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2020

Queen’s University celebrates the Prisons Memory Archive project

Queen’s celebrated the achievements of the Prisons Memory Archive (PMA) project at a special online event which featured reflections from a range of people involved in the project over its lifespan and an exclusive preview of the new PMA website.

Armagh Gaol
Armagh Gaol (2006) courtsey of the Prisons Memory Archive.

The PMA collection will be housed and preserved at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland’s (PRONI) digital repository. Over the coming months, the complete collection of recordings will be made available so the public can access 300 hours of audiovisual footage and associated material. 

The project is an inclusive collection of filmed walk-and-talk recordings with those who had a connection with Armagh Gaol and Maze and Long Kesh during the conflict in and about Northern Ireland. The collection features first-hand accounts of major historical events, as well as stories of everyday life in the prisons with more than150 recordings made at the prison sites in 2006 and 2007. 

The recordings capture how everyday life was impacted by the conflict and builds a story of the prisons. Participants in the project – including prison officers, prisoners, and probation officers, discuss at length their experiences of the prison. A diverse range of other participants include relatives, teachers, chaplains, lawyers, doctors, and maintenance workers – who recounted their experiences using the oral history tradition of life-storytelling.

Speaking during the virtual celebratory event, Professor Cahal McLaughlin from Queen’s and Director of the PMA said: "Given the political and psychic sensitivities of addressing the legacy of the past, we are privileged to have so many people trust us and our methods in order to share their memories with us. We are very grateful to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for funding this project, and to the PRONI for partnering with us and making possible public access to the archive."

Conor McCafferty, Project Manager of the PMA commented: "The Prisons Memory Archive has been a fascinating project for our team at Queen's to work on, from archiving and film editing to research and outreach. We're also grateful to our colleagues at Queen's and PRONI for the support they have given the PMA, and to the participants themselves for the commitment they have shown to the project.”

The PMA will launch a new website in August 2020 which will feature selected extracts and full recordings from the archive, as well as special short films. The website will also include new education resources for students and teachers, extensive background information on the prisons and new interactive maps of the prison sites.

Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín said: "The new website is an excellent example of local creativity and talent.  I have no doubt that it will encourage further engagement among all communities with the stories within the Prisons Memory Archive. I hope that interacting with the new website will inspire people to take the time to listen to the participants’ full stories through the PRONI catalogue. I am delighted that the recordings will be preserved in PRONI for future generations as these stories will help to enhance a mutual understanding of each other and of our recent past."

Paul Mullan, Director of National Lottery Heritage Fund Northern Ireland added: “We are delighted to be supporting this project which will help to provide an important understanding of a very difficult period of our past”.

“The new website will feature a wide range of extracts from the collection, specially produced short films and education resources. We hope it will allow people, now and in the future, to better understand our conflicted past," added Conor McCafferty. 

The PMA project was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

To find out more about the PMA, please visit: https://prisonsmemoryarchive.com

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