Wednesday, November 22, 2017


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Another book launch at the Alliance Française in Dublin town. This time it's The Bonjour Effect by Julie Barlow and hubby Jean-Benôit Nadeau.

Its thesis is that conversation is an art form in France, guided by a complex set of rules, codes, conventions and taboos. In exploring these the book is a primer in the psychology of the French and it gives you pointers on how to cope with this very strange race of people.

It lets us in on the secret that talking to the French is not about communicating or being nice, its about being interesting. With this as a starting point the exalted state of "se démerder" becomes attainable to even the rankest amateur.


The evening was introduced by the Institute's new Director Thierry Lagnau who succeeds former Director Philippe Milloux, who has now returned to Paris HQ.

Jean-Philippe Imbert

The evening was structured as an interview by Jean-Philippe Imbert of one of the book's co-authors, Jean-Benoît Nadeau. Jean-Philippe is from DCU where he bears the intriguing title of Lecturer in Comparative Literature and Sexuality Studies in the School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies (SALIS).

Jean-Philippe has appeared on this blog before, interviewing Olivier Litvine on the launch of his book Musique de Chambre.

Jean-Benoît Nadeau

So, let's get one thing out of the way first, the book's title. What's all this Bonjour stuff?

Well, believe it or not, this one little word is the key to the pearly gates of French conversation, and, as we learn, cooperation. Omit this simple greeting on meeting a French person and you're in the doghouse from that point on. A foreigner might just be given some latitude on a fine day but for the French it is de rigueur.

So maybe you think that's a bit thick. Well, believe you me, even in Ireland, there can be more to a simple greeting than meets the eye. Consider this little incident from the Mayo Gaeltacht early in the twentieth century.
Colm O'Gaora was a young teacher and a timire for Conradh na Gaeilge. He was new to the Irish speaking Bangor Erris disrict in Co. Mayo when he met a man along the road. "Dia dhuit" (God be with you) says he, in the traditional Irish equivalent of Bonjour. The immediate and vehement reply took him aback: "May God and Mary bless you and may bad luck strike you down you dirty old Protestant".
It really does matter how you greet people and if you want to understand Colm's faux pas check out this incident in more detail in my review of his book.

Julie Barlow

Before I go any further, do remember that the book is co-authored by Jean-Benoît and his wife Julie.

Clearly then, they are both responsible in equal measure for its content. However, when it comes to describing an incident to illustrate a particular point, it is described by whichever of them was involved in it. This is both a constant reminder throughout the book of its dual authorship and it makes for more interesting reading..

As Julie was not involved in the actual launch in the Alliance, I'm giving her a look in here.

It is important to know that the French put a lot of pass on what I'd call polish: speaking with supreme confidence, wit and loads of grammar. In fact the ideal is to speak written French. Bearing this in mind will enhance your understanding of the incident below which I have reproduced from my website.
Learning French was no less bizarre. I arrived in France, in 1963, with very good Leaving Cert written French (there were no orals in those days). The family were, sort of, nobility. There had been a general in the family on the mother/granny's side and all the adults spoke proper. The granny was very concerned with the deterioration in the quality of French spoken by the youth of the country in general and her own daughter's children in particular.

Meanwhile I was trying to converse in French, my ultimate ambition being to effortlessly speak the same colloquial brand of French spoken by the children and of which the granny was so critical. I had to think in English, translate into French in my head, mentally repeat the result three times and then deliver it before it evaporated.

Clearly in granny's view I was speaking prose, as had de Gaulle before me, and the house resounded to her loud exhortations to the children "Écoutez Paul", listen to Paul (ie speak prose). The irony of it.

And the wit bit.

Well, let's take Jacques Attali, economic cosigliere to François Mitterand and subsequently President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

Now there was a frenchman of sublime refinement who had trained his wit to a fine edge. He also had an abnormally large ego, the largest I ever met in fact, and clearly could never afford to let himself be outwitted, so to speak.

