2 minutes to read Posted on Tuesday January 19, 2021

Updated on Tuesday January 19, 2021

portrait of Killian Downing

Killian Downing

Archivist , Dublin City University

The Shannon Scheme: reflections on sharing industrial cultural heritage during COVID-19

As part of Europeana’s Europe at Work season, the Hunt Museum, Limerick, Ireland, and partners including the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) Archives, have been exploring the role of the Shannon Hydro-Electric Scheme in the social, economic and industrial development of Ireland in the 20th century. The team involved in engaging audiences onsite and online during COVID-19 discuss their approach and the importance of sharing stories of Europe’s industrial heritage. 

Can you tell us a bit about the Shannon Scheme and how you engage audiences in the topic?

Deirdre McParland, Senior Archivist, ESB Archives

The Shannon Scheme was the largest engineering project of its kind in Europe and transformed Irish society forever. It was Ireland’s very first national renewable hydro-electric scheme and has achieved international awards. We are really fortunate that we have an abundance of archival material on the scheme, as well as oral histories from workers, all preserved in our environmentally controlled archives at the Electricity Supply Board (ESB), Dublin, Ireland. 

For a number of years now, we have been delighted to make much of this archival material available on our digital platform and to share this incredible social and engineering history with global audiences. The beauty of having such diverse content is that there is something for everyone and we continuously engage with new audiences. We also collaborate with researchers, documentary and film makers and look forward to continuing to reach new audiences across our digital channels. 

You’ve been busy collecting fascinating stories and objects related to the Shannon Scheme. Why is it important to collect these stories? Can you share one of your favourites?

Peggy Ryan, Docent at the Hunt Museum 

The national significance of the Shannon Scheme since its inception has been well documented. What has been missing is the individual and interpersonal stories of the people that shaped this great project. Stories forge connections among people and convey the culture, values and history that generations can relate to and identify with especially in relation to large-scale projects.

One of my favourite stories is about Jack Ryan (1887-1969), simply because Jack was involved at so many levels of the Shannon Scheme. He was a foreman of a large group of labourers and a drill bore specialist, responsible for setting the explosives before blasting the rock. Jack’s wife Ellen Ryan, neé Heffernan, took in lodgers and ran a shebeen (an unlicensed bar/house selling alcohol) at their home in Aughboy, Clonlara, County Clare. Jack’s son John Joe also worked on the scheme and had a wonderful collection of photos of his time there. You can explore this story, narrated by Jack Ryan’s daughter Marie Dennehy on Europeana.

Race and identity are central to research around the Shannon Scheme and its communities. How can we explore new narratives and nuance in this area? 

Dr McKayla Stehr, History Instructor, Department of History & Political Science, Fresno City College, California, with a PhD on intersectionality and the Shannon Scheme.

One of the most exciting things about studying race and identity is that historians continue to question the preconceptions and experiences that shaped how people defined themselves and others. While dominant voices constructed racial stereotypes by perpetuating the practice of ‘othering’ in terms of cultural, ethnic, religious, or linguistic differences, these narratives expressed in the press or by officials coexisted with personal stories from people who formed strong bonds with outsiders.

The Shannon Scheme provides historians with an opportunity to explore new narratives about race and identity. Seemingly conflicting perspectives on these topics reveal the error in assuming a singular or stagnant interpretation of Irishness. The presence of German engineers and the absence of British participation at the site echoed conversations that were already underway regarding differences among the Irish workers themselves. Views on race and identity were fluid and contested. The personal stories collected will go a long way in encouraging further conversations about the many layers of Irish identity. 

The Hunt Museum has been very active during COVID-19 restrictions. How will you continue to engage audiences? 

Jill Cousins, Director of the Hunt Museum

The mantra of digital and open (very Europeana) is one that we are practising as well as preaching at the Hunt Museum. We placed everything that was out of copyright into the public domain two years ago, and made a CC0 dedication with our Sybil Connolly Collection, making it fully available to everyone across the world for use and reuse. 

We continue to find inventive ways to get our objects digitised in both 2D and 3D such as volunteer groups for 3D digitisation, running workshops with school children and joining in European projects such as Europeana Archaeology and Art of Reading in the Middle Ages. The latter will help us become IIIF-compliant. Engagement has also come from adding our collections to WikiCommons, leading to the use of our digital objects in BBC and other programmes. And last, but not least, we have invested in our Education and Social Engagement teams to create online engagement and deliver learning resources that work for schools.  

Our plans for next year build on the stories from our collection days and the archival collections of the ESB Archives, University of Limerick and others. We are going to engage contributors and scholars to develop Ardnacrusha Memories into a curricula-based learning resource and add the objects to Wikipedia to enhance knowledge around the cultural and social importance and implication of the Shannon Hydro-Electric Scheme. This gives us at least a couple of means of continuing to engage audiences in Limerick, Ireland and online - so watch this space in 2021!

Find out more

You can watch the recorded Ardnacrusha Memories Symposium online and discover the objects and stories collected around the Shannon Hydro-Electric Scheme through Europeana, as well as share your stories for Europeana’s Europe at Work campaign. 

Local and national media coverage of the stories shared from the Shannon Scheme included RTÉ Ireland’s national television and radio broadcaster, thanks to Rosemarie Noone, Hunt Museum, and Caragh O’Shea, European Expo. You can watch the video courtesy of RTÉ News, 25 September 2020.

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