For this year’s Culture Night, we are keeping it local.
There has been a lot of talk about bars and pubs in recent times, a lot of it somewhat negative. It is timely then that our latest project for culture night 2020 remembers one of Cork city’s most unique establishments.
For the past year or so Maureen of Maureen’s bar on John Redmond Street (our local) had been toying with the idea of compiling a little oral history on the previous proprietor of the bar, Miss Pat Buckley. So, when Maureen inquired whether the Cork Folklore Project be interested in helping out with the project for culture night we, of course, said yes.
Miss Pat had the premises from the early 1950s to 2006. By all accounts (and I mean all accounts) Miss Pat ran a clean, homely bar that was frequented by a cross-section of Cork city’s inhabitants, from the locals of Shandon to the actors and crew of the Cork Shakespearean Company, politicians and comedians. Please enjoy these memories of Miss Pat and her room.
We would like to thank all who contributed to the project. And if you have stories pertaining to Miss Pat and her bar we would love to hear them.
Interviewees: Patrick O’Connor, Kieran O’Leary, Kieran Curtin, Tony O’Sullivan, Humphrey Twomey and Mary O’Neill.
All Interviews conducted by David McCarthy, Maureen McLaughlin and Jamie Furey.
Reading questionnaire entries from the Cork Folklore Project’s online ‘Chronicles of COVID-19’ project from April and early May 2020 is like stepping back into another world, even now, just a few months later in August. On 7 April, CFP launched a call for people to send in audio, text and images, or to fill in the online questionnaire, in order to create a record of what life was like for people in Ireland during the pandemic. Since then, the community-based folklore and oral history archive has received over fifty audio recordings, hundreds of images and over a hundred questionnaire entries detailing people’s everyday lives and routines, preoccupations, challenges, joys and reflection on what the crisis means to us.
Now is a good time to reflect on the worth of the project, and to look ahead to the next steps. Clíona O’Carroll, Research Director with the CFP, gives an update on the work and issues an invitation to all those interested to get involved.
When the crisis hit, we had to ask ourselves if this kind of a project was worth carrying out at a time when everyone – including ourselves – was in a situation of uncertainty and under stress. One thing that this kind of ‘in the moment’ documentation of the everyday can do is to record the thoughts, feelings and observations that we might forget in retrospect. It also provides space for experiences, details and viewpoints that aren’t reflected in the mainstream media.
One relevant question is: ‘What does this project do that isn’t already happening on social media, with people sharing stories and images?’ Although the social media were awash with personal accounts, we were aware that this material isn’t likely to be available to ourselves in another decade, let alone to future generations, and that the information that the CFP gathers as an archive on the background of the experiences that we collect will become more and more valuable as time goes on.
This was our first time using online – or indeed any kind of written – questionnaires in our work. I have to admit that I had always viewed written questionnaires as a poor relation of the face-to-face interview, wondering how they could approach anything like the same richness in terms of understanding the experiences of others. Now I have occasion to eat my words. The detail, the thoughtfulness, the surprises the hope, the sadness, the view into other people’s lives – for example, what it’s like to live your life as ‘extremely medically vulnerable’ in the early days of COVID-19 – and the humour: all of this richness contained in the contributions has made me realise how the use of questionnaires can be very worthwhile, particularly in these kinds of circumstances. You can sample some of the material that people contributed in a West Cork People article from early May 2020 here: https://westcorkpeople.ie/coronavirus/add-your-voice-to-the-peoples-archive-of-covid-19-experiences/.
People of all ages and from many walks of life contributed to the project, but we’re aware that there were many who might have been interested who didn’t have the time or the access to participate at the time. We’re very aware that those in healthcare or service industries, carers, those without good internet access or computer literacy, and many others heavily affected by the situation, would not have had the same chance to put their experiences ‘on the record’, and we invite everyone reading this to consider taking part in the project, and to visit our project webpage here (link to https://corkfolklore.org/cork-folklore-projects-covid-19-chronicles-collection/) or to access the English or Irish-language questionnaires. You can fill out the questionnaire, or send us material, in order to add your thoughts, photos, stories and reflection to this ‘people’s archive’.
We had nearly finished developing a downloadable and printable version of the questionnaire when we were contacted by the Chair of the Farranree Community Centre, who worked with us to incorporate it into their activities in supporting cocooning members of the community, distributing copies of the printed version, along with envelopes, with Meals on Wheels in the area. We’re delighted that those working hard for community solidarity saw some value in what we were doing, and adopted it as part of their range of creative ways to combat social isolation.
What now? We have archived the material collected so far, and it will be available as a community and research resource from now on. We have received a grant from UCC’s College of Arts, Celtic Studies and Social Sciences’ Emergency Strategic Funding Scheme to share the material already gathered in the project. This gives us the opportunity to build an online exhibition and share material from the questionnaire responses and email submissions. We are looking forward to creating galleries of the photographs submitted, and to showcasing the work of our volunteer ‘chroniclers’ such as Pauline Matthews. Pauline’s regular audio diaries – some of which are already available to listen to on our website (https://corkfolklore.org/) – create a steady narrative charting the main developments of the pandemic, providing a valuable backdrop to the questionnaire entries. And, of course, we’ll keep ‘doing what we do’, which is to listen and document. Life goes on, and while our ‘everyday’ has changed and keeps changing, it is our brief to keep growing an archive that reflects the breadth and depth of people’s experiences, and to make it available for community, research and creative use.