This incident, from the Board of the EBRD, on which I served briefly, will give you a flavour.
On one occasion, Tony Faint, the UK Director, who was from DIFID, had a mild go at him, when he suggested that the Bank should give some consideration to what niche might be appropriate for its operations. This was red rag to a bull as far as Attali was concerned and he responded that in French a niche was a kennel where you kept a dog. Tony replied that where he came from a niche was a space that housed the statue of a saint. "Yes, but they're all dead" was Attali's quick retort and that killed that intervention stone dead, so to speak.
Clearly Attali had fully absorbed this desideratum of the French education system. However, he didn't always have it his own way.
One of the Board's concerns was a feeling that the economic analysis underpinning some of the projects was a bit thin. A result, no doubt, of the speed at which matters were being pushed along. The cudgel here was taken up by the Spanish Director, José Luis Ugarte . He was a nice man with a slightly dry sense of humour. He had a background in economics, in academia and in the OECD, so he was well qualified for this encounter. "Mr President" says he "I think we might take this project a little more slowly and deepen the economic analyis underpinning it". "Not at all." says Attali "Economics is dead. I know. I taught it for years". "Ah yes, Mr President, but that was socialist economics". The Board collapsed with laughter. A beautiful rapier of a sentence. Attali had been socialist President Mitterand's economic mentor over the previous 15 years, even before he came to power. And the Bank was set up to supplant the failed "socialist" economics of the Soviet era. Even Attali had to muster a conceding smile.
That was one of only two occasions I have seen Attali bettered in repartee, a skill in which he prided himself.

The french education system lays great stress on philosophy as a subject, even in the early stages. By this is meant teaching pupils how to think. This doesn't mean that rote learning is absent. It isn't and there is a lot of it. But it does lead to the French having respect for public intellectuals.

Attali frequently boasted that he was a member of two minorities: he was a Jew and an intellectual. But that in my view was not the whole story.

The French have a binary view of the answer to the question: "where are you from?" which makes the question problematic. We Irish have no great problem asking the question, often followed by "who are your people?". Though I have to admit I once met a man who was ashamed to be from Mayo (God help him).

Posing that question to a Frenchman, however, can be very insulting. The binary is French or not French and asking the question could be seen as questioning the respondent's frenchness.

In listing his membership of minorities, Attali was careful to avoid mention of his membership of the third minority. He was born in Algiers. Clearly the less said the better.

The book comments on Madame de Staël who was known for running top class salons of conversation. She had interesting views on various national characteristics having herself lived all over the place.

Apparently she was stunned to learn that German conversation did not tolerate interruptions. The authors point out this was probably because, in German, the verb invariably comes at the end of the sentence.

I have included this random observation because it made me smile. Sort of a German joke.

Did you know that French is not a language? Seriously. At least that is the French view. It is simply an aspect of their culture.

For example we would describe French learned by a former monoglot English speaker as their second language, Turn this around to a former monoglot French speaker learning English. The English is described as their first language.

I sort of knew about all of this from my days in Mlle Giudicelli's class in the Alliance in the sixties - Langue et Civilisation Française and all that.

I also knew that in France political leaders are allowed a certain level of gilded luxury. It also applies to very senior civil servants. This whole group are seen as leaders in cultural discernment. It is actually a part of what brought down Attali in the end - his Carrera Marble (another story).

I learned some new things from this book about what I'd call permanent French attitudes, but also about how meanings had in some cases shaded from my time.

For instance I read that Copain now has acquired sexual connotations. In my day, the newly published pop magazine, Salut les Copains, could be translated as a sort of Hi Guys among young people. God knows how you'd have to translate it now.

So lets end on a good sexist note - a book called La Femme Parfaite est une CONNASSE, The Perfect Woman is a Bitch (putting it politely - Larousse gives you Stupid Cow as an alternative!).

Gotcha there, maybe. It is actually a pro-woman book written by two women. So there.

