Limerick 1912 project reveals history via Twitter

Gerard Fitzgibbon

Reporter:

Gerard Fitzgibbon

ON OCTOBER 10 1912, a raucous crowd of over a thousand people gathered outside the old Theatre Royal on Cecil Street. Inside, the local branch of the Irish Unionist Alliance was holding a meeting to protest against the looming prospect of Home Rule, and tensions were high.

ON OCTOBER 10 1912, a raucous crowd of over a thousand people gathered outside the old Theatre Royal on Cecil Street. Inside, the local branch of the Irish Unionist Alliance was holding a meeting to protest against the looming prospect of Home Rule, and tensions were high.

Just two weeks earlier, almost half a million people had signed the Ulster Covenant – some with their own blood – and the prospect of armed civil unrest in the north was growing by the day.

In Limerick, nationalist supporters heckled and sang in the streets as the unionist supporters left the meeting. Eye witness accounts of what happened next differ, but within hours rioting swept across the city centre which lasted well into the following day.

Fast forward 100 years, and anyone who found themselves on Twitter on the night of October 10 would have come across a breathless, moment-by-moment account of Limerick’s forgotten Home Rule riots one century on.

For the past 10 months the Limerick 1912 project, a small research project by the Limerick City Library, has been drip-feeding tweets loaded with countless local historical nuggets from 100 years ago.

From lost aviators and Sikh scholars to forgotten riots and rural electrification, @Limerick1912 has become a 140-character vanguard in the drive to digitise local history.

Liam Hogan, who is part of the research team and handles the Twitter account, said that from quirky titbits to momentous campaigns, Limerick 1912 is helping people to realise that history is all around them.

“Eric Hobsbawm died recently, and he wrote an article after the fall of the Berlin Wall when he warned of people getting stuck in a ‘permanent present’. That’s a fantastic phrase.

“When I started this project, I thought I had a good idea of where the history of this city came from. But it’s totally changed how I look at the history of the city.”

For years, local studies and research projects in the library have been trawling through the dense annals of our ancient city’s history. Limerick 1912 is no different – every day, specialised researchers sift through records and local newspapers, panning for gold.

However Limerick 1912 stands out because it decided to try to grab the attention of people who are curious about history, but just don’t know it yet.

“We tried to think of a way to get this information out to the ordinary people that are busy at work, and don’t have time to come in and research their entire history bit by bit”, Liam said.

“Twitter is the perfect format for that. We’ve come across so many personalities that were from Limerick, and have done huge things internationally and are kind of forgotten about. About half of what we’ve come across, we haven’t expected.”

Limerick 1912’s Twitter time line is an identity parade of lost heroes and heroines; Limerick people whose extraordinary and unusual feats have nearly vanished with the passage of time.

There is the story of Sir Joseph Nunan of Sexton Street who was attorney general of British Guiana in 1912, personal friends with Teddy Roosevelt and later took part in negotiations with Mohandas Gandhi during a dispute over Indian emigration to the South American colony.

There was Michael McAuliffe from Newcastle West, a Sikh scholar and master of languages who in 1912 published a definitive English translation of the Guru Granth Sahib, the religion’s sacred text.

The list goes on: Dr John O’Dwyer Creaghe, a Limerick physician who became and anarchist revolutionary in Baja California in 1910-11; Thomas Reddy, the son of Limerick parents, who was elected chief of a tribe of Winnebago Indians in Wisconsin; Dame Leslie Allen, an aviator who disappeared attempting to make the first ever flight across the Irish Sea in 1912; James David Bourchier, from Bruff, a journalist with The Times stationed in the Balkans who worked to further the cause of Bulgarian independence and has mountains, streets and metro stations named after him in Bulgaria today.

The reaction that Limerick 1912’s discoveries get once they are posted on Twitter are “the best thing about it”, Liam insists.

Their Twitter account has over 1,200 followers, and many of them engage directly with questions, comments and general curiosity. “People might sometimes feel a bit shy, but if anyone wants to ask any questions they should just fire away. We’d love to answer them”.

From digitising a century’s worth of Limerick Chronicle obituaries to making every edition of The Old Limerick Journal available online, the library is leading the way in reawakening Limerick’s past in the digital era.

Now 2012 might be rapidly coming to a close, but Liam said that the response that he, Mike Maguire and the rest of the library’s research team have received so far has encouraged them to “just keep going” into 1913 and beyond. “Long term, a dream would be to follow on to 1922, just to see the 10-year spread”.