Historic exhibition and digitised witness testimonies of 1641 Irish rebellion launched

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‘Ireland in Turmoil: the 1641 Depositions’ an exhibition to raise awareness about one of the most bloody and traumatic moments in Irish history has been opened by the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese.

On the occasion of the exhibition, the transcribed and digitised 1641 Depositions, witness testimonies of the violent massacres of the 1641 Irish Rebellion, was also launched online in a new website www.1641.tcd.ie, a free resource which will be publicly available.

The online resource sees the culmination of a three-year collaborative research project between TCD and the Universities of Aberdeen and Cambridge, using the latest research technology.

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Commenting on the significance of the historic occasion of the exhibition and the online publication of the 1641 Depositions, the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese said: “The events of 1641 have been the subject of considerable dispute and controversy, with wildly divergent accounts in both the Catholic and Protestant historical narratives. Facts and truth have been casualties along the way and the distillation of skewed perceptions over generations have contributed to a situation where both sides were confounding mysteries to one another. That is why in these more chastened and reflective times, as we try to understand more deeply and generously the perspectives which have estranged us and as we try to reconcile, to be good neighbours, friends and partners across those sectarian divides, it is such a valuable thing to have access to this unique collection of witness testimonies from some of those who experienced the terror and horror of those tragic times.”

The 1641 Depositions are witness testimonies by mainly Protestants, but also by some Catholics, from all social backgrounds concerning their experiences during the rebellion of the Catholic Irish in 1641. The testimonies document sometimes in vivid and harrowing terms the alleged crimes committed by the Irish Catholic insurgents, including torture, assault, stripping, imprisonment and murder as well as the loss of goods and military activity. This body of material that runs to 19,000 pages, contained in 31 volumes of linen rag paper and bound in buckram relates to almost every county in Ireland. There are approximately 8,000 depositions in which 90,000 people are named. It is unparalleled anywhere in early modern Europe, providing a unique source of information for the causes and events surrounding the 1641 rebellion and for the social, economic, religious, and political history of seventeenth-century Ireland, England and Scotland.

Now for the first time some of the most significant 1641 Depositions will be on public display along with a rich collection of manuscript material, maps, contemporary pamphlets and printed works that document the sectarian tensions in colonial Ireland that erupted in 1641, the course of the rebellion, and the fallout that shaped the course of Irish political and social history over the following centuries.

One of the best known depositions is by Eleanor Price*, a widow and mother of six from County Armagh, who was imprisoned by Irish insurgents after the rebellion broke out and whose five children were drowned in the River Bann at Portadown bridge in one of the worst atrocities committed in Ireland during these years. Iconic images of the drowning of Portadown bridge still adorn Orange Order banners.

The online publication of the 1641 Depositions for all of the four provences Ulster, Connacht, Leinster and Connacht was funded by the Irish Research Council of the Humanities and Social Sciences (IRCHSS), Trinity College Dublin and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in the UK, as part of a major inter-institutional research project between Trinity College Dublin, the University of Aberdeen and the University of Cambridge which conserved, transcribed and digitised the depositions for their online publication.

With the aid of leading edge technology, the depositions which are difficult to read, and in some cases virtually illegible with inconsistent spelling, grammar and punctuation and a wide variety of handwriting were painstakingly transcribed by researchers and digitised for all to read and study, academics and the general public alike. Researchers from Trinity’s School of Computer Science and Statistics and IBM LanguageWare made a significant contribution to the project and a TCD campus company, Eneclann digitised the manuscripts and developed the website.

The publication makes this hugely important body of material publicly available at www.1641.tcd.ie allowing searches of all depositions by name and place name. Family ancestors’ depositions may be searched or notable depositions such as that of Eleanor Price with harrowing extracts as follows:

“The said Captain and Rebels then and there forced & threw all those prisoners (and amongst the rest of the deponents five children by name Adam John Ann Mary and Joan Price off the bridge into the water and then and there instantly & most barbarously drowned the most of them: And those that could swim and come to the shore they either knocked them in the hands & so after drowned them, or else shot them to death in the water. [sic].”