The main man spoke French to me afterwards and I have to say the Canadian version is different and I'd have needed more time to tune in. Must brush up on my Céline Dion.

Anyway, the book is a most enjoyable, and sometimes hilarious, read.

It will firm up your prejudices and explain why you don't have to feel guilty about them any more.

It will also arm you for any future ventures into that cockpit of cultural conflict which is the French language.

Buy it

Monday, November 20, 2017


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Part of the Irish Theatre Archive, reposing in the Dublin City Archive, concerns the Eblana Theatre. This small (?) theatre with a capacity for an audience of about 200 was not untypical of a number of smaller theatres around Dublin city in the sixties and early seventies.

It did, however, have a number of features which distinguised it from the others. It was in the lower level of a central bus station, beside the toilets. It had originally been designed as a newsreel cinema and so lacked a backstage area so vital in a theatre. There was apparently a series of phone booths at that level in which the country people were alleged to have peed.

The Eblana put on a lot of experimental, and some daring, plays and there was an element of experiment and initiative called into play to produce a functioning stage space on the night.

Ellen Murphy

The theatre's archive is now with the Dublin City Archive and it is expected to grow as further research is undertaken into the history of this relatively neglected and now abandoned theatre.

Which brings me to the archivist.

Ellen Murphy is a Senior Archivist with the Dublin City Archive. I have met Ellen on numerous occasions. Either when she was taking custody of the gift of yet another archive donated to the institution for safekeeping, restoring, preserving, cataloguing and finally being made available to the public either in hardcopy on the premises or through the internet. Or when she was launching an exhibition of the final product. Each of these new archives is a major project in itself but, like the iceberg, the public only ever see the tip of it.

So I thought I'd mention Ellen at the outset as she is unlikely to have her name up in lights despite the sterling work she is putting into saving the city's history for the rest of us.

Cormac Moore

Cormac Moore is one of a new breed at Dublin Library and Archive. Dublin City Library has appointed a team of resident historians with the aim of developing their analytical capacity on the history side and bringing their rich store of material to the attention of an even wider public.

Gavin Murphy

And so to the content of today's (18/11/2007) session. Gavin Murphy is an artist with an interest in matters architectural. In the present project he has researched the history of the Eblana in terms of the personnel and the plays they put on. But he also has an interest in the building itself, and we'll come to this.

Des Nealon

Des Nealon is an actor who not only acted in the Eblana. In many ways he is the personification of the theatre having been involved in the running of it with Phyllis Ryan from the outset, but particularly when he set up Amalgamated Artists who sub-leased it from Phyllis in the 1969-71 period.

Gavin, whose Eblana exhibition in Temple Bar was on its last day, gave us a run down on the Busáras building which houses the theatre. It was originally built as a central bus station and office HQ by CIE, the national transport company. It was taken over by the Government to house the Department of Social Welfare and the ground floor and basement were leased back to CIE.

To most Dubliners it is just the central terminus for long-distance buses. In fact, is was a ground-breaking piece of architecture in its day. This was true of its design and the materials used in its construction which were at the cutting edge in the Europe of the time. Many of its engineering features, including a sealed ventilation system, were also new. This feature eventually led to the building being included in a list of Dublin's "sick buildings". Apparently even Le Corbusier, whose work strongly influenced the design of Busáras, also had a problem with his sealed buildings.

Busáras was principally the work of Irish architect, Michael Scott. Scott's career spanned both acting and architecture so it was fitting that this innovative building got to house a theatre.

The Eblana began its life as a theatre in 1959 with Phyllis Ryan's Gemini Productions and it continued into the 1980s, after which there were sporadic performances up to 1995 when it finally closed. It is currently abandoned. This is a shame. Plans to turn it into a left luggage office were fortunately shelved but bringing it back into use as a theatre would be costly. Apart from changes which were considered desirable at the time, such as a separate bespoke entrance from the outside, modern health and safety considerations would add significantly to the cost.

