Immigrant stories find a home at Mayo County Library

Advocates for the immigrant community gathered in Castlebar recently to celebrate the Mayo Intercultural Action Oral History Project. The project, which was supported by South West Mayo Development Company, saw immigrants from different countries come together to record audio accounts of their lives and migration to county Mayo. Project participants included people from as far afield as Latvia, Poland, Russia, Nigeria, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Burma/Myanmar.

Launching the project, which will be permanently archived with the Mayo County Library, poet and Mayo Intercultural Action (MIA ) founding member Geraldine Mitchell spoke about the importance of stories in communicating the experience and perspectives of Mayo's diverse migrant community. “From the earliest cave paintings to this current oral history project, it is the richness and detail of the human story that captures the imagination,” she said.

She recalled working to establish MIA 10 years ago to advocate for and support new immigrants to the local area, and noted the progress immigrants has made to the present day, when those same people are a key part of the local community.

MIA co-founder Therese Ruane said: “It’s hard to believe it is 10 years since Geraldine Mitchell and I first sat down and started this great project [MIA]. Long may it continue to provide support and a 'home' for newcomers and migrants on their journey.”

The migrant stories recorded for the project represent a new and important addition to the Mayo County Library Service collection, said executive librarian Richie Hickey. “Many of the sources at the library document the Mayo diaspora's journey to other countries, while this project encompasses the other side of that story, the journey many migrants have made to live and work in county Mayo,” he added.

Project participant Sanita Vecbrale spoke about how taking part in the reminded her of the challenges she faced upon her arrival in Mayo, which included not only learning English, but also learning to understand the particular way Irish people used the language, which differed from the English lessons she had received. “I'm a Mayo woman and also a proud Latvian,” she said, encompassing the sentiment of many who took part in the project and who worked hard at integrating into the local community while also retaining pride in their native culture and languages.

The recordings undertaken during the project will be archived at the Mayo County Library Local Studies Department, while both Mayo Intercultural Action and the South West Mayo Development Company will also retain a copy. Anyone interested in hearing content from the project can log onto MIA's Facebook page where they can find excerpts from the recordings.

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