Panel Session Abstracts

Conference Abstracts

Please note this is a draft schedule and may be subject to change

You can download a copy of the panel abstracts here: Conference Abstracts 2016


Friday, October 7

Panel A: Oral History, Memory, and Other Disciplines

Anne Etienne (UCC)

Gossiping against Amnesia: Remembering Corcadorca’s Merchant of Venice

This study examines the results of a collaborative experiment in oral history which I led with Irish theatre company Corcadorca in June-July 2015. The project ‘Creation and Reception’attempted to gather oral and written testimonies of Corcadorca’s nationally acclaimed site-responsive promenade production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice in 2005, when Cork was European Capital of Culture. The aim was to assess the legacy of the 25-year old theatre company through audience response, looking back at a turning point in their history – their landmark production of The Merchant – to launch further investigation on their work.

The project was devised as an open dialogue between past and present in its recourse to artefacts (the sites selected for the performance and revisited by our project), practices (our memory-triggering events) and discourses (the conversations that emerged during the project). The research process articulated three strands which were developed to rejig and record memories: a website; a site-specific photo exhibition and video installation (‘Revisiting the Merchant’); a roundtable where artists and spectators were invited to relate their experience of the production (‘Remembering the Merchant’).

Recent projects such as ‘Critical Mass’and ‘Spirit of Theatre’, ongoing research on alternative theatre ‘Unfinished Stories’, and Katya Johanson’s critical assessment of the value of oral history applied to performance studies offer useful contrapuntal references and practices in relation to the theoretical historian scope developed by Paul Thompson, and Perks and Thomson. The paper will present the project’s objectives shortcomings, and quantitative results, and engage with such oral history scholarship to contrast the methodology and reinterpretation process involved in a research which aimed to record traces ten years after the performance. Building on the oft expressed concept and concern of the disappearance of performance and the counteracting impulse to archive (developed in publications by Heike Roms, Mike Pearson, Matthew Reason and Willmar Sauter), the paper will analyse what the project has captured of this past production.

Denis Shine (Irish Archaeology Field School)

From Arnhem Land to Ireland: Ethnoarchaeology and its importance to place and personhood

This presentation will focus on the relationships between people place and personhood, and how

these are examined ‘archaeologically’, in two radically different contexts – western Arnhem Land in

the Northern Territory, Australia and Trim Town in County Meath, Ireland. The speaker will argue that a more holistic archaeological approach greatly improves the standard and scope of the archaeological research and can have important benefits for the local communities ‘hosting’ such research.

Specifically the presentation will focus of the importance of an ethnoarchaeological approach, which incorporates traditional knowledge, oral histories and folklore as a core component of archaeological inquiry. Such a multi-stranded strategy, when taken with other lines of inquiry, can often produce surprising and enlightening results. As importantly ethnohistory is an important mechanism to engage local communities in the study of their past and frequently can prevent them feeling disenfranchised from the archaeological process. The speaker will use two distinct examples to help illustrate the potential of oral histories in archaeology from both a traditional ‘oral’ society and a more ‘westernised’ context.

Sinéad Kathy Rice (Education Manager – National Gallery of Ireland/ PhD Candidate /Fiosraigh Scholar, Dublin Institute of Technology)

A Tale of Two Cities: Representations and Recollections of Dublin in the Mid-Twentieth Century

Material pertaining to everyday urban life is notably underrepresented in the National Collection. According to the 2008 Statement of Strategy, one of the core responsibilities for the National Museum of Ireland is to “collect, promote and exhibit all examples of Ireland’s portable material heritage”. However, there remains no systematic or sustained policy for gathering the ordinary objects of the everyday or reflecting modern and contemporary society. If the facets of urban life remain outside of national collection policy concerns, and by extension the institutions usually associated with safeguarding collective memory, what then can be done to bridge this gap in the national collection and how can we explore, portray and display a more inclusive history?

Specifically focusing on Dublin City and the mid-twentieth century; a period significant as it grazes the periphery of living memory, this presentation highlights key findings from an ongoing PhD project combining a re-examination of related collections and archives with a new body of socially engaged primary oral history research. Utilizing new museum and innovative education strategies to collect oral history accounts from the subject, the presentation will focus on one core case study currently in process: The interpretation of Oral History collected through a community engagement curatorial project with the CDP Officer and resident members of the Robert Emmett Community Centre, Dublin 8.