You can see a list of the new Irish plays put on in the Eblana during its lifetime at
Playography Ireland. Many foreign plays were also put on, such as Joe Orton's Look Back in Anger.

Des gave us a bucketful of reminiscences from those days, citing some of the more significant productions and throwing out a string of names that probably don't mean much to today's audiences, or to myself, not having been a theatre goer.

I don't know if I'm allowed to say this but he confided that he was the first actor to use the F word on the Irish stage. He expected a backlash, particularly given the repressively conservative tenour of the times, but it apparently went unremarked.

On another occasion, I think he said he played the nude scene in Peter Schaffer's Equus (in the Gate?). Having brought his mother to the performance he was very nervous about what her reaction might be. And she did give out stink - but only about the bad language.

In the course of his contribution, Des did a marvellous take-off of Micheál MacLiammór. Had I closed my eyes I'd have expected to see Micheál sitting in Des's chair.

During the session we saw an extract from the video that Gavin had made for his exhibition. This included a look over some of the Eblana theatre programmes which were in the building upstairs. Des had done the voice-over commentary for that section of the video.

The whole session was most interesting and it reminded me of my intention to check out the Eblana archive upstairs at the next available opportunity.


I'd just like to finish with a brief reference to my own connections with the Eblana.

Bríd Ní Shúilleabháin

Bríd Ní Shúilleabháin was stage manager for Amalgamated Artists and through her I ended up doing some sound work for them which now allows me to drop some serious names. The productions I was involved in were: The Ginger Man (director Alan Simpson); The Singular Man (director Alan Simpson); Little Red Riding Would (director Chris O’Neill); Look Back in Anger (director Louis Lentin). The photo above was actually taken in the Eblana.

Dearbhla Molloy

Through Bríd I also met Dearbhla Molloy, who is a friend of hers to this day. Bríd asked me to take some photos of Dearbhla for a portfolio and the shot above is one of those.

Dearbhla also appeared in the Eblana, and in many other theatres in town. A list of plays by Irish playwrights in which she appeared is at Playography She eventually emigrated to London where she has had a very successful career.

Dearbhla appeared in one Irish play in the Eblana, The Saturday Night Women by Michael Judge. Bríd is also listed as stage manager in this Playography entry.

I see also that a play by one of my school classmates, Brian Lynch, was put on in the Eblana in 1979.

Friday, November 17, 2017


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A last minute review of the winners in the Michael Edwards photo competition. I have reported on the various phases of this year's competition including on the line-up for the final.

The moment of truth arrived on 16 November as the prizewinners and overall winners were selected from among some fifty images from clubs and eleven from individuals.

Dermot Edwards

Dermot Edwards, who with his father Michael, runs the photographic shop (I nearly said Photoshop) in the Donaghmede Shopping Centre, looks a happy man.

In kicking off the final adjudication he thanked all who had been involved in supporting the competition during the year through sponsorship or simply by entering photos. Even this blog got a mention.

Eamon O'Daly

Eamon O'Daly, from The Outdoor Studio and Skerries Photography, was this year's adjudicator for the final.

Before getting down to the business of the evening he outlined his general approach to the adjudication.

Unlike Ray McManus, two years ago, who treated us to a diatribe against the use of Photoshop, Eamon had a more sensible approach. Post-processing was acceptable as long as it was simply enhancing the qualities of the original photograph and not creating a new artistic production.

He also mentioned the inadvisability of using glass frames when you don't know the precise lighting conditions under which your work will be displayed. It is important to avoid reflections which interfere with how people actually see your work.

I've been making this point myself till I'm blue in the face but nobody seems to be paying any attention.

He also made clear, in the context of this year's theme of OUR TOWN, that he preferred the location to be identifiable in the photo itself and, as our world was all about people, he would like to see people included in the photos. His choices very much reflected these considerations.

