The cultural legacy of P.E.I.’s Irish community will be in the spotlight on Sunday, Oct. 4 when the UPEI Robertson Library and the Benevolent Irish Society of P.E.I. (BIS) co-host a public launch of a digital collection of oral history interviews and lectures.
The launch will be held at the BIS Irish Cultural Centre, 582 North River Rd., Charlottetown, from 2–4 p.m.
The Benevolent Irish Society Oral History Interviews collection consists of recordings of oral history interviews conducted by student researchers in 1982 and 1983 with elderly Irish residents on the Island.
Thanks to a collaboration between the BIS and the Robertson Library and with funding support from the Government of Ireland’s emigrant support program, more than 50 hours of audio recordings are now freely available online at islandvoices.ca/islandora/object/ivoices:bis-interviews.
In 2018, the BIS received funding from the Government of Ireland, which provided project funding for the Robertson Library to digitize the tapes. The tapes had been donated to the library some years ago by the late Dr. Brendan O’Grady, one of the organizers of the oral history initiative, and a long-serving faculty member at UPEI. O’Grady was also the BIS Patron for several years prior to his passing.
Simon Lloyd, UPEI archivist and special collections librarian, said it was “really exciting” when BIS past-president George O’Connor told him he had secured the funding to digitize the tapes, a long-standing dream of his.
“It is bittersweet to see the digitized recordings being unveiled now, since George passed away several months ago,” said Lloyd.
The transfer from cassette tapes to digital files was completed in 2018, but the audio quality on many of the cassettes was very poor, so the Library has provided detailed content descriptions of the interviews. This allows particular content, such as mentions of families and communities, to be found more easily through online searching.
Robertson Library also made innovative use of open source software to create “track listings” for the longer recordings, allowing listeners to easily jump to parts of an interview they particularly want to hear. Lloyd hopes the content stands as a tribute to O’Connor and the BIS, and their tireless efforts to honour and preserve P.E.I.’s Irish culture and heritage.
He also noted that an upcoming part of the digitization project will be the release of recordings of lectures given at the BIS from 1987 to 2011 on Irish heritage and culture in P.E.I. and in Ireland. Lloyd expects the digitized lecture recordings will be launched this coming winter.
During the launch, the BIS will also open its newly catalogued library collection to visitors for the first time. The collection comprises more than 1,600 fiction and non-fiction books—from Irish, P.E.I., and Canadian-Irish history to plays, poetry and travel books. Many of the books were donated by O’Grady; retired Justice George Mullally, current BIS patron; and Michael Hennessey, an award-winning author and the first registrar of UPEI.
This event is free, but attendance is limited because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Advance registration is required. To register, contact Paula Kenny at 902-629-0340 or [email protected], or submit a message at benevolentirishsocietyofpei.com/copy-of-home using “RSVP October launch” in the subject line.