Panel B: Project Showcases – Digital Projects

Danielle O’Donovan (Irish Heritage Trust & TCD)

Great Famine Voices: Capturing the ‘Lived Experience’ of the Great Famine through Crowdsourcing Document Transcription and Family or Community Memory

In 2015 The Irish Heritage Trust, custodians of the Strokestown Great Famine Archive, and the ADAPT Centre, Trinity College Dublin, came together to create an online crowdsourcing platform. On this platform we exposed a number of documents from the Strokestown Great Famine Archive for transcription.

In tandem with this website we ran a ‘community collection day’ informed by RunCoCo, the Oxford Community Collection Model, at Strokestown Park. We invited members of the local community to come and share any Famine related community memory with us. We envisage growing this project in a number of phases and are particularly keen to encourage members of the Irish diaspora to share Famine and 19th century emigration stories with us. We feel that this stories would make an incredible complimentary ‘human experience and memory’ collection to the archive we hold at Strokestown.

James Furey, Laura Murphy & Penny Johnston (Cork Folklore Project)

Stories of Place: a new memory map of Cork city

This is a showcase of a revamped digital oral history map by the Cork Folklore Project. The original Cork Memory Map, first created in 2010, included many audio stories taken from the Cork Folklore Project archive and associated with place or points on the map. This has now been given a brand new interface and lots of new stories have been added. Our aim is to create a textured and multi-dimensional narrative of Cork city that highlights local experience.

We would like to share our new project with the wider oral history community. This presentation will include an introduction to the new memory map, a short account of how we built the site, some audio clips from the new stories on the map, and a presentation of the guidelines that we have written to help other oral history practitioners build similar digital projects.

Nicola Stathers (UCC)

Intentional/Unintentional Oral History: Conversations on George Boole

As part of the George Boole 200 Bicentenary Commemorations at University College Cork in 2015, I managed an oral history project led by a team of STEM Academics. They sought to document the role of Boolean logic, 150 years after its first articulation, among leading researchers in advanced mathematical and engineering fields.

In part this was an unintentional Oral History project – one goal was to promote the University as part of a programme of commemorative celebrations. However it resulted in 16 very interesting interviews, focused on understanding the effect of an idea and the narrative of an individual’s contribution within the Mathematical Sciences. The interviewers were not trained in oral history, yet these academic conversations are extremely valuable nonetheless, in part because they are highly technical and illuminate the culture of a specific field of study.

The resulting project, Conversations on George Boole, was actually a very intentional Oral History. The preparations were rigorously conducted and the resulting interviews meticulously edited. They are sensitively displayed online in the context of the overall project, and have been archived for posterity to the highest standards. In part this is due to the focused nature of the commemorations, which could complete a professional oral history for what is at the end of the day, a very particular project.


Is there an enduring value in conducting oral testimony even when it is not conceived as oral history? There is of course a great legacy of these sorts of projects and it is important to consider the trends in the wake of affordable digital technologies.

Would this project ever be integrated with the wider world of oral history? There are untold isolated collections around highly specific themes. Some subjects are inevitably more popular than others. For example, Conversations on George Boole could be considered a valuable micro-collection of interviews due to its great insight to an academic culture that is both local and global but often is inaccessible to the public and the humanities simply because the work is so abstract and technical.

As an historian trained in oral history in 2009 – but working as a digital marketer in the non-profit sector since 2012 – it strikes me that this project highlights an evolution within academia as technologies like social media, content marketing and web development become increasingly important to the access and display of Oral History.

Jackie Uí Chionna (NUIG)

A University in Living Memory”: An Oral History of University College Galway

The University in Living Memory” was an Oral History research project initiated in 2007 by N.U.I., Galway under the auspices of the Office of the Vice-President for Student Services and Human Resources. The college’s primary objective in initiating the project was establish what it was like to study, teach or work at UCG over a fifty year period, 1930-1980, and to recognise and record for posterity aspects of the history of the college which have made it such a unique and colourful place through the decades.