There was some muttering in the audience that it would have been good to know all this in advance. As it is, the existing rules are few and very general in nature. I know Dermot feels that this is to encourage the widest possible entry and while I have some sympathy with that point of view I think a little more specificity would be no harm. I'll leave it at that for now.

Overall winner in the Clubs category

As is customary, the results were announced in reverse order with the overall winners revealed at the end. As I'm not going to cover all the twenty or so prizewinners I'm doing it the other way round.

Top prize in the clubs category went to Dermot O'Flaherty from the Swords Viewfinders. This was for a black and white study of Bewley's Café in Grafton Street. A fine piece of work which, incidentally, took in both of the adjudicator's principal criteria. Personally, I'm always thrilled to see black and white holding its own.

As well as a fine trophy, courtesy of Dublin City Council, Dermot got a special gift from Michael. The Minox camera was standard spy equipment during WWII and the Cold War. Michael told Dermot he could use it but better not to.

My mother had a Minox but it was mainly me that used it. I must fish out the negs one of these days.

Dermot said that the photo had been inspired by one taken by a lady who was currently not well, so it was nice to see her inspiration get some recognition in the circumstances.

Winner in the Individual Category

The winner in the individual category was Vivion Mulcahy, a Northsider currently resident in Luxembourg which is where the winning photo was taken.

As Vivion is currently in Luxembourg his prize was accepted by his friend and photo-colleague, Barry Crowley from the Howth Club.

From the contented look on Barry's face you'd think it was him what took it.

The photo is a night shot of the River Alzette as it flows through the old low city (“Grund”) of Luxembourg.

It is a very crafted shot and worth your while to study it closely. I have seen other shots of this scene but not as subtle as this one.

The entire Grund is a UNESCO Heritage Site and so is protected from indiscriminate development. It is a warren of steep and narrow cobbled streets and includes a number of small restaurants and bars. In days gone by the lepers of Luxembourg were segregated in the Grund. Thankfully leprosy is no longer endemic in Luxembourg.

The best way to get there is via a lift which descends from the upper city (“Ville haute”) through hundreds of feet of solid rock and from which you emerge into a rock tunnel lined with artworks. From there it is a short walk to where the photo was taken.

The river is usually placid, but not always - as this photo of a riverside house graphically illustrates. The river's current level is some 12 feet below its flood level in 1756 (marked by the plaque at the top left of the photo). And this before climate change.

Other prizewinners

Just a quick take on a few other winning shots.

Another shot from Dermot O'Flaherty, this time a moment seized in St. Stephen's Green.

And yet another from Dermot, this time a night shot at the Spire in O'Connell St.

Michael wonders who took this one of fishermen on Howth pier.

And it's Pat Carey from the local St. Benedict's club and last year's winner. Another shot with strong people interest.

And yet another one from Pat. This time its buskers on the Clontarf prom with the two iconic chimneys in the background. The adjudicator particularly commented on this one as fulfilling both his main criteria with the people interest here being very strong. An unkind member of the audience drew attention to the smoke emanating from the chimneys.

Despite the intense individual rivalry in this competition there is a sense of club solidarity at the end of the day. Here the Sutton club pose for a family photo with their prize-winning photographer.

And I can't finish without mentioning Raheny. That club didn't get any prizes this year but I thought I'd show you Billy White's entry. Billy won the competition two years ago. I caught him sneaking out with his entry, as I did myself a few minutes later.

As the captions this year were restricted to "single word locations" I have taken the liberty of explaining the rationale behind my own entries here.

Thursday, November 16, 2017


Pearse Square
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It's that time of year again, the climax of Michael Edwards photo exhibition/competition has come and gone.

The theme this year was OUR TOWN and the idea was to illustrate what makes where we are from special. I think expectations were for the positive rather than the negative. The individual category was there again this year and I put in five entries. As far as the judges are concerned the entries are anonymous and you are only allowed a short title for each photo indicating where it has been taken. So no commentary then.

