Researching everyday life in Carlow

I’ve spent most of this week in the local studies section of Carlow County Library listening to the county’s Life and Life collection. Life and Lore is a series of oral testimonies from around the country that have been collected by Maurice and Jane O’Keeffe since the 1990s. They provide an important record not only of everyday life, but also of superstitions, old traditions, songs, folklore and legends – not to mention accents.

Life&Lore Carlow Collection
The Carlow Collection

Being able to listen to the interviewees recall the past really adds something to our interpretation of their experiences. Reading the written transcript is one thing, but a whole range of emotions can better understood by hearing their actual voices. The sense of disappointment and regret can be heard in the voice of Teresa English as she spoke about having to leave her public service job when she married. I found myself getting emotional listening to Molly Carroll recall the day her father – the man she described as ‘the world’s best’ – died in her arms. From the way he spoke, it was evident that Sean O’Shea took great pride in contributing to the housing developments in Carlow after the end of the Second World War. Although the Life and Lore series is accompanied by publications, it is these recordings that make the collection so important and useful to the historian of everyday life.

The people who are interviewed are typically older and their memories are precious. Some of the contributors to other county collections have since passed away, but their memories at least live on through these recordings. We need more such projects.

On a related note, the local studies section in Carlow Library is a credible argument in favour of maintaining the funding for our libraries. The staff is extremely friendly, efficient and knowledgeable. When I mentioned that I was interested in rural electrification, I was almost immediately presented with a series of local articles about connecting Carlow to the national grid. It’s that type of institutional memory – the ability to know the holdings inside out – that is lost when we downsize our public libraries. These people provide an invaluable service and should be treasured for that!

I’m only sorry that I’ve nothing else I need to consult in Carlow Library; it’s been an absolute pleasure to work there.

This research trip was made possible by funding from SSAHRI, for which I’m very grateful.

Published by Dr Ciara Meehan

Reader in History at the University of Hertfordshire.

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