ITMA National Heritage Week 2021

John Brennan & Tilly Finn. Photograph in Cnuasach an Bhreathnaigh reproduced courtesy of Independent Newspapers & the National Library of Ireland.

ITMA’s unique image collection now stands at over 21,700 items. Many of these exist in obsolete physical formats only which limits access to this material to those who can visit the ITMA premises in Merrion Square, Dublin. This year the Heritage Council has awarded ITMA a grant to digitise, preserve and make accessible, to archival best practice, some 4,480+ slides, negatives and photographs from the collections of two highly significant figures in Irish traditional music: Breandán Breathnach (1912-1985) an uilleann piper, collector, publisher, writer and organiser & Gráinne Yeats (1925-2013) a professional harper, singer, teacher, arranger, historian and recorded artist.

Each day during Heritage week ITMA published a gallery of images from either the Breathnach or Yeats collection, with a short contextual essay. Six galleries were created in total and they were highlighted across all ITMA's social media platforms. Below are the galleries which were featured during Heritage Week 2021.

Positive Negatives Unlocking the ITMA Image Collection: An Overview of ITMA's 2021 Heritage Council Project

In March 2021 ITMA applied to the Heritage Council of Ireland's Community Heritage Grant Scheme for funding to digitise, preserve and make accessible, to archival best practice, negatives, slides and photographs from ITMA's 2021 milestone collections: Cnuasach an Bhreathnaigh (the Breandán Breathnach Collection) & the Gráinne Yeats Collection.

The aim of the scheme is to support capital projects that improve access and inclusion to heritage sites; that apply good heritage practice to the management of places, collections or objects (including buildings). The scheme also supports the purchase of essential equipment. The scheme is intended to enable communities and heritage non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to continue their work in this area or to start new initiatives.

Heritage Council, March 2021

ITMA was successful in this funding application and following the funding announcement in May the project began in earnest. Eneclann were appointed project partners and were tasked with the job of digitising a total of 4,481 images:

857 Photographs (colour and black & white)
2,676 Photographic Negatives (colour and black & white)
948 Photographic Slides (colour and black & white)

Project Timeline and Tasks
Preparation of items

In May and June ITMA worked on preparing the physical slides, negatives and photographs for transfer to the digitisation provider. Items were extract from ITMA’s existing image collection in preparation for digitisation by Eneclann. Each extracted item had to be replaced by a label detailing the item reference number and a description of why the physical item had been removed from its current location. This would make the job of re-filing the original items once digitsted easier. Equipment including Mylar and specialist photographic storage systems were purchased. Items were re-housed in archival mylar pockets & binders and labelled with a unique identifier in preparation for transfer to the digitisation providers. Metadata for uncatalogued images was created in ITMA’s library catalogue Soutron along with a unique identifier for each physical item. Digital repository metadata & identifiers were then exported to itemised spreadsheets and these were provided to Eneclann to be used in the filenames.


A test phase to agree on the digitisation methodology, file specifications and file sizes was conducted and once these were formalised the digitisation process began. Items were scanned by Eneclann with an Epson V700 photo flatbed scanner in 24-bit (colour) or 16-bit (black and white). They were delivered in uncompressed TIFF file format. Slides and negatives were digitised in 1200 dpi, photographs in 400 dpi. JPEG files resolution in 1200 dpi at quality 75 for B&W images, 600 dpi for colour images.

Digitisation At Eneclann
Digitisation equipment used by Eneclann, Epson V700 photo flatbed scanner

Once the original items were digitised and the digitisation provider had conducted a quality check period, original materials were returned to ITMA in batches. Newly digitised files were returned to ITMA via hard-drive in a number of transfers. MD5 checksums were generated to ensure the integrity of the file prior to any processing. Once this process was complete files were transferred from the hard-drives to the ITMA Network. A further quality check period ensued which involved checking the properties of the files: file format, bit-depth, resolution, compression quality, etc. errors were identified by ITMA and corrected by Eneclann.

Digital Files Heritage Council Project 2021
Files of digitised images from the ITMA collection
Developing a structure for ITMA's Image Collection in AtoM

A structure for the entire ITMA Image Collection was developed for AtoM as this was the first time that a large volume of photographic material had been processed for ingest into ITMA’s digital repository. This structure allows collections to remain together, while also catering for images that are not part of a larger collection. It has been developed to accommodate the full ITMA image collection, and reflects the instrumental hierarchy created for the LITMUS (Linked Irish Traditional Music) project, which will allow for future exposure on the Semantic Web. The metadata structure was tested in ITMA’s Version 5 AtoM sandbox on a number of occasions before the structure was signed off for use.

Sandbox Text
Testing the ITMA Digital Image Collection Structure in AtoM

Finally batches and metadata were created and uploaded to the first stage of ingest into Perpetua, ITMA’s Digital Repository system. Here the files will be preserved and safeguarded for current and future users.

The digital resources from this project will be made available in ITMA's archival catalogue AtoM which is accessible in ITMA's reading room in 73 Merrion Sq, Dublin 2. Where copyright allows these images will be made available online through AtoM and ITMA's digital library in curated galleries here.