Well, as I did last year, and now that the competition is over and anonymity is no longer required, I thought I'd just explain my photos a bit and say why I took them in the first place and why I picked these particular ones to enter.

Pearse Square, above, was originally Queen Square and it was renamed along with the street in 1921. This was on the eve of formal independence and was done by a City Council that had been long at loggerheads with the Imperial British Authorities.

The old sign is still there on the corner building and it has been left to deteriorate over the years. Understandable I suppose. However the newer sign is one of those cheapo versions and it too has deteriorated. I was very surprised it was not replaced by a more worthy version in the run up to the 1916 commemorations. Even the Padraig Pearse pub around the corner got a whole new frontage for the occasion and I entered a photo of that for last years competition.

I entered this one this year as typical not only of my beloved town but also of the country at large. Lots of lip service but very little action.

Macken Street

My town had its share of bombs during the troubles and thankfully that is now all behind us, pace Brexit. However this Continuity IRA sign appeared in recent times in Macken Street and there is no sign of anyone doing anything about it. I suppose it's as well to be reminded from time to time that peace is hard won and needs constant nurturing.

I entered this as a reminder of what may be simmering just below the surface.


Enough of the rough stuff. A neighbour called me one day recently to have a look in her back garden. To her surprise, earlier in the day this duck with is clatter of ducklings paraded out from the garden bushes.

There are no ducks on our estate though there is a bird sanctuary down in Dollymount where both native ducks and passing flocks can be seen. It was presumably one of these that found itself pregnant and diverted to the nearest friendly and semi-concealed welcoming space.

My neighbour put out some water and the ducklings all took a bath, from which they can be seen above returning to the comfort and concealment of the bushes..

The duck people came later to take them away and look after them until they were able to go on their way.

I entered this to show that there can be some very pleasant and unexpected aspects to living in the suburbs.

Raheny Village

This one doesn't really need any explanation in a world of increasing surveillance. Nice of them to warn us. Pity the cameras were not suitably trained when the public defibrillator was stolen from round the corner not all that long ago. Hopefully the replacement is now under as much surveillance as I am myself.

I entered this one to reassure myself that, in my town, someone up there is watching over me.

Nassau Street

And, finally, this caught my eye on my way home from Culture Night.

Dublin Canvas has been doing a great job around the city getting the grey traffic light control boxes tarted up. This one looked particularly appropriate on a rubbish collection evening.

I entered this one to show that at least one, and possibly two, citizens have retained a sense of humour despite the current onslaught on our environment from fly-tipping and careless disposal of rubbish. The plastic bag tax was a start but we still have a long way to go.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


Image from Military Archives Pensions Files
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The Council of National Cultural Institutions (CNCI) organised a symposium entitled Digitisation Case Studies in the National Gallery of Ireland on 9 November 2017. I think it was primarily intended for digitisation managers and archivists and the presentations were quite detailed as a result.

Nevertheless I came away with a host of impressions which I will attempt to share below.

John McDonough, National Archives of Ireland

The seminar was introduced by John McDonough, Director of the National Archives of Ireland. Though his institution didn't have a presentation as such he stressed the importance of archives and in particular the current extensive digitisation programme of the National Archives.

I don't know if they will ever best their digitisation of the 1901 and 1911 censuses. That was an amazing project which opened up huge avenues of research. I have made extensive use of it myself and have referred to the project in a blog post on Catríona Crowe who must take the credit for it.

Jenny Doyle, National Library of Ireland

Jenny Doyle, who is Digitisation Programme Manager at the National Library, filled us in on the digitisation of the Decade of Commemoration. We're only nearly half way through this decade at the moment, having covered the 1913 Lockout, the outbreak of WWI in 1914 and the 1916 Rising. We are now into Phase 3 of the project, dealing with the War of Independence and the Civil War.