Our questionnaire is still open for submissions, and in the autumn we will be releasing a follow-up questionnaire for existing and new contributors. We are eager to find out more about life now that the newness of the situation has faded. We are also eager to follow up on major themes that emerged from this phase. For example, many people commented that the pandemic reminded them strongly of past epidemics and crises: remembered either from personal experience, such as the polio epidemic in Cork city in 1956, or through family stories, such as those about the 1918 Spanish ‘Flu pandemic. If you have stories, memories, reflection or description of life now or in the past that you would like to share, or are happy to facilitate someone you know who would like to contribute, please do get in contact.
The last few months have been a strange time for everyone. Most of all, for the people who have been affected directly by COVID-19, either contracting the virus themselves, or losing a loved one to the virus. Everyone has been affected in one way or another. From having to work from home, to losing one’s job, to students having six months away from school, to parents and grandparents not getting to see their children and grandchildren. Every one of us has a story to tell about their time in “lockdown”. Here is one person’s account of her life during this bizarre time. Pauline Matthews has been a volunteer with the Cork Folklore Project for the last few years, conducting many excellent interviews on Cork people’s experiences of working in such Cork institutions as Beamish & Crawford, Cash’s, Ford and many others. Pauline, over the last few months, has documented her experience of “cocooning” during the pandemic. Through her audio, video, photographs and writings, she has captured and expressed what many of us have been experiencing. Here are just some of Pauline’s audio entries dealing with the start, middle and end of the national “lockdown”. Pauline’s collection consists of approximately 50 audio entries, 50 Photographs, as well as written documents and videos. We would like to thank Pauline for her contribution. Not only is this material valuable in itself, it also creates a steady narrative charting the main developments of the pandemic, providing a valuable backdrop to the questionnaire entries contributed by many others to our still-running ‘Chronicles of COVID-19’ project.
We’ve been asked to talk about our ‘Chronicles of COVID-19/Cuntais COVID-19’ project at a free online event entitled ‘Social Distancing and Oral History’ that the Oral History Network of Ireland are hosting on Zoom this Friday 19thJune 2020, from 1.30-3pm. CFP’s Research Director Clíona O’Carroll is one of the three speakers, along with Ida Milne and Olivia Dee.
If you’d like to hear more, please sign up at the link above.
A very wide range of responses have come in so far, in over 100 contributions. We have been moved by the richness and thought-provoking nature of the material, which includes hopes, fears, frustrations and a real sense of empathy and solidarity. A strong sense of humour and hopefulness comes through also, despite the huge challenges facing us.
Our second phase has started, and will run throughout 2020, and we have launched the Irish language ceistneoir/questionnaire. This questionnaire is open to all, and those who have already contributed are welcome to do so again, using the same email address and just entering whatever they’d like to add.
Please do let your friends know about this project, the more response we get the better.
A new oral history and visual art exhibition, focused on memories and stories associated with Grattan Street Medical Centre, will be launched by broadcaster and journalist, Joe O’Shea on Thursday 6th February 6pm at a unique event at St. Peter’s on North Main Street in Cork. The ‘Grattan Street Stories: Memory of Place’ project is a unique community health, oral history and visual art collaboration between the Community Work Department and Social Inclusion Cork Kerry Community Healthcare HSE, the Cork Folklore Project and artist, Dr Edith O’Regan-Cosgrave.
Over the last twelve months, the Cork Folklore Project has worked in conjunction with the HSE on the use of oral history, the recording of memory and testimony, in a health setting in Cork. Having previously successfully collaborated on an oral history of the Orthopaedic Hospital in Gurranabraher, it was decided to invest in a two year part-time pilot project that would see the positive work of oral history and memory collection, concentrated on specific health based sites in the city. Under the new programme, in early 2019, Kieran Murphy, a native of Cork city, was appointed as Cork Folklore Project’s Community Oral History Outreach Officer. The first strand of the project saw research and engagement with the staff of Grattan Street Medical Centre, to capture both a sense of the past and also the changing nature of the site. The project also saw the involvement of the visual artist, Dr Edith O’Regan-Cosgrave. Twelve months later, a substantial collection of digital audio recordings has been made with staff, former patients and locals, who were able to narrate the history and role of Grattan Street Medical Centre and the community it served. For Kieran Murphy, the work underlines the value of recording memory and human stories:
‘The success of the project demonstrates how opening up a space to enable people to tell their stories, focused on a specific site, can result in a much deeper understanding for the broader community. I have been struck with how much it meant to interviewees to be given the chance to place their own personal memories and testimony on record. It has been a very powerful and positive experience.’
A unique exhibition has now been created by Dr Edith O’Regan-Cosgrave, which has drawn on short quotes and memories from the recordings undertaken, and will be launched at the event on 6th February and will then be open to the public until 28th February. The launch will feature a unique ‘listening event’ where segments from the audio recordings will be played to showcase the stories and experiences as told by the people themselves. The event will take place at St. Peter’s on North Main Street, on Thursday 6th February, beginning at 6.00pm and all are welcome.
We reached the landmark number of 700 in the number of our collected interviews this week. Thanks to Geraldine Healy whose recent life history interview became the 700th added to our database and thanks to all our interviewees!