Commenting on the significance of the research, TCD’s Erasmus Smith Professor of Modern History, Jane Ohlmeyer and one of the lead academics of the research programme said:

“A team of roughly 50 scholars, librarians and technologists have been working hard on this project for the past three years. We are simply delighted that this first phase of the 1641 Depositions Project has been completed on time, within budget and over specification. We hope that academics across the globe will use the 1641 Depositions and that citizen scholars in Ireland and the UK will turn to the depositions as they search for their ancestors and reconstruct the histories of their local communities. Having completed the first phase of the project we now turn to using the depositions as a research and educational resource. Further grants from the AHRC and the EU, FP7 programme are allowing for sophisticated linguistic analysis of the depositions and, in partnership with IBM, for cutting edge technological work.”

An international seminar on the 1641 Depositions took place on the day of the exhibition opening which also was the 369th anniversary of the 1641 Rebellion. An overview of the 1641 Research Project was presented (Professor Jane Ohlmeyer) together with papers that situated the 1641 Rebellion in its wider English (Professor John Morrill, University of Cambridge) and global contexts ( Professor Ben Kiernan, University of Yale).

The exhibition ‘Ireland in Turmoil: The 1641 Depositions’ runs until April 3rd 2011 in the Long Room, Old Library, Trinity College Dublin.

The 1641 Depositions Project , a three-year project (2007-2010) conserved, digitised, transcribed and made the depositions available online. Depositions for Ireland’s four provences are now published online at www.1641.TCD.ie . The Irish Manuscripts Commission will also publish a hard copy of the 1641 Depositions in twelve volumes.

The 1641 Depositions Project is a collaborative project between Trinity College, Dublin, the University of Aberdeen and the University of Cambridge working in partnership with IBM LanguageWare. A TCD campus company, Eneclann, was commissioned to digitise the manuscripts.

The principal investigators on the project are: Professor Jane Ohlmeyer and Dr Micheál Ó Siochrú (Trinity College Dublin), Professor Thomas Bartlett (Aberdeen University) and Professor John Morrill (Cambridge University).The transcriptions are edited by Professor Aidan Clarke. The researchers on the project are Dr Edda Frankot, Dr Annaleigh Margey and Dr Elaine Murphy.

The College Librarian, Robin Adams, the Keeper of Manuscripts, Dr Bernard Meehan, and his colleagues, especially Jane Maxwell were an integral part of this project, as was Dr Susie Bioletti, head of conservation.

Dr Brian Donovan from Eneclann provided technical advice and support from the inception of the project in 2005. Professor Vinnie Wade and Dr Séamus Lawless from the Intelligent Systems Laboratory in the School of Computer Science and Statistics and Dr Tim Keefe, provided technological advice, as did members of the Digital Humanities Observatory, especially Dr Susan Schreibman and Dot Porter. Marie Wallace and D.J. McCloskey, IBM LanguageWare, provided the project with software and allowed us to avail of their expertise.

The project received over €1 million from the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences, the Arts & Humanities Research Council in the UK and the Library of Trinity College Dublin. More recently the project has secured additional funding from the Arts & Humanities Research Council in the UK (c.€500k) and from the FP7 programme as part of an international collaborative bid. In this new 3-year project, called CULTURA, a range of technologies developed by IBM (Dublin & Haifa) are used to develop tools that aim to transform how cultural artefacts, like the 1641 Depositions, are experienced and how communities (from the general public to the scholar/researcher) contribute towards this process. Industrial partners include IMB and a Bulgarin SME, along with mathematicians from the Sofia university and academics from the universities of Padua and Gratz.

The curators of the exhibition in Trinity’s Long Room, ‘Ireland in Turmoil: The 1641 Depositions’ were Felicity O’Mahony, Bernard Meehan, Eamon Darcy, Micheál Ó Siochrú, and Jane Ohlmeyer.

Opening hours of exhibition: Monday to Saturday 9.30am- 5pm & Sundays 12 noon – 4.30pm. Admission to the exhibition also includes viewing the Book of Kells exhibition. Admission €9.00, Students/Senior Citizens €8.00. Secondary school groups when accompanied by their teachers have free admission for the duration of the exhibition. Check www.bookofkells.ie for details or tel: 01 896 2320.