Dr. Jackie Uí Chionna, of the university’s History Department, was appointed as Senior Researcher to the project, and in the course of two years over sixty interviews were conducted, in Irish and English, with informants ranging from the college President to grounds men, porters, lecturers, and alumni across all the academic disciplines. The interviews are testament to the fact that the college meant, and continues to mean, a great deal to all those associated with it over the years. This paper will examine the interview process itself, and the diversity of experiences identified by informants in the course of their interviews.

Saturday, October 8

Panel C: Institutions

Fiona Byrne

Creating a digital resource with sensitive material: The St. Davnet’s archive on the Digital Repository of Ireland

St. Davnet’s was founded in 1869 and catered for Cavan and Monaghan counties. It was one of the many district asylums built throughout Ireland, in the 1800s, to care for those with mental illness. St. Davnet’s hospital was a key building in Monaghan and was a central employer for the area. In addition to the staff at the hospital, at its peak St. Davnet’s had over 900 patients. In this way many people have connections to hospital directly or indirectly and been part of its story.

This oral history project was funded by the Health Service Executive of Cavan and Monaghan with a view to documenting the history of St. Davnet’s while there was still significant local knowledge in the community. It was part of a wider project looking at the history of the site, involving archival scoping, community workshops, tours, an exhibition and a book.

Being a publicly funded project it was very important that a level of access for the community and the public was built into the creation of the oral history archive. It was also paramount that interviews were anonymous and secure. This presentation will look at the project, the challenges that it presented and the solutions that were reached.

Marcin Stasiak

Sweet Home, Hospital? – Oral History of Polio Rehabilitation Centres in Poland (Świebodzin, Poznań and Konstancin cases)

This paper draws attention on rehabilitation centres and orthopaedic hospitals created in Poland for polio epidemics survivors. The presentation focuses especially on certain problems of daily life in sites from early 50s till mid 70s. The basis for such analysis are interviews with former patients recorded in past three years.

Several orthopaedic and rehabilitation facilities were created in Poland as instant reaction on major polio epidemic outbreak in 1951. At the beginning they were designed for infants and children as epidemics struck mainly the youngest. And they became the real landmarks in biographies of many people with polio related-impairment as some of them spent there years. I would like to focus on three centres located in: Świebodzin , Poznań and Konstancin, as the biggest and most influential ones.

The focal point of the presentation is ambiguity of rehabilitation centres for people with polio-related impairments. On one hand they were places of “medical regime”, basically sites of long-term treatment: surgeries, massages, exercises etc. On the other – they were spaces of everyday life especially for patients but also for staff.

I would like to examine intersection of these two domains. My aim is to show, using oral evidences and other sources, how they coexisted with each other: what was role of impairment in the whole issue; how relationships between patients and staff looked like; if/how patients’ behaviour and reactions could influence practice of rehabilitation; how patients interact with physical environment of hospital.

Additional paper TBC

Panel D: Beyond Interviews

Gertrude Cotter (UCC)

Behind the Curtain

Behind the Curtain” is a series of digital stories told by six Older Family Carers. Working with the Older Person’s Group at the Cork Branch of Family Carers Ireland, Gertrude Cotter worked with each of the carers in order to give a voice to people who are often hidden “behind the curtain”.

This paper interrogates how the use of digital story telling transforms oral history. Activism for social change has moved to an online space where public self-expression has become a marker for civic engagement. This paper questions whether or not this transformation is liberating for the story-tellers. It explores the tangled connections between identity, intimacy, activism and social change and emergent understandings of privacy in these new spaces. It also explores how “intimate citizenship” has become indispensable in self-representation strategies and its contribution to oral history. It asks if and how these processes affirm vulnerable identities among their real and imagined networked publics. It also asks how we can prevent serious civic activities from becoming “slacktivism” given the ease with which one can now participate in online civic engagement even from behind the curtain. It looks at the use of digital story telling to engage third level students in citizenship issues.

Finally it asks how digital story telling for community activism, the shifting nature of the public sphere, the values of expression, the nature of civic agency and the impact of new technologies have on the meaning of oral history.

Cormac Sheehan (UCC)

What happens when the interview is over?

Ethnographic data is a strange thing – some say ethnographers are even stranger. Theoretical standpoints within the social sciences come and go, but ethnographic data is timeless.

