A Digital Journey Through Irish Theatre History

Actress Geraldine Plunkett reminisces through pictures from the Abbey Theatre's archive and sees a photograph of herself playing a bride in her professional debut performance as an actress in 1962, in the Abbey's production of 'They Got What They Wanted' by Louis D'Alton.Geraldine is with Fiach Mac Conghail, Director,Abbey Theatre and Dr Patrick Lonergan,Director of Drama Studies,NUI Galway
Oct 22 2012 Posted: 11:33 IST

Abbey/NUI Galway launch ground-breaking digital archive partnership

 A Digital Journey through Irish Theatre History, the Abbey/NUI Galway digital archive partnership, was launched today, Monday, 22 October 2012 by President Michael D. Higgins in the Abbey Theatre. It is the largest digital theatre project ever undertaken, and heralds a new era of scholarship for Irish theatre internationally.

The Abbey archive, which contains over 1.8 million items, is one of the world’s most significant archival collections. It has a wealth of extraordinary and unique material providing a fascinating insight into Irish theatre, history, culture and society. The archival material ranges from show posters, programmes, photographs, minute books to lighting plans, set and costume designs, sound cues, prompt scripts and audio files.

Celebrating the launch, Fiach MacConghail, Director of the Abbey Theatre said:  “It’s been a long cherished ambition of the Abbey Theatre to preserve our archive. The digitised archive will help scholars and historians to write the history of the Abbey in greater detail. The Abbey archive is a major resource for Irish theatre and will help us celebrate the unheralded artists, actors, writers who have worked at the Abbey over the years. It will also inspire the next generation of theatre makers. We are excited to partner with NUI Galway and to have arts and science disciplines come together in this way.”

Dr Jim Browne, President of NUI Galway said:  “As East meets West, and the creative arts and scholarship combine, this project will see the most advanced digital technology brought to bear on one of the country’s most historic theatre archives. This digitisation project is based on an awareness of the importance of the Abbey Theatre for the social, cultural and economic history of this country – not to mention its ongoing significance for Ireland and the international community as one of the key national theatres in the world.

“The benefits to our students and researchers of having direct access to this rich national collection will be immense. There is also great interest in the digital archive abroad and it will draw researchers of international repute to Ireland.”

The earliest item in the Abbey archive actually precedes the founding of the Abbey Theatre.  It is an 1894 poster of the first production of The Land of Heart’s Desire by W.B. Yeats, which was performed at the Avenue Theatre in London and is reflective of Yeats’ ambition to present Irish theatre outside Ireland.  Other archival gems reveal that Éamon De Valera trod the Abbey stage as Dr. Kelly in an amateur production of A Christmas Hamper in 1905.   Even our own Irish James Bond had a presence on the Abbey stage when in 1964 Donal McCann played Seamus Bond with Angela Newman as Puísín in the Christmas pantomime Aisling as Tír na nÓg. Part of the Abbey Archive was damaged as a result of the devastating effects of the fire of 1951 and some archival artefacts are in a fragile condition due to age. 

The digitised archive will change our understanding of Irish drama. The history of Irish drama is largely understood to be the history of Irish plays – of the written script. As a full multimedia archive, the digital archive will provide researchers with access to the complete range of materials associated with theatre performance: not just the scripts but also the visual materials (costume, set, and lighting designs), sound materials (music scores, sound effects), and the supporting materials (adverts, press releases, reviews).

This digitisation project which began in September, will take place over a three to four -year period.  The digitisation process, which is currently taking place on the NUI Galway campus, will bring together multidisciplinary teams of the University’s researchers, students and archivists to realise this exciting project.

The digitisation project is unique in that it highlights two of the most important features of contemporary Ireland: the richness of its cultural traditions and its capacity for technological innovation.  NUI Galway is ideally positioned to capitalise on those strengths, as it brings both international expertise in Irish theatre and digital humanities to the project. The Moore Institute for the Humanities and Social Studies at NUI Galway is home to several major digital humanities projects, including the EU-funded TEXTE initiative; while its Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI) is the world’s largest research institute dedicated to internet technology-based research. Researchers at both of these institutes, together with archivists and librarians from the James Hardiman Library, will work together to ensure the very latest technology is used to illuminate the past.

The digital Abbey archive will be a major addition to the existing collection of literary and cultural archives at NUI Galway. The Archive Collection at the University’s James Hardiman Library comprises over 350 collections, dating from 1485 to the present. Theatre collections include the papers of Thomas Kilroy and the Shields Family Collection, featuring the Abbey actor Arthur Shields and there is a particular focus on the archives of companies such as the Druid Theatre, Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe and the Lyric Players Theatre in Belfast. A new Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Research facility will open at the heart of the campus in 2013, providing the perfect home for this significant collection.

