In the basement of a magnificent house in Cork there are boxes and boxes of old newsletters, posters, letters and other documents collected over the past 35 years by a local activist. They relate to the activities of various Cork groups, including the lesbian and gay communities, the Quay Co-op, environmental groups and different campaign groups. It is a rich source of information documenting the activities of these groups and a testament to Arthur’s foresight that it has not all been lost over the years.
To call this an ‘archive’ would be to suggest a level of organisation that doesn’t exist. It is a jumble of unorganised boxes, each containing a mix of information relating to different organisations and activities. There are also old computers which would require some level of expertise to unlock the files contained on them.
A few years ago another local activist, Eoin, spent time organising some of the information in the basement – so there are a few boxes which are catalogued with a list of contents. However, this is the exception rather than the rule. The first task then will be to sort through the boxes and divide the documentation as it relates to different organisations or events. This will be a time consuming task and we hope to enlist some volunteers to help.
The ‘archive’ has been stored in the basement for some time. While most of it is just dusty, some has been damaged by damp and inappropriate storage. For example, posters were stored with elastic bands around them, which over time have rotted into the posters. There is a risk of damaging the posters when attempting to open them.
It is disturbing to see the damage that has been done to this rich source of information about our past. This highlights the need to preserve this ‘archive’ before further damage is done and to make the information available for those interested in the history of social and political activism in Cork.
I am working on the development of a Cork LGBT Digital Archive. Once the documents in the basement have been sorted, I plan to photograph and film the material that relates to the lesbian and gay communities in Cork. This will be stored carefully and will be displayed on a website that I am in the process of developing. This will enable the preservation, in digital form, of this valuable information and will enable people to freely access it online.
Once the data has been captured digitally the physical documents will be donated to an archive for preservation. This will enable people to search through the original materials. However when information is donated to an archive there is usually a delay before it is available for people to search through it, as it has to be properly cleaned and catalogued before it is made available to the public. Capturing the data digitally will make it available even if there is a delay in accessing it in the archive.
Cork has a rich history of lesbian and gay activism and community formation. The activities of current LGBT organisations build on the foundations of this rich history. It is important to acknowledge our past and how we got to where we are today. In 1970s Cork, when homosexuality was hidden and still illegal, it would have been unimaginable to think that the Lord Mayor of Cork would be raising the rainbow flag over the city hall, as she did last week during LGBT Awareness Week.
If you have any documents, newsletters, posters, photography in your possession in relation to LGBT activities in Cork I would be delighted if you would be willing to let me photograph these for inclusion in the digital archive.
I also plan to film oral histories as part of this project and incorporate them into the archive. So if you would like to participate let me know.
And if you know any rich benefactors who would like to fund this work then definitely get in touch!
This is a huge project and it will takes years to complete. Follow my blog for regular updates on this work.