Clearly material must be catalogued before it is digitised and so far some 16% of what has been catalogued has been digitised. This includes some 105K items and 601K images. I'm not quite sure what this means exactly and one of the issues raised during the morning was how digitised material should be counted. Different institutions adopt different practices and some of them, no doubt, do themselves down in the process.

For many of us the question Why Digitise may be redundant. We know the advantages. But it is no harm to recap some of them here from Jenny's list and we will be coming back to them in detail later.
• Reduces Damage
• Security
• Saves Space
• Meets user needs
• Improves or enhances access
• A step towards digital preservation
Jenny then gave us details on the workflows and staffing involved in the project. What I took from this is that it is very labour intensive, despite a certain degree of automation, and that it needs to be adequately resourced.

Ines Byrne, National Library of Scotland

Ines Byrne is the Digital Transition Manager in the National Library of Scotland. That library's digitisation programme has a lot of elements in common with NLI's programme. But Ines highlighted a number of specific points of interest.

She stressed that the fundamental purpose of digitisation in her case was to provide access to useful collection materials. This involved prioritising and this in itself was tricky.

She added in two subsidiary effects of the programme, supporting innovation and driving economic development.

She touched on the approaches needed in the light of the varying rights attaching to material.

She distinguished between bespoke material which needed particular individual attention and that which could be more or less mass processed.

She outlined some of the cost elements involved and the various funding options available, some of which then fed back into the choice of priorities. The process was a balance between desire and pragmatism.

Cécile Gordon, Military Archives

Cécile is the Military Service Pensions Project Manager at the Military Archives. This was both an innovative and very sensitive project. It involved releasing files on people who applied for pensions in relation to military service in the cause between 1916 and 1923.

Applicants could be those who served, or if deceased, surviving relations who could show that they were dependent on them during the period in question. Some 85,000 people applied of which 18,000 were successful.

The full collection consists of 250,000 files of which 20,000 are currently online, so the project seems to be still ongoing. Cécile stressed the degree of planning and preparation that went into the project and said that this is the stage where most projects fail.

Processing the pensions presented particular issues of security and confidentiality and so had all to be done on site.

Final presentation of the results included grouping of related files which was an enormous boon to researchers.

I have made slight use of the pensions data so far in looking at the files related to the O'Reilly brothers who were killed in the 1921 raid on the Custom House. Stephen O'Reilly was a friend of Peggy Medlar, a cousin of mine who was a renowned Irish dancing teacher in Dublin and who came from a militant republican family in Kilkenny.

Cécile gave us a great run down on the digitising of this most interesting material.

Audrey Drohan, UCD

Audrey is Senior Library Assistant on Digital Initiatives at UCD and she gave us an overview of this vast area. We're talking of some 80 collections with 5 million file assets, whatever that last one means. Anyway they're obviously very big numbers.

The UCD digital library hosts a vast range of esoteric material from the historical to the newly created. It has a range of collaborators across the nation, mostly in the research area and it offers digitisation advice to other institutions. It is hard to describe the scope and content of this area and you'd best go and check out the website.

Órna Roche, UCD

Órna is the Metadata Librarian at UCD Digital and she brought us through the more technical aspects of the digitisation process.

She showed us the various layers intervening between the viewable objects and the actual stored data. She brought us through the various processes involved in getting the originals into the system. This is where I learned a new word "ingesting", new to me at least in the digital context. And while I'm at it I also learned a new term "born digital". This refers to data originally created in digital form.

I am not familiar with the Mirador IIIF Image Viewer but Órna drew our attention to a recent upgrade and when I very briefly looked it up on the site it appeared to be just magic. I'll have to try it out in the context of my family and local history researches.

Heather Stanley, PRONI

The final presentation of the day was from the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI). In case you're wondering what they have to do with anything, remember that this island was under a single administration prior to 1922. I tend to forget this myself when following up my local and family history. Not all records pertaining to the South are held here. There is a vast amount of island-wide material stored in the North.