Ethnographies of cultures outlast cultures. The whole world can move on, yet there must be countless hours of recordings of people’s voices, their images, their stories, in the world – on desk tops, in filing cabinets, bound in endless piles theses, on scraps of stained paper, or lost forever.

What people say about themselves, regardless of when or where it happened, has a gravitas, and a constant importance, that statistical data does not. The latter is often in a state of becoming out-of-date. What happens to ethnographical data? Who has control over it? Is there a limit to its use and reuse?

This paper reflects a tiny corner in the annals of ethnographic data. The paper will first give a context to how ethnography methods and aims have changed over the last twenty years. The paper will also examine two examples of ethnographic field data, from different studies and use these to elucidate the changes on a professional and personal level. This paper will ask what are the limits of ethnography and ethnographers when acquired by commercial and industrial businesses? Finally, this paper will reflect on the ethics of research and the challenges faced by those working as ethnographers.

Elizabeth Kiely (UCC)

Opportunities and Challenges in Collecting, Preserving and Disseminating Irish Oral Heritage in a Digital World

In 2015 a small amount of funding was secured through the UCC research office strategic research grant to explore the feasibility of establishing a sound archive in the university. Part of this initiative involved enriching and standardising the metadata for two oral history project collections – Irish Women’s Work and Breaking the Silence – which had been online and had become inaccessible in the absence of resources or support to sustain their online presence.

Another part of the initiative involved undertaking an audit of oral history resources and the state of their collections held by academics and students in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences within the university. In this panel presentation, the presenters will identify based on their experiences to date the many opportunities for oral history in a digital age but also the many challenges.

Panel E: Confronting Expectations

Máire Leane (UCC)

There’s no way you would tell out those things’: Older Irish Women’s Accounts of Courtship, Pregnancy and Reproduction

This paper explores Irish women’s accounts of what they were told about reproduction, menstruation and sexuality when they entered adolescence between the mid 1940s and mid 1950s. The interviews were conducted in 1998/99 with 21 Irish women living in Cork and Tipperary. The women who were born between 1914 and 1955 ranged in age from 83 to 42 at the time of interview.

The women’s stories reveal what if felt like to live as a woman in the period prior to the mid 1970s when legal and social constraints on women’s sexual and reproductive lives began to reduce. As such it provides a public memory of an intimate aspect of life in Irish society in the forties and fifties. While recollections of sexual desire and pleasure did feature in some accounts, it was the difficulties experienced around sexuality and reproduction that were spoken about in greatest detail. What emerges clearly from the accounts is the confusion, anxiety, shame and silence which shaped women’s experiences of their bodies and their sexuality.

Erin McCarthy (Columbia College Chicago)

Once an Activist, Always an Activist?: the Legacy of the 1968 Student Protests and Activism—Did it Stick?

History remembers 1968 as a year of mass protests and failed revolutions. In the United States, following the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy and the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Chicago (as the “whole world…watch[ed]”), the Democratic Party splintered beyond repair as the police and youthful protesters battled on the streets and in the parks. The Republicans, taking full advantage of a deeply divided nation, swept Richard M. Nixon and the Conservatives into office, insuring the Vietnam War would continue indefinitely. Across Europe, mass socialist movements rose and then fell, due to extreme repression by governments and their police forces.

In the spring of 2015, the Columbia College Chicago Archives and the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago (CRLMC) launched Chicago ’68!, a multi-year, student-led, oral history project to record and preserve the eyewitness histories of individuals who witnessed and/or participated in the historic events of the year 1968 in Chicago. The first group of interviews explored the role of religious leadership and activism and documented the response to a series of crises—including the anti-war movement, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, and the Democratic National Convention—in order to gain a deeper understanding of the era. Notably, Chicago “68! narrator’s echoed several themes found in the Chicago History Museum’s oral history project: I Was There: the 1968 Democratic National Convention; namely, the interviewed activists drew a direct link between their activism in the 1960s and the successful, grassroots political coalition that elected Harold Washington, the first black mayor of Chicago, in 1983.

This project seeks to learn if this pattern was repeated in 1968 student movement in Northern Ireland. What happened to the student activists who founded the People’s Democracy at Queen’s University, Belfast?

