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Echoes from the Past: Listening to Survivors of Childhood Abuse

The app is a location-triggered audio walking tour of Goldenbridge, an area of west Dublin which housed a complex belonging to the Sisters of Mercy order of nuns, consisting of a convent, primary school, and St Vincent’s Industrial School for girls and young boys.

Echoes from the Past is an audio and walking tour app, which aims to give users some insight into children’s experience of the Irish Industrial school system.  It is a verbatim project based entirely on the 2009 Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (the Ryan Report) and funded by the Irish Research Council New Horizons project Industrial Memories, based in the School of English, Drama and Film at UCD.

The project team (Emilie Pine, Maeve Casserly and Tom Lane) have written a piece for History Hub about the ideas behind the development of the app:

“Through the app, we have tried to respond to Marianne Hirsch’s provocative question: ‘How can we allow the knowledge of past atrocity to touch us without paralyzing us? What aesthetic strategies might galvanize memory in the interest of activist engagement for justice and social change?’[1]

The app is a location-triggered audio walking tour of Goldenbridge, an area of west Dublin which housed a complex belonging to the Sisters of Mercy order of nuns, consisting of a convent, primary school, and St Vincent’s Industrial School for girls and young boys. The route which users follow through the Goldenbridge area begins at the Luas Drimnagh stop and explores part of the former site of St. Vincent’s Industrial School. The overall landscape of Goldenbridge has changed a great deal, particularly after the closure of St. Vincent’s in 1983. The route and audio are designed together to give the user a sense of this change.

The audio-script comprises excerpts from the Ryan Report, featuring the verbatim testimony (recorded by actors) of survivor witnesses about their experiences of this Industrial School. The app and supporting website makes audible fifteen tracks in total, including nine tracks (of c.90 seconds each) describing experiences in the school, from emotional neglect to being deprived of water, and other experiences of physical and emotional abuse.

The fifteen tracks are book-ended by historical context and informative pieces taken from the introductory and concluding texts of the Ryan Report, and give the user an insight into the background to the industrial school system in Ireland. These are numbered tracks 1 to 3 and 13 to 15. Track 2, for examples, gives a brief summary of the history of the system in Ireland.

Irish Industrial School

Tracks 6 to 12 are experiential pieces common to the testimonials taken specifically from the pages of the Ryan Report on St. Vincent’s Industrial School. A particular feature of Goldenbridge was rosary bead making, and tracks 9 and 10 both focus on this.

Beads Class

The audio was recorded using a team of five professional actors who gave voice to the testimonies. There is one male voice who narrates the tracks, and four female voices of different ages and accents that represent the many female survivors who gave their statements to the Commission. The final track is ‘We the Interviewers’.

We the Interviewers

The video features all five voices and represents the collective statement given by the Commission interviewers on the bravery and courage shown by the survivors in giving their testimonials. These recordings were edited and combined with environmental sound in order to give a sense of place. For example, descriptions of specific experiences in the recordings are amplified by the inclusion of sound directly relating to these events. Track 9 ‘Rosary Bead Making’ is a good example of the environmental sound adding to the narrative”.

- Emilie, Maeve and Tom


 

The App

The entire audio experience is accompanied by a recorded piano sound track, composed by Tom Lane, which plays quietly throughout the audio tour. The tracks can be listened to onsite through the mobile app or remotely via the project website.

The app is free to download from the Google Play Store and the iTunes Store.

All the audio testimony is also available via the website: echoesfromthepast.org

The Project Team

The Industrial Memories project is led by Dr Emilie Pine (School of English, Drama and Film, UCD). The project is funded by the Irish Research Council under the New Horizons 2015-18 scheme. Emilie is Director of the Irish Memory Studies Network and Editor of the Irish University Review. Emilie has published widely in the fields of theatre, memory and cultural studies, including her book The Politics of Irish Memory: Performing Remembrance in Contemporary Irish Culture (Palgrave).

Composer and sound designer Tom Lane recorded the audio and created the sound and music for the app. Tom is a Dublin based composer who frequently works in opera, dance and theatre productions. Recent projects include Giselle (Ballet Ireland), The White Devil (Shakespeare’s Globe), Oedipus and Twelfth Night (Abbey Theatre).

The research for the script and accompanying website was carried out by historian and memory studies practitioner Maeve Casserly. Maeve works in the Department of Education and Outreach the National Library of Ireland and is the ‘Historian-in-Residence’ in Dublin South-East with Dublin City Council. She is a PhD candidate at University College Dublin, researching the centenary commemorations of the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme across the island of Ireland. Her research on women’s history in contemporary Irish historiography ‘Public History, Invisibility, and Women’s History in the Republic of Ireland’ has been published by The Public Historian (California University Press, May 2017).

The ‘Echoes from the Past’ mobile app was designed by Cork-based app developer Mick O’Brien whose previous location triggered projects have featured in The Dublin Festival of Curiosity. The voice recording artists are Mark FitzGerald, Karen Ardiff, Hilda Fay, Úna Kavanagh and Deirdre Molloy.

If you have been affected in any way by the subject matter of this project you can contact Connect counselling directly by clicking here.

Footnotes

1. Marianne Hirsch, ‘Connective Histories in Vulnerable Times’, PMLA 129.3 (2014), 330-348; p.334.