In October 2006 the Cardinal Ó Fiaich Library began an ambitious programme of outreach supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The purpose of the programme is two-fold. First of all the Library wishes to increase the number of people who visit and make use of its collections. These are divided into five key areas of interest reflecting the late Cardinal’s own work. These are church history, Irish history, local history, the Irish language and Irish sport, particularly Gaelic games.
The second part of the programme involves bring the collections of the library and archive to new audience outside of the building itself. This aims to work with both primary and post primary schools in Armagh and surrounding counties, and with adult groups within the wider community. It is hoped that this process of engagement will not only help to highlight what the library holds by way of books, manuscripts and artefacts but will also encourage those who perhaps do not use the library, for whatever reason, to feel more comfortable coming to visit.
In order to deliver the programme two central themes have been adopted and these have formed the basis for the programme’s activities since October 2006 and will continue to do so until the initiative ends in the autumn of 2009.
Gaelic games pilot exhibition.
Work on this began in the first month of the project and the pilot exhibition was opened in a phased manner from October 2006 to June 2007. The exhibition received widespread attention and attracted an extra 1146 visitors to the library since it was launched. There has been a very positive response from those who have seen the exhibition and sound connections have been established at community and club level that will prove to be of huge benefit when the Gaelic games aspect of the outreach project begins properly this year.
Some work had been already undertaken and a number of experts had been identified to contribute to this process. This was then given shape by the Education and Interpretative Officer (EIO), and each of six phases was scheduled to run in an overlapping calendar between October 2006 and the summer of 2007. The key objective of the pilot was to give an immediate boost to the library’s footfall and also to generate interest and awareness locally in the Gaelic games dimension of the COFLA collection.
The pilot exhibition drew upon the wealth of material available within the Library and Archive dealing with the origins, background and progress of Gaelic game in the county. There is also a huge body of ephemera including tickets, programmes and publicity materials which alongside photographs and minute books could be displayed in support of the narrative. To this the Library and Archive were able to add a substantial number of borrowed items, particularly, trophies, medals and jerseys belonging to many of the key individuals connected with the games over the last century.
The EIO used the material gathered by each of the contributors and edited this into a manageable presentation. This was then presented in a series of story boards that were displayed in the purpose designed exhibition arena and on mobile display panels within the body of the library.
The panels were assembled in a manner that allowed the maximum coverage for clubs, and individuals concerned. The results of competitions were summarised and the key events were highlighted. The boards themselves were produced in a simple fashion by employing scans of photographs alongside a selection of narrative and summary pieces of text. The scanning process also enabled the Archive to create an electronic copy of the collection now preserved on computer disc.
The various phases of the exhibition were broken down chronologically but within this freedom was given to enable the highlights of each period to be covered in greater depth. As well as allowing different sports to gain a significant presence within the display the ancillary topics of club ad administrative development were also covered. The wealth of material, particularly relating to clubs and schools also made it inevitable that not only the inter-county story but the local story be represented.
Over the course of the exhibition it became evident that the display of material was attracting an audience previously unfamiliar with COFLA and its collections. To assist with the demand coming from this quarter it was decided to allow, where possible, as much of the earlier material to remain on display as each new phase opened. By the end of phase four approximately half of the entire exhibit was on display at any given time. This challenged the Library to make use of aspects of the library that were under used. The purchase of computer equipment further enabled the EIO to generate a series of Powerpoint presentations, one for each phase, and to make use of some audio visual material in the collection as part of the display.
Another spin off from the pilot was that the whole initiative acted as a catalyst for increasing the extent of the collection. A good deal of new material was donated to the library as a result. These included previously unknown photographs, minute books and in particular a substantial collection of match programmes, many dating back as far as the 1960s.
The pilot exhibition was an unqualified success insofar as almost 1200 people signed the visitor’s book as a direct result. A great deal of new contacts were forged and the opportunity to address the Co. Armagh G.A.A.’s annual general meeting to seek support for the library’s fundraising trust was also generated.
The Flight of the Earls.
This has been the key focus of the Library’s outreach programme during 2007 and into 2008 To date the EIO has conducted more than 30 primary school visits working with just over 1000 pupils. The post primary phase of the outreach project began in the autumn term of 2007 and so far almost 40 workshops have been held in post primary schools. These have engaged just under 1000 pupils.
A target of 25 events for adult heritage and education groups has been met in part, with 22 events so far having been delivered. These have engaged our initial projected target of 500 people and more in this aspect of the programme. Further events are also planned with groups having arranged dates for the Flight of the Earls presentation right through until September 2008.
The first annual conference adopting the theme of the Flight took place on Friday and Saturday 16-17 November. The Library worked closely with the other libraries in the city as well as Cumman Seanchais Ard Mhahca to deliver this and the attendance on both days proved more than satisfactory. The Friday evening was attended by 62 delegates whilst the Saturday programme was enjoyed by 108. Participants were drawn from Belfast, Co.s Antrim, Armagh, Derry, Down and Tyrone as well as Louth, Monaghan, Cavan, Meath, Galway, Mayo and Dublin in the Republic.
An Exhibition drawing upon the library’s holdings on the Flight has been mounted although no official launch has been held. An accompanying publication which reproduces the text and many of the images of the exhibition has also been produced to alongside this.
On 20 February 2007 the library hosted a special screening and introductory talk by the BBC’s Dr. Antaine Ó Donnaile. Antaine had spent the previous two years working on a 3 part bilingual documentary on the Flight of the Earls and was asked to preface a screening of the concluding part of the series with a discussion on the research and making of the programmes. As he had carried out the field work, research and production on the series as well as having presented them he was in a unique position to give the audience an insight into how this major event from 400 years ago had been brought to the small screen.
This was followed by another event which marked the culmination of the Gaelic games pilot exhibition. This brought together some of the key figure in the Gaelic games world including media and sporting personalities for an evening events at which the public were invited to hear both historical and first hand accounts of the Gaelic sporting tradition in Armagh. The former President of the Gaelic Athletic Association was invited as were players and officials from past and present. The evening marked the final phase of the pilot which has to date attracted more than one thousand visitors to COFLA.
On Saturday 1 September 2007 the library organised a bus tour retracing the journey made by Hugh O’Neill in September 1607 between Armagh and Rathmullan. A commentary was provided by the Education Officer and a hand out produced using some of the material from the COFLA collections.
A powerpoint presentation was created along similar lines to that for use in schools, however, greater concentration was put on explaining and interpreting the historical background and impact of the events surrounding the Flight of the Earls. The EIO was able to draw upon substantial experience of working with the community and voluntary sector in arriving at final version of the presentation and also in identifying target audiences. Six separate community and local history groups who had previously had no contact with COFLA were engaged and the presentation was delivered over a period of approximately one hour. This was followed by an extended discussion forum in most cases. All of these presentations have been delivered away from the library environment. In addition two public lecture events have been held within COFLA and have attracted a mixture of new and established users.
Gaelic games in Ulster
Over the course of the next year the library will be turning its attention towards the 125th anniversary of the establishment of the GAA. In so doing the education and outreach programme will again mount an exhibition, this time covering a much wider geographical area to embrace not just the arch-diocese of Armagh and the counties therein but all of the province of Ulster and also County Louth.
The proposed programme will include a series of events with schools and with community groups. There will be a programme of events and lectures published by the summer of 2008 and this will include a conference looking at the history of Gaelic games in the spring of 2009. The programme will begin in May with a look at Gaelic games through the lens of the Pathé newsreel.