Jack Crangle (QUB)

Interviewing the ‘other’ in Northern Ireland: immigrants and racism in a sectarian landscape

In twentieth century Northern Ireland it was sometimes claimed that people were ‘too busy being sectarian’ to be racist. This assumption was flawed, however, its prevalence is linked to a recurring trend in historical writing on Northern Ireland: a blinkered focus on the sectarian divide to the detriment of wider issues. Oral history is no exception. Some fantastic oral histories of Northern Ireland have been written and their authors have demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of how the community background of researchers and interviewees can influence the interview situation. Yet, oral historians’ preoccupation with the communal divide has reinforced a binary conception of identity in Northern Ireland; participants are assumed to be either Catholic/nationalist/Republican or Protestant/unionist/Loyalist.

My paper will examine the unique research questions presented by interviewing immigrants in Northern Ireland. In a society assumed to be comprised of two opposing identities, I ask where ‘other’ groups fit in. What factors shaped immigrants’ national identity in a region where the receiving population was divided over whether they were British, Irish or Northern Irish? What influenced migrants’ choice of neighborhood or school, decisions which were often influenced by sectarian geography? Has the animosity stemming from sectarian hatred exacerbated racial prejudice, or was Northern Ireland, as some claimed, genuinely one of the most racially tolerant places in the UK? In this presentation I will reflect upon the interviews I have conducted thus far. I will provide some tentative conclusions and discuss the challenges presented by interviewing immigrants in a polarised society.

Panel F: Changing Places

Peter Hodson (QUB)

There’s bugger all left, except in our hearts”: Durham pit closures, landscape change and embedded memories

The presentation looks at place attachment and landscape change in the deindustrialised pit villages of County Durham. After a prolonged withdrawal from the region by the National Coal Board, by 1993 deep coal mining, once the dominant economic activity in North East England, was eradicated. Almost without exception, colliery sites were quickly bulldozed and turned into open spaces or housing developments.

Memories of these sites as thriving industrial, social and cultural hubs has, however, proved more durable. For the pit closure generation, former colliery sites (and Miners’ Welfare clubs which remain) are cherished and stamped with a sense of ownership. Former miners take sanctuary in the past and their memories of the industry, though often tinged with bitterness, are used to escape the uncertainty and social decay of the present. Using oral testimony collected in pit villages (including walking interviews conducted at former colliery sites), the emotional attachment between people and industrial sites will be explored.

For the generation born after pit closures, the eagerness of former mining families to commemorate what was widely acknowledged as a dirty, dangerous job, is met with puzzlement. For the post-pit generation, the colliery site is of peripheral importance, eclipsed by more pressing issues such as social hardship and job scarcity which continue to afflict former mining areas. Deindustrialisation is a lived, ongoing process which has did not cease with the closure of pits. The presentation will offer some thoughts on the tensions implicit in community memory, and acts of defiance by former mining families to guard against the complete physical erasure of ‘their’ industry and heritage.

Rhona McCord (TCD)

From Dairy Farm to Unidare: The changing shape of Co. Dublin, Finglas a Case Study

In the late 1940s the rural village of Finglas, in north county Dublin, was home to approximately 900 people; in the early 1950s the population exploded with the development of large Corporation housing schemes, which engulfed the old village.

The lands surrounding Finglas were primarily used for dairy cattle. The local Merville Dairy, owned by the Craigie family, was a substantial employer in the area. The dairy coexisted for some time in the late 1940s with the Unidare industrial complex. This engineering company, at its height employed over 2,000 people and operated an apprentice scheme for young school leavers.

As Dublin Corporation enforced compulsory purchase orders on much of the local farmland; the nature of this rural village began to undergo rapid change. The agricultural jobs began to dry up as the dairies became smaller and industral activity began to increase around the site of the Unidare company. Thousands of families, mostly from the inner city, were re-housed in the Corporation schemes and the rural village quickly vanished.

This paper will examine the transition of the wider Finglas area from a largely rural area dominated by dairies to a modern suburb with a vibrant industrial centre. Using oral testimonies as the main source it will examine the impact of change on this small village, its people and its newer residents.

