A much-loved children’s book by a local author is the inspiration behind a new interactive public art and literature trail which opens in Lisburn today. (Tuesday 27 June)
Author and lifelong Lisburn resident, Sam McBratney wrote the international bestseller Guess How Much I Love You in 1994. It tells the story of Big Nutbrown Hare and Little Nutbrown Hare, who are trying to measure their feelings for each other. At last, Big Nutbrown Hare declares that he loves Little Nutbrown Hare ‘to the moon - and back’. This iconic phrase originated from Sam McBratney and is known the world over.
The heart-warming bedtime story went on to sell more than 55 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 57 languages.
Sam McBratney died in 2020 and the following year, Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council secured funding to create a public art and literature trail based on the children's classic to help celebrate his legacy.
Thanks to £132,000 in funding from Tourism NI, the Guess How Much I Love You-themed trail is free for the public to enjoy and can be accessed via a digital app or followed on a map collected from the local visitors’ centre in Lisburn. One version of the trail is suitable for ‘little hares’ and another for older children – but kids of all ages can develop their observational and navigational skills on this journey of discovery. They will collect 16 brass rubbings along the way: together they make up iconic imagery featured in the book.
In addition to the interactive element of the project, a series of public artworks has been commissioned to help bring the book to life. A 4 foot high bronze sculpture of two hares, created by sculptor Trudy Burke will grace Castle Gardens. Dotted across the trails are wooden Nutbrown Hares and three hand carved benches by artists Charlie Haag, Matthew Crabbe and James Elliott which feature scenes inspired by Guess How Much I Love You.
The author’s widow, Maralyn McBratney, is confident Sam would have been both humbled and delighted by this new attraction in the city. She said: “When we were on book tours, it didn’t matter where we were in the world – he was always happy to return to his home town, Lisburn.
“Our family is very proud to see the installation of the Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare trails across the city centre. We were really moved to see street art of the book’s illustrations in Haslem’s Lane earlier in the year. Anita Jeram did the beautiful drawings and it’s so lovely to see them provide pleasure to shoppers and passers-by. And it was an honour to see a ‘Guess’-themed Children’s Art Festival in the city too.
“Sam started writing as a student. His first published work was a series of articles on the history of Lisburn and he had many books published over the years, some based on family anecdotes and others springing purely from his imagination. The success of Guess How Much I Love You was a pleasant surprise for all of us and the book holds a special place in our hearts. It opened up new opportunities for Sam and at the same time gave parents, carers and teachers a book they could read to children to help express feelings and emotions.”
Local schoolchildren from Cairnshill Primary, Friends’ Prep, Meadowbridge Primary, Pond Park, the Atlas Centre and Harmony Hill Primary attended the official launch today. The children enjoyed following the Little Nutbrown Hare trail.
Councillor Thomas Beckett, Chair of the council’s Communities & Wellbeing Committee added: “The trail brings the messages and images of this much-loved children’s book to Lisburn City Centre and at the same time pays tribute to the great achievements of its author, the late Sam McBratney.
“We look forward to residents and visitors of all ages and nationalities enjoying this new tourist attraction that highlights the significant contribution Sam made to children’s lives worldwide.”
Ciaran Doherty, Head of Regions at Tourism NI, said: “Tourism NI is delighted to partner with LCCC in developing the Sam McBratney trail to encourage visitors to the region, learning about the culture and creating a connection to the place in a fun and imaginative way.
“It adds to the experiences on offer, not just in Lisburn, but Northern Ireland as a whole and is well aligned to the values of our Embrace a Giant Spirit brand,” he said.
To find out more go to www.lisburncastlereagh.gov.uk/guesshowmuchIloveyou
Pictured at the bronze sculpture of the two Nutbrown Hares from Guess How Much I Love You are: (l-r) Sarah McBratney; Councillor Thomas Beckett, Communities & Wellbeing Chairman; Mayor Councillor Andrew Gowan; Councillor Tim Mitchell, Vice-Chair of Regeneration and Growth Committee; David Burns, Chief Executive Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council and Maralyn McBratney.