The National Museum of Ireland is delighted to announce a new chapter for the award-winning Irish Community Archive Network (iCAN), the leading organisation championing and supporting community archives in Ireland.
The Heritage Council is joining iCAN as a new funding partner, which will facilitate an expansion of the initiative.
iCAN has already supported the creation of 33 online digital archives in Clare, Cork, Galway, Mayo and Wicklow, and there are three more currently in development. Over 180 volunteers are involved in managing and supporting the existing community archives.
Together, the Museum and the Heritage Council have ambitions to support the development of at least 80 digital archives across Ireland by 2028.
iCAN was established by the National Museum of Ireland in 2009 in partnership with participating local authority Heritage Officers and with support from Creative Ireland.
Cork County Council is the latest local authority to partner with iCAN. Having joined the network last year and taken part in training over the last few months, a new portal for County Cork will be unveiled today. The portal, available at www.heritagecork.org, will be home to four digital community archives supported by iCAN - Bere Island Projects Group, Kilmurry Heritage Group, Kilshannig Heritage Society and Youghal Community Archives.
iCAN community archive websites are contributory, which means that anyone, anywhere in the world can contribute their photos, maps, letters, records, stories and documents to help build the collections. As well as documenting information about local heritage sites, traditions and well-known local people, the archives are also a valuable source for genealogy and ancestry projects.
Many of the archives also include oral histories and videos and valuable resources such as local ‘census’ documents dating from before the Famine. Visitors can access digital and searchable archives relating to specific graveyards, townlands, and even houses - which in turn gives a unique and valuable insight into family records. One initiative, which is part of the Clarecastle & Ballyea Heritage archive, is called ‘Who’s been living in my house’ and is unique in Ireland in that it has digitised ‘cancelled books’ or valuation office records – allowing visitors to search who lived in houses throughout the 49 townlands in Clarecastle, County Clare, between 1855 and 1970.
The diaspora uses the iCAN community archives to connect with local groups, who in turn assist with their family history enquiries. These connections frequently result in visits to Ireland with the local group bringing visitors to ancestral homes and graves and re-connecting them with unknown or lost family members.
Several of the archives also have volunteers who are based abroad in countries such as the US and Australia. The iCAN network has been visited 2,244,000 times by visitors from 215 countries, or 16,000 cities, across the world - more than 5,750,000 pages of Irish heritage content have been explored.
Members of the iCAN network from around the country gathered in the Brockagh Resource Centre in Laragh, Co Wicklow on Wednesday, 31 May, to celebrate the continued expansion of the network and the launch of Heritage Cork. Author, and oral historian Tomás Mac Conmara was the keynote speaker at the event.
Director of the National Museum of Ireland, Lynn Scarff said:
Inclusivity and collaboration are at the core of iCAN, by recognising collective ownership and empowering local communities to document their own history, heritage, and culture on digital platforms. We are ambitious to support the growth of iCAN nationwide because every community deserves the opportunity to build their own digital archive that recognises the unique value of these resources both for the community and historians into the future. Much of this material is either in people’s homes, memories or in resources unique to their local community – so they are uniquely placed to record it and preserve if for future generations.”
Chief Executive of the Heritage Council, Virginia Teehan, said:
Volunteer archivists can so often be the unsung heroes of a community, doing incredible work to safeguard knowledge, collections, stories and local history. The information they gather and preserve is crucial in providing people with a broader sense of themselves and where they come from, and The Heritage Council is proud to be in position to contribute to this important work.”
Mayor of the County of Cork, Cllr Danny Collins said:
Cork County Council is very proud to launch our new Heritage Cork portal today. This website will be home to the four digital community archives in Cork that are part of the iCAN network which not only provides a secure and permanent online presence but also gives deserved recognition to the tremendous work being done by these groups to document and preserve their local heritage. The training and support provided by iCAN is wonderful and we are delighted to partner with them on this important initiative.”
Lorna Elms, Development Officer with iCAN, said:
iCAN provides volunteers with practical and technical training to support them as they establish a digital archive for their local community. The work being carried out by volunteers around the country to create and maintain these rich repositories is so valuable. They’re documenting local history and heritage in a special way that brings people from all generations together to celebrate, record and preserve their shared history, and to enjoy a shared pride of place.”
In 2020, iCAN was awarded the ‘Best Network of Archives Award’ at the highly competitive UK and Ireland Community Archive and Heritage Group (CAHG) Annual Awards. Individual members of the iCAN network have also been the recipients of county, national and international awards for their heritage work and projects.
Members of the public are invited to visit, contribute to and to volunteer with the digital archives in the Irish Community Archive Network (iCAN).