Students of the new undergraduate degree in Drama, Theatre and Performance at NUI Galway, as well as a new PhD programme in Irish Drama will encourage a new wave of young researchers from Ireland and abroad to come to Galway to learn about Yeats, Synge, Lady Gregory and the many other great writers associated with the Abbey. The University has also introduced two new fully-funded PhD fellowships dedicated to research in Irish Theatre to give an immediate boost to the research team working on the Archive project.

To view the Abbey Theatre/NUI Galway digital archive partnership website click here.



Seolann Amharclann na Mainistreach/OÉ Gaillimh comhpháirtíocht cheannródaíoch i gcartlann dhigiteach

 Sheol an tUachtarán, Micheál D. Ó hUiginn, A Digital Journey through Irish Theatre History, comhpháirtíocht i gcartlann dhigiteach idir Amharclann na Mainistreach/OÉ Gaillimh, inniu, Dé Luain, an 22 Deireadh Fómhair 2012 in Amharclann na Mainistreach. Is é seo an tionscadal digiteach amharclannaíochta is mó a rinneadh riamh agus léiríonn sé ré nua scoláireachta d’amharclannaíocht na hÉireann ar fud an domhain.

Tá breis is 1.8 milliún mír i gcartlann na Mainistreach agus tá sí ar cheann de na bailiúcháin chartlainne is tábhachtaí ar domhan. Tá ábhar uathúil agus thar a bheith suimiúil inti a thugann léargas spéisiúil ar amharclannaíocht, stair, cultúr agus sochaí na hÉireann. Tá idir phóstaeir thaispeántais, chláir, ghrianghraif, mhiontuairiscí, phleananna soilsithe, dhearaí stáitse agus culaithe, leideanna fuaime, scripteanna leide agus chomhaid fuaime sa chartlann.

Dúirt Fiach Mac Conghail, Stiúrthóir Amharclann na Mainistreach, agus an seoladh á cheiliúradh aige: “Bhí sé mar aidhm mhór le fada ag Amharclann na Mainistreach ár gcartlann a chaomhnú. Beidh an chartlann dhigitithe ina áis mhór ag scoláirí agus ag staraithe chun cuntas níos mionsonraithe a scríobh ar stair na Mainistreach. Is mór an acmhainn í cartlann na Mainistreach d’amharclannaíocht na hÉireann agus cuideoidh sí linn ceiliúradh a dhéanamh ar na healaíontóirí, na haisteoirí agus na scríbhneoirí sin nach bhfuair an oiread sin aitheantais agus a bhí ag obair sa Mhainistir in imeacht na mblianta. Tabharfaidh sí spreagadh freisin don chéad glúin amharclannóirí eile. Is cúis mhór áthais dúinn é a bheith i gcomhar le hOllscoil na hÉireann Gaillimh agus disciplíní na n-ealaíon agus na heolaíochta a bheith á snaidhmeadh le chéile ar an dóigh seo.”

Dúirt an Dr Jim Browne, Uachtarán, OÉ Gaillimh:  “Sa chomhpháirtíocht seo idir an tOirthear agus an tIarthar, idir na healaíona cruthaitheacha agus an scoláireacht, cuirfidh Ollscoil na hÉireann Gaillimh teicneolaíocht dhigiteach is nua-aimseartha i bhfeidhm sa tionscadal seo atá ar cheann de na cartlanna amharclannaíochta is stairiúla sa tír. Tá an tionscadal digitithe seo bunaithe ar an tuiscint go bhfuil tábhacht le hAmharclann na Mainistreach ó thaobh stair shóisialta, chultúir agus eacnamaíoch na tíre – gan trácht ar a stádas sa tír seo agus sa domhan mór mar cheann de na hamharclanna náisiúnta is tábhachtaí ar domhan.”

“Bainfidh ár mic léinn agus ár dtaighdeoirí leas as rochtain dhíreach a bheith acu ar an mbailiúchán saibhir náisiúnta seo. Tá an-suim léirithe sa chartlann dhigiteach thar lear agus meallfaidh sé taighdeoirí mór le rá ar fud an domhain go hÉirinn.”