In the first part of this presentation Heather Stanley, Head of Preservation and Collections Management at PRONI, took us through some recent projects. These included church records, glass plate negatives, photographs and prison registers.

I am always relieved to see glass plate negatives digitised (or even photographed). This dates from my own experience in the National Library in the 1970s when I was consulting the Lawrence Collection. I was handed piles of original glass plates to look at. I still shudder at the memory.

Joy Carey, PRONI

Joy Carey is Digitisation Manager at PRONI and she took us through some of the more technical aspects of their digitisation programme.

She took us through one example of a photo album containing 99 photos. This was to be catalogued and digitised and made accessible to the public. Because PRONI use a three-layered system, for security and preservation, this involved generating 297 digital (tiff/jpeg) images. The first layer was of master copies (tiff), the second of restored copies (tiff), and the third for public access (jpeg).

And I can't resist mentioning this one. Digitisation in the right hands can involve not only preservation of existing resources but their restoration.

The photo on the left is from a Gransha Hospital Case Book and you can see how faded it is. This would not be an exceptional case. Depending on the processes used at the time many photos have seriously deteriorated. One of the great benefits of digitisation is that it allows very sophisticated manipulation of the digital image as the final product on the right shows.

Finally a few general remarks arising out of the morning's session.

The digitisation undertaken by these institutions in recent times has been nothing short of amazing. It is a resource-intensive exercise and has been undertaken in a time of financial stringency. The enthusiasm for their work, which came across clearly in the presentations, must surely be a major factor in this conjuring trick.

I have made considerable use of the National Library's resources over the years and I'm well used to the hardcopy slog, even when the material is catalogued and well indexed. I have written about some of this here.

Today it is a different matter. Digitisation means I can access this material from home. I don't need to take copious notes or put in for photocopies. I can call up the originals at any time.

Most importantly, digitisation is a quantum leap for the consumer. Now you can do comprehensive searches, find what you want or satisfy yourself that it is not there. For example in the 1901 census (from the National Archives who were not presenting today) I could determine that my grandfather was NOT in the returns. (He was a commercial traveler and probably fell through a crack on the night.)

Also, digital searching enabled me to discover that Major LaChaussée, who surveyed my then local area, Killiney Bay, for the British in 1797 was later financing French royalist rebels in their unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Napoleon in 1804.

Of those institutions presenting today I have used both hardcopy and digital resources in the National Library, the National Archives (census/wills), and the Military Archives (Free State administrative files, witness statements, pensions).

The question of resources is a difficult one. This is true for the institutions generally but may be a particular issue post digitisation, if there is such a state possible.

For example there was a lot of funding sloshing around for projects connected with 1916 given that event's high political profile. Some of this may continue for other digitisation projects within the Decade of Commemoration. But there may be a danger that once this period has passed people will feel that the institutions have now been automated and can continue to operate on scant resources. I just mention it as something to watch out for. I had such an experience in the State department I worked for many moons ago.

A participant from the University of Limerick made an important point during the Q&A. The context was the need for standardisation and interoperability between the institutions and with the wide world outside.

The different institutions and their projects have different needs and these often give rise to bespoke solutions. The participant made the point that such bespoke solutions may be very convenient in the short term but in the longer term and with evolving technologies these could end up isolating material from the mainstream and limiting public access.

I remember the same, or an analogous, problem in the early days of computerisation in the State department in which I worked. People were developing their own bespoke solutions, often outside the network and on their own PCs. These were then left behind, so to speak, when the networks were upgraded. In fact some of them only came to light years later, if at all.

So my strong feeling is for standardised and joined up action. I know from listening to the presentations that this feeling is shared across the institutions. Nevertheless it is clear that some bespoke solutions were adopted in some cases and it is important to remain aware of the dangers.

Events like today's are making a serious contribution to this awareness.

My final remark is to note that, apart from John's introduction, all the presentations were made by women. Make of that what you will.