‘Treasure trove’ of Limerick voices stored at UL

Fintan Walsh

Reporter:

Fintan Walsh

Limerick Civic Trust chairperson David Deighan hands over oral archives to UL president Prof Don Barry, at Plassey House, with Ken Bergin, Glucksman Library, and Civic Trust executive Cian O'Carroll
MORE than 140 distinctive voices from the city and county will be preserved for researchers and heritage enthusiasts, thanks to an oral history archive recently launched by the Limerick Civic Trust at the University of Limerick.

MORE than 140 distinctive voices from the city and county will be preserved for researchers and heritage enthusiasts, thanks to an oral history archive recently launched by the Limerick Civic Trust at the University of Limerick.

Believed to be the first of many to come, the first Limerick Oral History collection contains 15 years of voices of “Limerick’s rich, historical and cultural past”, including interviews with artists, writers, politicians, millers, fishermen, soldiers, publicans and all walks of life.

Stories include fond memories of the Limerick Leader and the local press, the history of the Cleeve’s Factory, UN peacekeeping missions in the Lebanon, City Hall tales, a look back on the old William Street-based City Theatre, and many more.

The interviews were conducted by more than 50 Civic Trust volunteers, between January 1995 and May 5, 2011. The last interview discussed life on the Limerick Docks.

The collection, which will be fully-digitalised in the New Year, will be open to the public at the special collections and archive department at UL’s Glucksman Library, which also contains the Jim Kemmy papers, Kate O’Brien papers, the Fr John Leonard collection, and many more.

Limerick Civic Trust executive Cian O’Carroll, who worked on the project from 1996 to 2011, said that his personal role was a “great source of satisfaction”, from proposing the idea to being custodian of the historical venture.

“We have here a treasure trove, a rich resource for social and economic historians and, particularly, for creative novelists and playwrights. It contains personal accounts of memories, ranging from tradesmen to fishermen, to soldiers, to dockers and are all included.

“From the 1920s onwards, it has been a time of extraordinary social change, and this is recorded in the material here in the collection,” he said.

He said at the launch of the collection on Thursday evening, at Plassey House, that the project “means a great deal to me”, as when he was a child, his father and uncle collected stories from the Connemara seanchaí.

These were then subsequently stored in Irish Folklore Commission archive.

Welcoming the collection, UL president Prof Don Barry said that the archive is “a reflection of the changing political, social and cultural climate of Limerick.

“It’s not a series of boring facts, but what people believed, lived and understood. The voices convey the joy, sadness and, sometimes, anger that the written form cannot touch. These are the names that history does not recognise. They are the Limerick voice.

“I think it is a wonderful portrait of life in Limerick through the ages. More importantly, it shows the more ordinary people of Limerick,” he said at the launch.

He congratulated the efforts of the Limerick Civic Trust and said that if the many interviews were not archived, their voices “could have been lost forever”.

During the launch, the head of special collections and archives Ken Bergin played an exclusive 1998 interview of fisherman Tony O’Farrell, who spoke of his family’s tradition in full-time fishing on the Shannon since the 1860s.

Mr O’Farrell also spoke of the “colourful characters” at the fish market on Nicholas Street.

Mr Bergin said that it is important this project is continued, as “there are so many stories out there.

“It’s a very extensive audio collection, and this is very interesting, as part of the expanding archive that we have. I got a real sense of a personal story, in a very calm kind of way, people talking about their lives, as if they were having a normal conversation with a friend. They were quite honest and frank on their experience, their jobs, their friends, the environment of Limerick,” Mr Bergin enthused.

Limerick Civic Trust manager David O’Brien, who has “fond memories” of Sarsfield Bridge during the late 1960s and early 1970s while he walked to St Michael’s primary school, said that the oral collection is “emotive and something we can respond to.

“When you hear the voices and the emotion of the voices, and you can hear the undulation of the voices, you are hearing the living history. It will give you a greater sense of character behind that voice.”

Limerick Civic Trust chairperson David Deighan paid tribute to the Trust’s founding member Denis Leonard, who first initiated the project.

“The unique model that the Civic Trust offers is truly invaluable as Limerick and the region grow and move with the times, the organisation is both a repository for all that in the past while offering support and assistance in providing for the improvements needed to enhance our environment,” Mr Deighan said.

Also at the launch was metropolitan mayor Cllr Jerry O’Dea, who called the archive “another fantastic project” by the Trust.

“It just shows how the Civic Trust has grown from strength to strength, and they are willing to expand their horizons.”

Mr O’Carroll added that when this era is recorded “it will be very difficult to do it” because there is “so much media.

“I can see it in my own lifetime how things have changed, and how the world has become much more complex. In the 1920s and 1930s, it was much simpler; you had one radio station, one or two newspapers and then you had all the interaction between the people.”

At the launch, chairperson Deighan said that the Trust is working a number of additional projects, including the developing of Bishop’s Palace, St Munchin’s Cemetery and St Mary’s Cathedral; the development of an “across the city” route, from Thomondgate to John’s Gate; and the maintenance of the walkways along the river banks.

This Wednesday morning, more than 50 members of the Civic Trust’s team performed a clean-up blitz at Mount St Oliver.