Oral History Network of Ireland
National organisation forms to support the practice and preservation of oral history
A major step forward for oral history in Ireland was heralded recently with the formation of a national organisation, established to co-ordinate and strengthen the work of oral history practitioners and groups across the country. The Oral History Network of Ireland, supported by some of the leading oral historians and organisations in the country, developed from a summer school and symposium held at the University of Limerick in 2009/10.
The group is planning to hold an inaugural international conference on oral history in Kilkenny in September of this year, and has already attracted the support and participation of leading Irish oral historians, community groups and academic institutions. These include Dr Anna Bryson, co-director of The Peace Process: Layers of Meaning Project and author of key publications on the current state of oral history in Ireland, Dr Mary Muldowney, author of Trinity and its Neighbours An Oral History (2009) and The Second World War and Irish Women An Oral History (2007), Dr Catherine O’Connor, course director of a new Certificate in Oral Heritage Studies at the University of Limerick, and Regina Fitzpatrick of the GAA Oral History Project, a large contemporary oral history project which makes imaginative use of new technologies to document GAA communities. Some of the other innovative oral history community groups involved with the network include Cuimhneamh an Chláir, the Clare Oral History and Folklore Group and the Northside Folklore Project in Cork.
The Oral History Network of Ireland aims to create a forum where anyone interested in using oral history can get advice and support on what can sometimes be a tricky medium to use. It plans to encourage new and existing projects, and to foster communication between oral historians, sharing experiences and ideas and discussing standards in practice and relevant technologies. OHNI is also interested in the creation, management and preservation of oral history collections. It intends to create a discussion forum to address ethical issues and other topics, on a local and national level, and to interact with oral historians and groups internationally.
According to Regina Fitzpatrick, a founding member of the group, who has been part of the GAA Oral History Project over the last two years, the formation of the Oral History Network of Ireland is long overdue. “Oral history in Ireland has been practiced by many committed individuals and groups for centuries. There have been a number of attempts at co-ordination in the past but, for various reasons, these failed to gather momentum. Embracing practitioners both at community level and within the Academy, and extending to Ireland, North and South, the Oral History Network of Ireland represents an exciting new departure. For the first time in Ireland, a unified network of practitioners is emerging: this will provide a long overdue opportunity for oral historians to pool resources, share information about best international practice and, more importantly, to identify issues relating to the preservation and promotion of Ireland’s oral heritage”.
According to Ms Fitzpatrick, there has been a major growth over the last number of years in the area of oral history and tradition with community groups and individuals across Ireland making significant efforts to record the oral heritage of their area. She explained that given this growth “the evidence suggests that there is a need for support at all organisational levels for individuals and groups practicing oral history in Ireland. The conference in September aims to seriously and comprehensively discuss these issues and to begin to address them in an inclusive and hopefully decisive way by providing a forum where people can seek and share advice on best practice”.
The development of the network and the conference have been welcomed by Professor Eunan O Halpin, Professor of Contemporary Irish History at Trinity College. According to O’Halpin, “The Oral History Network of Ireland is a very significant initiative which will facilitate the voluntary interchange of ideas, experience and expertise between people using living memory as a key historical source”.
Commenting on the objectives of the inaugural conference, Regina Fitzpatrick stated that: “One of the main purposes of the conference is to establish the position of oral history in Ireland and to ascertain how best to advance its cause. This will allow us to engage meaningfully with individuals, institutions, organisations and stakeholders who will ultimately contribute to the Network. However, the conference is also as much about getting people who are not involved in oral history to sit up and take notice of it as it is about sharing our own experiences of working in oral history, all of which is achievable through diverse programming as part of the conference”.
The group aims to establish contact with a view to supporting and encouraging anyone interested in the preservation of Ireland’s oral heritage and invite interested parties to email firstname.lastname@example.org. The inaugural conference of the Oral History Network of Ireland will be held in the Parade Tower, Kilkenny Castle on 16 and 17 September 2011.