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Our mission is to create a virtual archive with surrogates of all extant statutory & ancillary records of Irish National Schools, through a crowd-sourced and centrally managed image-capture, digital storage and cataloging programme. We are using the primary schools of North Mayo and West Sligo as a pilot project and proposed future template for a comprehensive, crowd-sourced, national programme.
As of August 2018, our community trainees & workers and local volunteers have together photographed over 280,000 images, from sixty-eight primary schools, to create the largest digital archive of school records in Ireland or the UK.
The ANSEO! project is a pilot programme, established and led by NUI Galway student Liam Alex Heffron, while he undertook his Masters Degree, to digitally archive the now obsolete statutory and ancillary records of Irish national schools.
This partnership between University and local communities under the ANSEO! project grew out of the need, identified by Liam, to make copies of these unique documents, while they are under increasing threat of loss, damage and neglect.
However, it was clear that with very limited resources this work could only be accomplished with ‘smart’ volunteers using the ‘smart’ technology of smartphones, apps and digital cameras.
After he graduated, Liam established the pilot project with local volunteers and community training schemes, partnering with NUI Galway and the sixty-eight national schools in North-Mayo and West-Sligo, each with archival records held under varying degrees of survival threat.
He was awarded the NUI Galway EXPLORE award in 2015-6, of Innovation Partnership, for his work in setting up the programme of crowd-sourced record digitisation, now known as the ANSEO! project.
Shockingly, there is no conservation programme by the Irish state to archive the various statutory records of Irish National Schools. Some county libraries such as those in Cork, Donegal and Louth, have made attempts to gather obsolete school registers and roll books, to varying degrees of success. The National Archives hold some school registers, which have been deposited there by the Department of Education and private donors, but further accessions are discouraged due to limited space and resources.
As the Department of Education has no effective policy or real interest regarding the archiving of schools' records, these schools are left to store their own records as best they can on-site, with few resources and dependant on the interest and goodwill of the teachers and school management involved.
This has resulted in much archive material being removed from the school system, and finding its way into private hands. This is aside from the vast amount of records that have been lost through; pulping during the World War I, neglect by improper handling, and loss from poor local storage practices in rodent infested attics, damp shelving or in congested cardboard boxes.
Under the ANSEO! pilot project the statutory records of national schools in North Mayo – West Sligo are being digitally archived, while ensuring the originals remain on-site, or within local archives in the community.
After an initial audit of each school to establish the extent and condition of their records, the statutory books and documents are catalogued, labelled and then photographed, page by page, to create a digital copy of each record.
This work is carried out by volunteers, trainees and workers, all enlisted, instructed and supervised by Liam Alex Heffron. The digital images are stored in the ANSEO! digital archive. The actual physical work of the ANSEO! project volunteers is carried out in offices kindly provided by Moygownagh Community Council. Where necessary, some photographing and cataloguing work is carried out on site, at individual National Schools. To date over 125,000 individual images have been processed.
Aside from its own intrinsic value as a unique heritage resource for communities in North Mayo and West Sligo, the important features of the ANSEO! project as a heritage resource are as follows:
1. The first comprehensive regional survey of national schools and their surviving archival records, including the recording of the scope, condition, storage facilities and potential conservation threats to these records.
2. The creation of a digital copy of all surviving National School statutory records in the project area. To date, the project has revealed a range of material in the possession of local National Schools, which had not been previously studied academically.
3. The central digital repository of these local records enables the heretofore unviable regional study of schools, and their local communities and the development of local education.
4. The accessibility of the genealogical and local history information contained within these records provides local communities, and their diaspora with data vital for their ancestral searches and heritage visits to the region.
In fact, the ANSEO! records, are extremely valuable because of the destruction of almost all local pre-1901 census records and the poor and patchy survival rate of older parish & civil records.
5. The ANSEO! archive may also be utilised by participating schools themselves, to highlight their own heritage and history and augment their efforts to instil these interests in their pupils and local communities.
6. The crowd-sourced project provides a template for other such local endeavours, using volunteers and smartphone technology. The ANSEO! project can be considered as the pilot project for a future national programme to archive both the statutory physical and digital records of all schools.
Without the support of participating National Schools, local volunteers and the participants of the local community training and employment schemes, none of the ANSEO! work to date was possible. State funding and agency grant aid is now vital to augment the volunteer efforts of local archivists and project management and to administer the development of the ANSEO! digital archive on an ongoing basis.
National University of Ireland - Galway
The Catholic Bishop of Killala.
The Church of Ireland, Tuam, Killala & Achonry Diocese Board of Education.
Moygownagh Community Council - Community Employment (CE) Scheme
Mayo County Library, Castlebar & Ballina.
Tús – Community work placement initiative, Mayo North East LEADER Partnership Co.
Rural Social Scheme (RSS), Mayo North East LEADER Partnership Company.
The sixty-eight participating National Schools in North Mayo & West Sligo.
EXPLORE awards, NUI Galway.
Creative Ireland Small Grants Scheme - administered by Mayo County Council.
This project is supported by The
Dr John Cunningham, M.A., H.Dip.Ed., Dip.Gaeilge, Ph.D. Lecturer in History and Director of the M.A. History programme at NUI Galway. With specialisms, which include the history of Irish Education.
Data Protection (GDPR) advisor
Hugh Jones, Chief Operating Officer, Sytorus, Data Protection Specialists.