A play to remember history

Born out of a need for a more inclusive programme that targeted all adults who have been unlucky in education, “The Big Wall” project developed by the Hawk’s Well Theatre (HWT) realized an immersive piece of theatre at Sligo Courthouse and Sligo Prison. The play marked the 100th anniversary of the 1916 rising that led Ireland to its independence from Britain.

The programme brought together 66 learners from wide-ranging age groups, interests and skills levels in order to share history.

“The programme involved the public at every stage, attracting learners from all age ranges within our community, and provided multi-levelled education in a non-formal and creative setting,” says Jane Parsons who has been working in the project.

Wide public engagement

During the preliminary research phase, the participants started collecting local stories, which served as the basis of the play. As The Big Wall programme was based on the stories of Sligo told by the people of Sligo, it was fundamental to include multiple levels of community engagement. Including public involvement at research, development and performance phases of the project was critical to the authenticity of the project.

“This methodology proved to be an effective way of engaging a wide range of participants, from different social and economic backgrounds, including many unlikely learners.”

Finally, the 28 Acting for Adult’s participants were invited to join the cast of 6 professional actors and local youth drama groups. Heritage tours were also provided so that learners could gain a deeper understanding of the significance of the historical buildings used within the show. The show, an immersive theatrical experience, ran for 5 days, with 24 sold-out performances.

Thanks to this project, participants developed acting skills and reviewed the history of Sligo circa 1916. The Big Wall was transformative for both participants and audiences, giving them a multilevel experience, placing the learner in the very centre of the programme and generating a huge amount of interest locally.

The project had the additional outcome of igniting public interest in the social history of Sligo, resulting in a renewed interest in preservation and restoration of the past for future generations.

“Embedding the education programme within larger 1916 national anniversary programme gave the learners a real opportunity to work alongside professional actors and crew. This element of the programme attached people interested in drama and history as well as a general interest in being involved in a national remembrance.”

The project: The Big Wall

  • Award category: National projects (Ireland)
  • Learner target group: Adults who have been unlucky in education
  • Innovative practice: Involving the public in the educational activities

Project coordinator


The article series shares good practices on engaging new learners by introducing the nominees of the EAEA Grundtvig Award 2017.