I have an interest in Frongoch about which I have already blogged. But that is the hardcopy, so to speak. The above invite is to the launching of Frongoch on the Digital Repository of Ireland's (DRI) website as part of their Inspiring Ireland project.
So I turned up early at Collins Barracks and on my way in briefly joined a group of Cork students in the yard. They were getting an introduction to the museum from one of their lecturers before going on in to see the 1916 exhibition.
He was not only giving a virtuoso performance in deconstructing Irish history but he was very strongly making the point that the students should not just take at face value the objects presented to them in the displays. They should interrogate them - asking themselves why particular objects had been chosen for display, who chose them and what was the agenda.
It was the first time I heard that approach applied to a general national museum. It reminded me of how the newpapers make the news: whatever they choose to cover is news, the rest just didn't happen. I must say, seeing the museum presented in this way to students gave me some hope for the future both of the students and of the museum itself.
Anyway, that's not what we're here for. The Museum's director, Raghnall Ó Floinn, kicked off the proceedings, welcoming all to this great location and outlining the main features of the launch and the role of the National Museum of Ireland. He was anxious, as usual, to stress that the museum was not just a collection of individual static objects. It was living history where the objects had a context. This context was a dynamic one influenced by research carried out by the museum itself, by the latest third party research in the area and not least by the reactions of the visiting public.
Natali Harrower, DRI's director, explained what The Digital Repository of Ireland is all about. It is a really massive collaborative effort and deserves every encouragement and support.
It is built by a consortium of research partners: RIA (lead institution), MU, TCD, DIT, NUIG and NCAD. DRI is also supported by a network of academic, cultural, social, and industry partners, including NLI, NAI and RTÉ.
The idea is to preserve in digital form the life and heritage of the nation. You can get the long version here.
I'm sure Caitríona Crowe won't mind me describing her as a veteran. She has been in the wars, fighting to preserve the country's heritage in the National Archives of Ireland and making sure the public have free access to it. It seems to me that she has won her wars and gloriously so.
The digitisation of the 1901 and 1911 Censuses of Ireland and their free availability was not only a major feat on her part but the product itself is a thing of beauty.
Caitríona has just retired from the National Archives but I trust she will continue to be as busy in retirement. Her country needs her.
Her main concern in her talk at the launch was the need to ensure that the more modern material is preserved for the future. Much, if not most, of this stuff is purely digital and could become inaccessible through the march of technology (help I can't read my floppy disc) and inadequate collection and storage. At least with the paper stuff someone has to actively shred or skip it. The digital stuff could just vanish without anyone noticing in the absence of adequate protocols for collection, preservation and access.
[Caitríona didn't say this, but if Trump pushes the button, the resultant EMP will solve all our digital problems permanently, not to mention that there will be few if any of us left to worry about it.]
Sandra Collins is the Director of the National Library of Ireland and she has a background in the digital world. Her concerns very much mirror those of Caitríona, and her institution, like the National Archives, and a number of other institutions I haven't mentioned, have been playing a blinder in digitising their existing hardcopy/physical material and making it available to the public.
She has given a recent TedxUCD talk on this very subject.
A unique feature of the Frongoch project is the cooperation between the DRI and the National Library of Wales. That library is also heavily involved in digitising and in crowdsourcing new material through The People's Collection project. The Frongoch project has also received funding from the Welsh Government's programme remembering WWI, Cymru yn Cofio / Wales Remembers.
Linda, who is Director of the National Library of Wales, topped and tailed her enthusiastic presentation with just a few words of Welsh, but probably more than the Prince of Wales has spoken in the last decade.
Caroline has curated this site for the RIA/DRI and I have a feeling it was a labour of love. Apart from its excellent content, which will no doubt be expanding over time, I am impressed with the readiness of the team to deal constructively with feedback (from me !) and to accept suggestions from visitors (me again !) to improve the whole experience and integrate the exhibition more tightly into the overall repository.
As it happened, in subsequent contact with Caroline, it turned out we both had an interest in an eight decade old gruesome murder commited on the southside. Amazing who you meet at these events.
Rhian Davies is the artistic director of the Gregynog Festival, Wales's oldest classical music festival which is held at Gregynog in mid-Wales every year.
For this year's theme she has chosen Éire to commemorate 1916. As part of this commemoration she has commissioned a work from Sam Perkin. Sam's suite, Freakshow, is inspired by life in the Frongoch camp as portrayed in Lyn Ebenezer's book, and in particular the story of the Circus of Rats. One of the prisoners used to go to great lengths to capture rats and put on a show for his fellow inmates. You can get a flavour of the work in this mini documentary.
I once saw him appear on Scottish TV where his English was subtitled for non-Ghàidhlig speakers.
Lisa is with the Bureau of Military History. The Bureau has recently made an enormous contribution to the available source material for Irish history in the revolutionary period with the digitisation of its Witness Statements. Liz has written extensively on this period with particular emphasis on the role of women. She and I have a shared interest in the Custom House raid of 1921. (Congrats Liz on your spectacular wedding in City Hall in this centenary year :)
Mícheál, apart from being a product of the same school as myself, has made a name for himself in latter years as a publisher of note dealing mainly with Irish history with an emphasis on the republican tradition.
He once gave his name to the hottest curry in Dublin but, due to the closure of the Taj Mahal, you now have to travel to Cork to taste it.
Big discussion with Raghnall and the photographer on how best to preserve the lovely Caitríona in the Repository.
The Welsh Connection
Before signing off, I would just like to make a few comments on the Welsh connection. You would think, given our proximity to Wales, that there would have been fairly intensive interaction between the two countries over the years. But, in fact, this has been very limited. I suspect that most people in Ireland, with the exception of those with a particular interest in rugby or matters Celtic, would lump England and Wales in together. I know I certainly did in the beginning and was quickly corrected by a Welsh attendant as the Irish Mail sped its way through the Welsh countryside.
Since then I have developed an interest in matters Welsh, Welsh-Welsh that is.
I've been to a few Eisteddfodau and learned a little of the language.
I co-chaired a meeting of EU INTERREG on Anglesea some years back and pulled a wee stroke on my DTI co-chair from London by throwing in a little Welsh in this heartland of Welsh-Wales.
For those who don't want to travel that far, there is the remains of a Welsh Chapel in Talbot St. in Dublin though its extensively graffiti'd exterior would see you pass it without as much as blessing yourself.
Hopefully Frongoch, in this year of heightened general perception of the revolutionary period will make Ireland more aware of how much we have in common with Welsh Wales. After all, the Fiannaíocht and the Mabinogion are two sides of the same story.