Tá an rud is sine i gcartlann na Mainistreach níos sine ná an Amharclann féin.  Póstaer ó 1894 atá ann den chéad léiriú de The Land of Heart’s Desire le W.B. Yeats a cuireadh ar stáitse san Avenue Theatre i Londain agus léiríonn sé mian Yeats’ amharclannaíocht na hÉireann a chur ar stáitse thar lear.    I measc na míreanna luachmhara eile sa chartlann léirítear go raibh Éamon De Valera ar stáitse san Amharclann mar Dr. Kelly i léiriú amaitéarach de A Christmas Hamper i 1905.    Bhí James Bond na hÉireann ar stáitse fiú san Amharclann i 1964, nuair a bhí an pháirt Seamus Bond ag Donal McCann agus Angela Newman mar Phuisín i ngeamaireacht na Nollag Aisling as Tír na nÓg. Scriosadh cuid de Chartlann na Mainistreach de bharr tine i 1951 agus tá cuid den ábhar is sine sa chartlann an-leochaileach. 

Tá an tionscadal digitithe uathúil mar go gcuireann sé béim ar phéire de na gnéithe is tábhachtaí in Éirinn sa lá atá inniu ann: saibhreas na dtraidisiún cultúrtha agus an cumas do nuálaíocht theicniúil.  Tá OÉ Gaillimh ullmhaithe go maith le cur leis na láidreachtaí sin mar go bhfuil saineolas idirnáisiúnta againn in amharclannaíocht na hÉireann agus sna daonnachtaí digiteacha. Is in Institiúid de Móra do na Daonnachtaí agus don Léann Sóisialta in OÉ Gaillimh atá go leor de na tionscadail digitithe is mó sna daonnachtaí, cosúil le tionscnamh TEXTE atá maoinithe ag AE; agus is í an Institiúid Taighde um Fhiontraíocht Dhigiteach (DERI) an institiúid taighde is mó ar domhan atá tiomanta do thaighde bunaithe ar theicneolaíocht idirlín. Oibreoidh taighdeoirí ón dá institiúid le cartlannaithe agus leabharlannaithe ó Leabharlann Shéamais Uí Argadáin chun a chinntiú go n-úsáidfear an teicneolaíocht is nua-aimseartha chun an t-am atá caite a léiriú arís.

Athróidh an Chartlann dhigitithe ár dtuiscint ar dhrámaíocht na hÉireann go deo. Feictear go forleathan stair na drámaíochta in Éirinn mar stair na ndrámaí - stair na scripteanna scríofa. Mar chartlann iomlán ilmheáin, tabharfaidh an chartlann dhigiteach rochtain do thaighdeoirí ar an réimse iomlán ábhar a bhaineann le léiriú amharclannaíochta: ní scripteanna amháin a bheidh i gceist, ach ina theannta sin beidh físábhar (culaith, stáitse, agus dearaí soilse), ábhar fuaime (scór ceoil, maisíochtaí fuaime), agus an t-ábhar tacaíochta (fógraí, preasráitis, léirmheasanna).

Mairfidh an tionscadal digitithe seo a thosaigh i Meán Fómhair idir trí agus ceithre bliana.  Tabharfaidh an próiseas digitithe atá ar champas OÉ Gaillimh faoi láthair le chéile foirne ildisciplíneacha de thaighdeoirí, mic léinn agus cartlannaithe na hOllscoile chun an tionscadal iontach seo a chur i gcrích.

Cuirfidh cartlann dhigiteach na Mainistreach go mór le cartlanna liteartha eile OÉ Gaillimh. Sa Chartlann i Leabharlann Shéamais Uí Argadáin san Ollscoil tá breis is 350 bailiúchán ó 1485 go dtí an lá atá inniu. Sna bailiúcháin tá páipéir de chuid Thomas Kilroy agus Teaghlach Shields,  agus tá aisteoir na Mainistreach Arthur Shields luaite anseo. Tá béim ar leith ar chartlann na gcompántas ar nós Amharclann Druid, Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe agus amharclann Lyric Players i mBéal Feirste. Osclóidh áis Taighde sna Dána, sna Daonnachtaí agus sna hEolaíochtaí Sóisialta i lár an champais in 2013, agus is ann a choinneofar an bailiúchán tábhachtach seo.

Idir an chéim nua i nDrámaíocht, Amharclannaíocht agus Taibhiú in OÉ Gaillimh agus an clár nua PhD i nDrámaíocht na hÉireann spreagfar glúin nua taighdeoirí óga in Éirinn agus i bhfad i gcéin le teacht go Gaillimh agus foghlaim faoi Yeats, Synge, Lady Gregory agus na scríbhneoirí móra eile a bhí bainteach le hAmharclann na Mainistreach. Tá tús curtha freisin ag an Ollscoil le dhá chomhaltacht nua PhD atá maoinithe go hiomlán le taighde a dhéanamh ar Amharclannaíocht na hÉireann chun tacú láithreach leis an bhfoireann taighde atá ag obair ar thionscadal na Cartlainne.



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