Ambitious plans to commemorate the beginning of the Ulster-Scots diaspora in 1717 are being formulated by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.
But one voice of caution has been raised as the Council approved a potential expenditure of £60,000 on a programme of events to mark the departure of the ship ‘Friends Goodwill’, which is widely acknowledged as the first vessel to carry settlers from these shores to America, from the port of Larne.
A statue dedicated to these pioneers stands in Curran Park - which is epxected to be at the centrepoint of commemorations.
And, whilst the Council’s chief executive, Anne Donaghy, was granted powers to draft a programme of celebrations, the SDLP’s Declan O’Loan warned that public response may fall far short of expectations.
Cllr. O’Loan said he supported the initiative ‘in principle’ but was opposed to the scale of expenditure.
“Ballymena Council undertook a similar kind of Ulster/Scots themed event some years ago and - apart from one event which got a reasonable audience - the whole thing fell flat on its face,” he said.
In contrast to the lone view expressed by the SDLP man, there was a united welcome for the scale and scope of the celebrations from the remainder of those in the chamber.
Cllr. Gregg McKeen (DUP) said the events could be a ‘major showcase’ for the entire Mid and East Antrim area and not just Larne and applauded the Ulster American Folk Park for pledging support to the commemorations.
Echoing these sentiments, Cllr. Mark McKinty (UUP) said that the events would require some ‘tidy up’ operations at Curran Park.
He also suggested that the Ulster Scots Agency could play a significant role in the programme’s development.
Cllr. Jim Brown (Independent )noted that there was a very strong Carrickfergus connection to the emigration story with a prominent citizen of the town. Arthur Dobbs, being one of the main advocates of the Atlantic crossings.
And Ald. Maureen Morrow (UUP) said there was huge potential to expand the ‘target audience’ for a major Ulster Scots event of this nature towards the West of Scotland area which already boasts strong links with the East Antrim coastal region.
The working group selected to help plan the programme with the Chief Executive is to consist of Cllr. Gregg McKeen, Cllr. Angela Smyth, Cllr. Jim Brown, Cllr. Mark McKinty and Cllr. Ruth Wilson.