‘Tell Your Story’: documenting the 1916 Rising through public memorabilia collection days

1916 memorabilia collection day in the National Library of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin, 2015. 

Caroline McGee, Project Creative Lead for the Digital Repository of Ireland's Inspiring Ireland 1916 resource, describes what takes place at a public memorabilia collection day. 

Irish people are globally renowned for being confident, eloquent storytellers. Marry that talent with a love of drama and a strong collective memory of historical events and the past comes alive. Telling the story of the 1916 Rising is an important element of the second stage of Inspiring Ireland, an interactive online resource that preserves and exhibits our national cultural assets and makes them accessible to a wide audience.

Inspiring Ireland 1916 brings public memorabilia and the extensive collections of 1916 material held in Irish cultural institutions –  the National Library, National Archives, National Museum, and RTE - together in one place. It presents high quality digital images of both familiar and lesser-known material alongside rich contextual interpretation provided by national and international historians. This will allow users to discover and make personal connections with the material and deepen their knowledge of the revolutionary period.  Exhibitions will go online on a rolling basis between January and May 2016. The first exhibition uses the lens of women's lives to tell the stories surrounding the Rising and showcases objects, documents, and ephemera that illustrate the ways in which everyday lives were turned upside down as a result of Easter Week 1916.

One practical way of creating digital content is to hold a community collection day to gather privately-owned Easter Rising memorabilia. This involves members of the public telling the story of objects connected to 1916 and having them photographed and documented free of charge before being returned to them.  

The digitised content is exhibited as part of the Inspiring Ireland 1916 exhibitions and preserved using the technology infrastructure of the Digital Repository of Ireland. DRI is a national trusted repository whose mission is to digitise, preserve, and share Ireland’s social and cultural heritage for public viewing, educational use and scholarly research. 

Collection Days

Capturing personal memories about 1916 is an essential part of writing our collective national history. Often these stories are linked to photos, diaries, objects and ephemera that may be lying buried under beds or in attics and cupboards throughout Ireland and further afield.  Inspiring Ireland has held two public memorabilia collection days in partnership with National Library of Ireland, which holds extensive digital collections of 1916-related material. Almost sixty contributors attended these events, along with members of their families. Some brought single objects such as a diary,a photograph or some medals. Others arrived with suitcases full of memorabilia, including  correspondence between political prisoners and their families, Cumann na mBan artefacts, albums of poetry and artwork and many other objects. Attendees had pre-registered their memorabilia at an earlier event in the GPO organized by the National Library of Ireland as part of RTE’s ‘Road to the Rising’ event, which was held in Dublin on April 6, 2015.

At the two recent collection days, volunteer interviewers from  UCD’s School of Information and Communications Studies were on hand to record the contributors’ 1916 stories. Before the contributors told their stories, they were asked to accept the terms of use for contributing their material to the DRI. These terms state that the contributor owns the copyright to the memorabilia being offered for digitisation and that as the owner of the material they authorise its re-use under a Creative Commons share-alike (CC-BY-SA) license. Each submission was then assigned with a unique ticket number so that contributors’ objects and stories could be kept together and tracked as they went through the digitisation process.

Tell Your Story & Digitise Your Object

Next, contributors were introduced to the volunteer interviewers who wrote down the story related to the item and assigned information  known as ‘metadata’ (or data about data) to the object -for example, the location of a photograph and the identity of the sitter, or the language in which a letter was written. Accurate and precise metadata is essential for successful digital archiving. Equally importantly,it must be meaningful and logical in order for the object record to be located by internet search engines.

Contribute to Research & Consult a Conservator

While they waited for their objects to be digitised, contributors had the option of taking part in a further interview with UCD researchers who are investigating the significance and meaning attached to the act of contributing to public memorabilia collection days. When digitisation of the objects was complete, check-in desk staff returned the item to the contributor who could then consult a representative from Ireland's professional body for conservators and restorers to get advice on caring for historical objects.

More chat….this time with cake!

In between interviews and collecting their digitised objects, contributors had the opportunity to visit the National Library’s exhibitions. They also shared memories and made connections with other attendees, making the community collection day a real social occasion. This was assisted by copious quantities of steaming hot tea and coffee and scrumptious cakes (oh, the Bakewell squares!) which was provided by Café Joly at the National Library of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin.

Inspiring Ireland 1916 will be launched by Jimmy Deenihan TD, Minister for Global and Diaspora Affairs, on January 19, 2016. 

The project is supported by the Irish Government's Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Office of Diaspora Affairs and is represented in two State Centenary Programme strands: Historical Reflection and Global and Diaspora.

Additional national and international collection days are planned for early 2016. Potential contributors will be required to pre-register the objects they would like to have digitised. Information will be available shortly on the News & Events page of Inspiring Ireland,on the events pages of the DRI website and the State Centenary Programme website.