Civil War examined the impact of the Covenanting era – a period of religious conflict in the late-seventeenth century - which has left a poignant physical heritage of monuments, graves and the sites of Conventicles (open-air services), scattered across the landscape of southwest Scotland.

We partnered with Dumfries and Galloway Youth Justice Service and Countryside Ranger Service to engage young people to investigate how this era shaped contemporary Scotland, and how these bloody events from the past compared to situations in their own lives.

Artist Sarah Forrest worked with a small group of teenagers to make a film documenting their reaction to these historic sites. The group also visited museums, galleries and graveyards in Edinburgh and Dumfries Museum where they handled historical objects, from swords to prayer books. They also camped at the Devil’s Beef Tub, where Covenanter John Hunter was murdered, and risked tumbling down the sheer drop of the ravine of the gorge at Crichope Linn, a treacherous Covenanter hideout.

The key artworks from the national collection we drew upon were Covenanting scenes depicted in nineteenth-century paintings and prints by Sir George Harvey. Harvey’s images proved to be contentious when exhibited, next to the images and films produced by the project participants at the project exhibition in the Baker’s Oven, Dumfries High Street, 29 May – 1 June 2013. These works were seen by some visitors as glorifying seventeenth century, religious fundamentalism, and by others as a reflection of the barbarity of the Royalist forces. These contrasting views proved the relevance of exploring historic events and provided project participants the opportunity to engage with members of the public in a lively debate centred around artwork they had created.

Jim Gordon, our partner from Dumfries and Galloway Council Youth Justice Team, had this to say about the project:

‘The boys, aged 15-16, involved in the project had a history of minor offending and anti-social behaviour, and were, to varying degrees, disengaged from education and, more generally, their community.

Working with the boys, whose own home backgrounds and experiences of mainstream and formal education were, on the whole, negative and who were fairly unfamiliar with praise, was not without its challenges. Visiting the galleries, museums and sites in Dumfries and Edinburgh to explore the history of Covenanting was not something these young people would have readily imagined enjoyable, yet working towards creating an exhibition gave these young people a sense of pride in their achievements and allowed them to show themselves in a new light to professionals from education and social work and, most importantly, to their own families.

From the perspective of our service, unquestionably in my own opinion, the benefits of such projects to young people and local communities is immeasurable. Our experience in Dumfries demonstrated how, in general, such a project  encourages and develops local partnerships and gives young people the opportunity to engage in the creative process and, through this, improve their self-esteem.’


The Nation//Live - CIVIL WAR

Artist Sarah Forrest and young people attached to the Dumfries and Galloway Youth Justice Team, investigate the ‘Killing Times’ of the seventeenth century. Civil War is the fourth part of The Nation//Live Outreach project.

Directed by Daniel Warren.

[Duration 11:41]


Covenanters' Ghosts

Photographic animation. Produced by project participants as part of The Nation//Live – Civil War.

[Duration 3:32]


Images from the project