duties. They were all very passionate and eager to share their knowledge and skills…What struck me the most was the relaxed atmosphere, visitors weren’t rushed around from one site to the next. The volunteers took their time chatting to them, explaining what they were making or building and exchanging tips and stories. We also tasted some lovely Viking flatbread and homemade honey and were welcomed to play traditional board games.
The visit to Ornavik was a real eye opener for the three of us and we came back to Ireland inspired by this lovely community based outdoor museum.