John A. Phayer (Convent Primary School & Limerick Education Centre)

An exploration of domestic and industrial turf cutting in Castleconnell, Co. Limerick and Newport, Co. Tipperary

This presentation explores traditional methods of cutting and saving turf in two bogs bordering each other, namely, Mackey’s Bog, Castleconnell and Shower Bog, Newport, based on oral descriptions provided by individuals who cut turf from the area. Traditional turf-cutting tools and turf-saving techniques adopted by local turf-cutters from both regions will be illustrated.

The presentation concludes by discussing the first industrial turf-cutting machine introduced in Mackey’s Bog at the start of the 20th Century based on testimonies from individuals who lived in close proximity to this industry.

Panel G: Project Showcases

Carmel McKenna (An Comhdháil)

From Reel to Real: Re-calling Irish Dance at a Crossroads

An Comhdháil na Múinteoirí le Rincí Gaelacha faoi Theoirainn Ráthaíochta (An Comhdháil – Congress of Irish Dance Teachers) can trace its origins as a stand-alone organisation representing the interests of Irish dance teachers to 1970, yet little is known about the organisation, the circumstances under which it was founded, or the key personalities involved in the early days of its existence.

This presentation aims to briefly introduce the organisation and the current oral history project being undertaken by me on behalf of An Comhdháil. In particular, the presentation will focus on how what began as simply recording interviews with some founder members for posterity has evolved into a more comprehensive, longer-term, multi-stranded project.

Geoff Roberts (UCC)

Irish Volunteers in the British Armed Forces during the Second World War

The Volunteers Project” was established by myself and Brian Girvin at UCC in the mid-1990s. Its primary purpose was to interview Irish war veterans who had volunteered and served in the British Armed Forces during World War II. Our interests were social and political rather than military and that is the main thrust of the project’s interviews with veterans.. The interviews were conducted – in Ireland – by the journalist Tina Neylon. The project archive – which is located in our offices at UCC – has c.60 taped interviews.

Charles Duggan (Dublin City Council) & Kelly Fitzgerald (UCD)

Number 14 Henrietta Street

Oral histories recalling life in Dublin’s tenements is central to the Tenement Museum Dublin project at 14 Henrietta Street. To this end in September 2015 Dublin City Council, working with the National Folklore Foundation, began the Urban Memories and Tenement Experiences oral history project, to record the memories of people who lived in tenements on Henrietta Street and across Dublin. The project includes Reminiscence evenings, formal interviews and Remembering the Tenements open days. The interviews gathered have guided the design of conservation works in the house and will be central to the museum exhibition when it opens in 2017.

Jennifer Yeager, Kate McCarthy, and Jonathan Cullegon (Waterford IT)

Acts of Silence at St. Mary’s Good Shepherd Laundry, College Street Campus, Waterford

This project showcase will discuss the Waterford Memories Project ( event planned for October 22nd, 2016 titled When Silence Falls: Exploring Bodily and Literary Memory in the Waterford Laundry (funded by the Irish research Council). The project will explore the current implications of how we remember and commemorate the Magdalene Laundries by focusing primarily on St. Mary’s Good Shepherd Laundry in Waterford (currently the College Street Campus of Waterford Institute of Technology) and data gathered as part of the Waterford Memories Project (primarily oral histories and archival research).

In particular, the showcase will consider the role of the arts in making visible and ritualising absence and memory when informed by oral history testimony, and how commemorative performance in the building of a former Laundry can be used to reflect on “public silence in the performance space” (Laermanns, 1999, p.3).

Panel H: Migrant Experiences

Angela Maye-Banbury (Sheffield Hallam University)

The famished soul: A corporeal-spiritual continuum in Irish men’s reconstructions of emigration to England

Existing housing pathway research in respect of immigrant communities acknowledges the role of memory implicitly (Robinson et al 2007; Robinson, 2010). Equally, the extent to which socioeconomic disadvantage manifests itself as both housing and food insecurities has formed the basis of studies undertaken by Borjas (2004), Brown and Getz (2011) Kirkpatrick and Tarasuk (2011), Sellen (2002) and others.

