Positive public response to Westmeath audit of oral heritage collections

A major heritage audit, seeking to identify collections of oral history, folklore, and stories of times past, has been ongoing in Westmeath since the summer.

The Audit of Oral Heritage Recordings in County Westmeath is being run through the Heritage Office of Westmeath County Council and has already elicited a hugely positive response according to the project team involved. Melanie McQuade, Heritage Officer for Westmeath reported a hugely positive response in the first phase of the project, with almost thirty collections already identified.

“Oral history is an area of heritage that is growing in popularity all the time. However, it is evident from the findings of this project so far, that there have been many committed individuals and groups who have collected in different ways, memories and stories relating to Westmeath’s past over the years. It is great to see such an enthusiastic response from the Westmeath public. We want to now ensure that anyone who may not have heard of the project, gets a chance to contribute their information on interviews, whether on digital format, cassette tapes, or even older legacy recordings,” Ms McQuade stated.

One of the most exciting finds of the project, which is supported by funding from Creative Ireland, thus far, were Reel to Reels of songs and stories, recorded in the 1960s at Millarstown House in Killucan. After reading about the project, Emma Laffey in Galway, found a Reel to Reel, recorded by her grandmother almost seventy-years ago, still in the original player. The find, and the project were featured on Nuacht TG4 in early August.

The second phase of the project will see a further call out for collections, as well as the creation of a detailed database relating to collections already documented. Dr Tomás Mac Conmara, who leads the consultancy appointed to lead the audit, spoke about the importance of reaching all collectors and collection holders across the County, as the project moves towards its completion.

“We are really struck with the levels of positivity shown to us by people across Westmeath. It has been really encouraging. This reflects both their own appetite for heritage but also the recognition that these recordings contain priceless information and knowledge about their native county. However, it is obvious that there will be people across the county who may not have been aware of the project and who know of collections or recordings that were undertaken. It is very important to us that, in so far as possible, nobody is left out,” Dr Mac Conmara said.

Mac Conmara, himself a well-known oral historian, emphasised that the project is not about physically taking collections.

“We want to be clear with the public that at this stage, we want to speak with people who may have recordings, and document information about each collection, however big or small within the county. The result will be a database of information on all recordings and collections of oral history within or relating to Westmeath. This database will then be made available to the public,” Dr Mac Conmara concluded.

If you have any information on oral heritage recordings or collections on County Westmeath topics, people or places, please contact Mac Conmara Heritage Consulting on 087 916 0373 or by e-mail at [email protected].


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