Heritage Week 2021 Galleries

Breandan Breathnach / Gavin Photography
Breandan Breathnach / Gavin Photography
Breandan Breathnach / Gavin Photography

Breandan Breathnach / Gavin Photography

© Gavin Photography

Gallery 1

Cnuasach an Bhreathnaigh / Breandán Breathnach Collection

Welcome to ITMA's first gallery of images for Heritage Week 2021. The images presented below are from Cnuasach an Bhreathnaigh (the Breandán Breathnach Collection) which was the foundation collection of the Irish Traditional Music Archive. Breandán Breathnach, 1912–1985, was a great expert in Irish traditional music — an uilleann piper, collector, publisher, writer and organiser. His collection contains sound recordings, music manuscripts, printed items, a thematic index of dance tunes, and personal papers and was deposited in trust to the Irish Traditional Music Archive by the Breathnach Family in August 1987.

Gráinne Yeats seated at harp / [unidentified photographer]
Gráinne Yeats seated at harp / [unidentified photographer]
Gráinne Yeats seated at harp / [unidentified photographer]

Gráinne Yeats seated at harp / [unidentified photographer]

© In copyright

Gallery 2

Gráinne Yeats Collection

ITMA's second gallery of images presented below for Heritage Week 2021 comes from the collection of Gráinne Yeats which was donated to ITMA by the Yeats Family in April 2018. Gráinne Yeats (1925-2013) was a professional harper, singer, teacher, arranger, historian and recorded artist. She left an extremely rich collection of printed books, music manuscripts, photographs, slides, lecture scripts, diaries, music arrangements (mostly for the Irish harp), research notes, ephemera, artefacts, and commercial & non-commercial sound recordings.

Gallery 3

Gráinne Yeats Collection Festivals and Events

ITMA’s third Heritage Week 2021 gallery looks back at the many harp festivals, concerts and events which Gráinne Yeats attended over the years. Below are just a small sample of the many images in the Yeats collection which focus on this aspect of her life. In the course of her career Yeats performed, tutored and lectured extensively in Ireland, Europe and abroad, including a number of tours of North America, Japan, Russia, India and Australia. She was a frequent attendee at international harping events, most notably the World Harp Congress which takes place every three years at different locations around the world. Yeats and Máire Ní Chathasaigh were the first Irish harpers to perform on the Irish harp at the 1993 World Harp Congress in Copenhagen. Some of the other events featured in the images below include: An Churit Chruiterachta, July 1992; 'Festival for Irish Harp', Downpatrick, Co. Down, 1988; The World Harp Festival, Belfast, May 1992; O'Carolan Harp Festival, Nobber, Co. Meath, 1992; and the World Harp Congress, Copenhagen, 1993.

Gallery 4

More images from Cnuasach an Bhreathnaigh

ITMA’s fourth Heritage Week 2021 gallery contain a small selection of images collected by Breandán Breathnach during his lifetime. Breathnach sourced images from a variety of organisations, media outlets, individuals, libraries, archives, galleries and museums.

In the gallery below we see a wonderful image of the Castle Céilí Band taken in 1962 by an Independent Newspapers photographer. The clarity and composition of the image are telling signs that this photograph was taken by a professional. The fun of a great evening in the Francis Xavier Hall, Dublin is very much evident in this picture. ITMA is grateful to Independent Newspapers and the National Library of Ireland for permission to reproduce this image here as part of Heritage Week. However, not all images in Cnuasach an Bhreathnaigh were taken by professionals. The image below from 1957 of Willie Clancy at the first Fleadh Cheoil in Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare may have been taken by an amateur photographer (Jim Griffith a visitor from the States) but what a fantastic picture of a young Willie Clancy surrounded by his many adoring fans! This and five other images taken at the same time were sent to Breathnach by Terry Wilson in August 1985. ITMA would like to thank Terry for granting permission to make this image available here.

Gallery 5

Gráinne Yeats Collection - Aoyama Harp Workshop

ITMA’s fifth Heritage Week 2021 gallery is a beautiful set of colour images from the Gráinne Yeats Collection. During a concert tour of Japan in the autumn of 1972 Gráinne and her husband Michael Yeats travelled by train to Fukui city which is located on the Japan Sea coast in the Chubu (central) region of Japan. There they visited the Aoyama harp factory and collected a nylon strung lever harp which had been made especially for Yeats. The gallery below is a record of their trip to Aoyama on the 9 October 1972. This harp was one of a number of harps that Yeats performed on. It can be heard on the iconic recording published by Gael Linn in 1980 and re-issued in 1992 Féile na gCruitirí Bhéal Feirste 1792: the music collected by Bunting at the historic Belfast Harpers Festival 1792.

Gallery 6

Cnuasach an Bhreathnaigh - Uilleann Pipers

The final gallery for Heritage Week 2021 contains a selection of photographs of uilleann pipers from Cnuasach an Bhreathnaigh. It will come as no surprise that the vast majority of images in the Breathnach collection relate in some way to uilleann pipers and uilleann piping. Breathnach was a founder-member of Na Píobairí Uilleann, along with Seán Reid and others, and was the organisation’s chairman from 1968 until his death in 1985. Many of the images below were taken at Tionól held in various parts of the country including Bettytown, Co. Meath and Ennistymon, Co. Clare.

Heritage Council Funding 2021

By supporting this project, the Heritage Council is enabling ITMA to safeguard these collections for current use and for future generations of Irish musicians. It is also assisting ITMA to provide responsible access to 1,000s of images through its digital library & in time through the ITMA archival catalogue.