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Historian Tomas Mac Conmara. Photograph by John Kelly.

Mac Conmara to bring oral heritage skills to America

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TUAMGRANEY historian and author Dr Tomás Mac Conmara is set to spend time in the US state of Arkansas, where he will work with the Irish Cultural Society of Arkansas to help build a project to document the memories and tradition of the Irish American community living there.
The project is being funded by the Irish Abroad Unit of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Consulate of Ireland, Austin, who have invited Dr Mac Conmara to bring his expertise in the field of oral heritage stateside.
Dr Mac Conmara is recognised as one of Ireland’s leading oral historians, with multiple national projects including with the Local Government Management Agency, Dublin Port, the National Museum of Ireland, the Defence Forces, as well as several local authorities. The project in Arkansas is called Deep Memories: The Arkansas Irish Oral Heritage Project and aims to digitally record, preserve and disseminate the unique memories, testimony and tradition of members of the Irish American community in Arkansas.
Eimear Ryan, Chairperson of the Irish Cultural Society of Arkansas told the Clare Champion of their excitement to welcome Tomás to Little Rock, Arkansas and to begin such an exciting project: “We have known about Tomás’ reputation as an oral historian in Ireland for many years and we were also aware of the great work he had done previously in Lowell with the University of Massachusetts, so this is a great opportunity for us. Tomás will bring so much experience to our city and the Irish American community here are really excited about his arrival and about getting involved in the project. It took a while to co-ordinate with his schedule but we’re very happy that it is now coming together.”
Eimear, whose parents are from Tipperary explained that the project will involve interviewing people across Little Rock and Arkansas who are descended from various parts of Ireland, as well as training workshops with volunteers.
“We have a lot of people who have already agreed to be recorded and others who want to learn the skills from Tomás so that we can continue to document memory and tradition,” she said.
“We hope to explore themes including emigration, immigration, place, social change, identity, diversity and work, and of course the experience of the Irish in Arkansas across multiple generations.”
Ahead of the trip to America, Dr Mac Conmara spoke about the nature of the work he will be involved in what they call in America, ‘The Natural State’:
“It will be interesting to work in Arkansas of course. I know that the Irish community there are quite engaged in their cultural heritage and the mix of first-and second-generation will offer very important insights into the emigrant experience. When I worked in Lowell, I was involved in recording people of Cambodian descent which was fascinating, but in Arkansas it will be lovely to meet with people connected to different parts of Ireland.
The approach to my work will be the same really. I treat each project with respect and try to connect with the value interviewees place on their own memory and stories.
“Whether it is Arkansas or Feakle, there will be stories and traditions to tell and those should be recorded,” he concluded.

Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.

About Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.

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