ITMA Pop‑up Archive at IWAMD, University of Limerick

January 2020 saw the launch of a new initiative from ITMA: the addition of a ‘visiting researcher’ as part of the Pop-Up Archive programme. Kara O'Brien a PhD student at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance (IWAMD) at the University of Limerick was the inaugural ITMA Pop-up researcher. Kara kindly takes us on her research journey.

Popup Ul 2020 Researcher Kara Obrien
Kara O'Brien,

My involvement with the scheme began in mid-December 2019, when the usual deluge of end-of-semester emails was interrupted by the announcement of a bursary being offered by ITMA to allow a student to spend a researcb week in the Archive. 

My name is Kara O’Brien. I am a Ph.D. student at the Irish World Academy (IWA) at the University of Limerick. Originally from a little town outside of Denver, Colorado in the US, I began singing traditional Irish songs when I was very small, and for most of my life I have sung, collected, and studied traditional songs. I moved to Ireland four years ago to continue this work, first through an M.A. in Traditional Music Performance, and now through a Ph.D. focusing on traditional Irish hunting songs. 

Although I had briefly visited the Archive a couple of times earlier in my research, I must admit that I was a bit intimidated by the idea of conducting any extended research there—at first in the mistaken belief that ITMA’s extensive online offerings contained most of their collection, and later because I found there was so much material available that it was difficult to know where to begin. 

Extract: Kara O'Brien Pop-Up Research Presentation

The trouble with hunting songs is that they tend to show up in all sorts of odd places. For the last three years, I have tracked them down on various recordings, through internet searches and, mostly, through word of mouth. I began studying them because 1) they have been largely neglected in the past, and 2) they contain all sorts of interesting bits of historical, cultural and political information buried in them. It is exactly these two things that make them so difficult to find, however. They have rarely been compiled, and they turn up in the guise of everything from political ballads to lengthy sporting rhymes to love songs. Fascinating, but difficult to find.

I arrived at the Archive on a bright January morning, with a collection of about 15 hunting songs, and the hope that during the week I would turn perhaps two or three new ones and some variations on the ones I had. By the time I got on the bus back to Limerick the following Saturday, I had a list of over 100 distinct songs.

Extract: Kara O'Brien Pop-up Research Presentation

Perhaps more importantly even than the songs, however, I gained a whole new appreciation of ITMA, its collection, its importance to the traditional music and dance of Ireland, and its remarkable and passionate staff.

Sitting in the lovely Georgian library for a week, I had a unique opportunity to experience the range of people who use the archive, and the vast resources and knowledge of the staff who help them make the most of the collection. I also gained a new understanding of the Archive as a part of the living tradition of Ireland’s music and dance, and its passionate dedication to collection and preserving all aspects of the tradition. 

The following week this was demonstrated with even more force, when ITMA Director Liam O’Connor, Project Manager Grace Toland, and Field Recording Officer Brian Doyle arrived at the Irish World Academy for the Pop-Up Archive. 

The two days that the Archive spent at the Academy were marked with growing excitement as students began to better understand what the Archive was and how they could make use of it. On the second day the Archive staff and myself gave a presentation about ITMA, its goals, purpose and the various resources available. Afterwards, the Archive recorded an interview with the great musician Mickey Dunne, showcasing the Archive’s commitment to preserving the living tradition, and allowing students to witness field-recording first-hand. 

By the time the interview was completed, the foyer was filled with students of all ages and majors, brimming with question about the Archive’s collections and resources.
Kara O'Brien

The event sparked a new interest amongst students, many of whom later told me that they had no idea of the scope of the Archive’s resources, or even that students “could just walk in.” 

The impact of the Pop-Up Archive is still being felt at the Academy, and has had a lasting impact on the relationship between the two institutions. 

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ITMA Pop-Up Archive at IWA: a video snapshot

it was hugely valuable for Irish World Academy students to have the opportunity to interact with the richness and depth of the archive on ‘home turf’. It is a true example of accessibility and community engagement. Already, its effects are being felt throughout the student body, from BA to PhD levels and we hope that we can continue this initiative in the future
Sandra Joyce, Director IWA

To the uninitiated—and particularly to students—the Irish Traditional Music Archive has, perhaps, one of the most formidable names to ever grace a Georgian townhouse. Between those two megaliths of Tradition and Archive Music might so easily get lost. Anyone who has experienced the Archive or met its staff will know that nothing could be further from the truth. The Pop-Up Archives and bursary program are carrying this message in new ways to new audiences: from schools and universities to festivals and sessions, ITMA will always be found in the heart of the living tradition.

Written by:

Kara O'Brien

Presented by:

Grace Toland