This paper adopts a different stance. Here, the case is made for using food and more specifically eyewitness accounts of hunger recounted a century apart to further understanding regarding how Irish men negotiated their sociocultural identity on arrival from Ireland to England. The case is made for a new milieu of memory, referred to as a ‘corporeal – spiritual’ continuum, through which the men’s experiences may be explored. By foregrounding the metaphysical interplay between body, spirit and soul exemplified by food in respect of the Irish immigrant experience in England, the paper reveals how a corporeal and spiritual continuum serves to unite individual and collective memory.

The paper postulates that the more fluid, discursive and multi layered medium of corporeal-spiritual memory helps create an alternative lieux de mémoire (site of memory) (Nora, 1999) through which new insights regarding how Irish men negotiated their sociocultural identity England’s urban centres may be construed. In considering this metaphysical interplay, the paper draws on both eyewitness accounts of the Famine era and the oral histories of men who migrated to England in 1950s and 1960s.

Michael Mulvey (NUIM)

The Elephant in the Room’: Oral History, Cultural Myth and Self-identity in the Migrant Irish Builders of Postwar London

The theme of this paper is the tendency of cultural representations of migrant Irishness in the post‐war reconstruction period to take on tendentious and mythological qualities which skew our retrospectives ‐ social and historical ‐ on the period. Transnational socio-economic histories take scant account of the experiences of migrant Irish builders in post-war London.

Yet, because of the predominantly oral transmission of histories of the ‘mailboat generation’, cultural memory within the Irish and the multi-generational London-Irish is replete with tales of Cuchulainn-like heroes of construction and civil engineering works with epic nicknames: ‘The Elephant’, ‘The Bear’, and ‘The Horse’. Warrior narratives of Donegal’s ‘Tunnel-tigers’, ‘McAlpine’s Fusiliers’, ‘Murphy’s Rangers’ and ‘Pincher Mac’s Men’ are encapsulated in songs and stories, remediated through fictional retellings, often created at a significant cultural and chronological distance from the original sources. This paper contends that these were constructed identity formations which mythologised the mundanities of working life in London whilst simultaneously attenuating post-revolutionary ‘official’ discourses of Catholic, nationalist, Gaelic Ireland.

Key issues briefly considered include:

  • Post-revolutionary historical ‘bowdlerisation’, nationalism and post-conflict memory in the self-identification of Irish builders in post-war London?

  • The Cuchulainn trope, gangers, leading miners and pacemakers.

  • Irish attitudes to ‘Lump’ and labour-only subcontracting, hegemonic masculinity, aggression and reckless working.

  • Post-colonial resistance, latent nationalism and multiculturalism in the ‘mailboat’ generations and the London-Irish builders.

This paper synthesises elements of British construction history, Irish socioeconomic history and London-Irish construction-industry folklore to examine themes of migration and ideas of migrant ‘nationhood’ and integration.

Sonia Knapczyk (Jagiellonian University)

Migrants to Bieszczady Mountains (Poland, 1950s – 1970s): Hopes versus Reality

The paper focuses on one of the aspects of economic migrations, which is confrontation of hopes of the migrants along with their motivations and ideas with given reality. The case study that is to be presented is internal, long term economic migration to Bieszczady Mountains situated in the south-eastern Poland (part of the Carpathians) – to the territory of specific geographic character.

The recently completed research project on the above subject matter, was based on both oral history and archival autobiographies. The written autobiographies came from late 1960s and the archive was the result of national autobiography contest – one of hundreds organized in Poland in 20th century.

In Polish People’s Republic Bieszczady Mountains were not “politically neutral” region – geography and borderlines got an extra meaning here. Hence economic settlement in Bieszczady in the second half of the twentieth century had a specific political context, ex. the restoration of the country, propaganda of the communist authorities, polonization of the region formerly inhabited by Ruthenians.

In my presentation I would like to show how and to what extent a specific space had influenced the migrants’ life and how they narrate about that. Topography, fauna and flora constitute Bieszczady as an extraordinary region with huge natural values but in the 1950s as well as decades later those were settlers’ biggest everyday challenge. The landscape of their homelands and previous living conditions, personal motivations of migration and the moment of a lifetime in which that crucial decision had been made – these were all the factors creating migrants’ ways of adaptation to a new place of residence and influencing their attitudes towards Bieszczady.

