University of Limerick’s Glucksman Library awarded funding to digitise key photographic archive

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Picture - Sean Curtin True Media.

THE Special Collections and Archives Department at University of Limerick’s Glucksman Library has been awarded significant funding to digitise the Shannon Development photographic archive.

UL’s Special Collections has been awarded around €125,000 (£107,365) in funding from the Wellcome Trust to catalogue, conserve, digitise and increase accessibility to the key photographic archive, which boasts around 25,000–36,000 original photographic negatives.

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The funding is part of an overall award of almost €500,000 (£427,809) granted by Wellcome to the collaborative project ‘The New Jerusalems: post-war New Town archives in Britain and Ireland’, granted to a network of archives services to catalogue and conserve eleven post-war new town collections.

This funding award from the global charitable foundation is significant for UL, as it will allow the Glucksman Library to hire dedicated project staff and to purchase the necessary materials to catalogue, digitise and rehouse the original photographic negatives taken by the Shannon Development photographers of Shannon Town, Shannon Industry and Shannon Airport.

The Shannon Development Photographic Archive was transferred to the Glucksman Library at UL in 2014. The collection comprises approximately 250,000 photographic items, including press cuttings, reports, brochures spanning over five decades.

Project lead Dr Kirsten Mulrennan said the project would ultimately make these unique images of Ireland’s only new post-war town more accessible to researchers, and encourage greater community engagement with the collection.

Developed in the 1960s to house the thousands of workers in the industrial zone and airport, Shannon was granted town status on 1 January 1982. Shannon Development was established by the Irish Government in 1959 as an agency to promote Shannon Airport and the broader Shannon region. Its key achievements include the building of Shannon town; the creation of the ‘Shannon Free Zone’ as the world’s first modern free trade zone; and the development of a National Technology Park, located adjacent to the University of Limerick.

The archive chronicles the evolution of Shannon town, as well as the broader Shannon region (Clare, Limerick, North Tipperary, South Offaly, and North Kerry) from a large agricultural base to a leading industrial and tourism centre. Of particular significance are the photographs taken between 1959–1998, which visually capture the Shannon Development story, and provide unique insights into the life in Ireland in the latter half of the twentieth century.

UL Library Director Gobnait O’Riordan said: “This project will enable global access to the Shannon Town archive for research and cultural heritage. The library continues to seek funding to make available the remaining collections of the full Shannon Photographic Archive including the Airport development, Shannon Free Zone and Mid-West Region.”

Dr Alina Congreve, an independent consultant in sustainable planning, who brought together the partners to work on the proposal said: “There is renewed interest in many aspects of new town design as we reflect on how life might change in the aftermath of COVID-19.

“New Towns have much to contribute to current policy making in urban planning and public health, including: wide pedestrianised shopping streets; generous public green space; amenities within 15 minutes of people’s homes; and supporting walking and cycling. It is exciting to be working with new towns across England, Wales and Ireland on this project,” she added.

The overall bid was developed by the Association of New Town Archives and Museums (ANTAM), which received initial funding from The National Archives (TNA) in the UK, through their ‘Networks for Change’ fund in 2020.