Panel I: Leisure

Marta Kurkowska-Budzan (Jagiellonian University)

Experiencing Provinces: Sport in Small Towns of Socialist Poland

The paper presents fragments of the recently completed project, which aim was to locate sport within the “new lifestyle” that had emerged in Polish small towns after II WW but also to depict the “powiat (province) socialist style” of political and economic community. The source base for this paper comes from fieldwork that has been conducted in two townships: Kolno (10.5 thousand inhabitants) and Lubartów (22.5 thousand).

From the perspective of documents released by government and organised sport institutions, during the set interval of 1945-1989, the chosen towns were unequivocally provincial – located a fair distance from the capital, subject to decisions regarding various areas of social life made in relevant “centres” (named “associations”, “unions”, etc.). Furthermore, on the district or communal level, these towns were local intermediary channels: as local or subregional administrative centres, they conveyed political decisions and consequently implemented them. They were also the closest and most direct source of “urban lifestyle” models for inhabitants of nearby village areas, however distant in essence they were from the sociological model, which primarily refers to large towns, i.e. the metropolitan and city lifestyle.

The paper focuses on space, which is of special value to a group, in this case the community of a small town. Florian Znaniecki wrote, “a cultural researcher must take space (…) with its humanist aspect, i.e. as it is experienced by human subjects, whose culture is being studied (…)”. Space is a relational, variable and dynamic category, socially construed, what shows vividly through oral history interviews.

Sam Manning (QUB)

Post-war cinema-going and working-class communities: a case study of the Holyland, Belfast, 1945-1962

In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, cinema-going was the predominant commercial leisure activity in urban centres across Britain and Ireland. In 1948, Belfast was served by forty cinemas. During the 1950s, however, increased affluence, the introduction of television and the diversification of leisure activities meant that cinema attendance declined rapidly. Between 1956 and 1962, eighteen cinemas closed in Belfast.

This paper utilises oral history testimony to investigate cinema-going practices and the decline in cinema attendance in the Holyland, a largely Protestant working-class community in post-war Belfast. It investigates the place-specific nature of cinema attendance, assesses the social practices of cinema-going and examines the reasons for the decline in cinema attendance and consequent cinema closures. Oral history testimony demonstrates the close link between the nature of cinema attendance, changes in the life-cycle and the built environment. By linking this oral history testimony to broader social and economic developments in Belfast, and assessing Northern Ireland’s relationship to the rest of the United Kingdom, this paper investigates the reasons for the closure of the Apollo, the local neighbourhood cinema for residents of the Holyland.

Sarah Culhane (University of Bristol)

Italian Cinema Audiences – Experiences of cinema-going in post-war Italy: building and sharing an oral history archive’

The Italian Cinema Audiences project – funded by the AHRC – provides the first comprehensive study of cinema audiences in Italy in the 1950s, when Italians went to the cinema more than almost any other nation in Europe. It explores the social experience of cinema-going by interviewing over 1000 surviving audience members, analysing their responses, and contextualizing these responses through further archival research.

This large-scale empirical research into Italian audiences is time-sensitive and driven by the need to document cinema-goers memories, before this audience disappears. At the centre of the project are those people whose stories about cinema need to be told, understood and disseminated. This paper discusses three of the key ways that the Italian Cinema Audiences project has used digital technologies and online platforms to 1) build an oral history archive 2) share this archive with researchers and non-academic users.

1. Central to the project’s creation of an oral history archive are the video-interviews, which were conducted with 160 participants. This paper outlines how these interviews were analysed and catalogued for dissemination via our website.

2. We have also used social media (Facebook) to try to engage further with our demographic and to create a forum where users can share their memories of cinema-going in the 1950s. This paper will reflect on the challenges in sharing our research and engaging with so called ‘digital immigrants’ via online platforms.

3. The final element of this paper presents findings from a user engagement focus group in which we trialled a memory map (created using History Pin software) of Rome’s cinema network in the 1950s. Layered with archive images of the original cinemas, film posters and photos of stars, this map is both a historical resource and a mnemonic tool, which we hope will facilitate greater engagement with elderly users.

This free event has been made possible through the support of
Béaloideas/Folklore and Ethnology, UCC and The Heritage Council.

HERITAGECOUNCILlogo        UCC logo2