Poetry for posterity: the Irish Poetry Reading Archive launches

UCD’s new Irish Poetry Reading Archive aims to present readings of Irish poetry by the authors and ensure this cultural heritage is preserved for future generations

The Irish Poetry Reading Archive, developed by UCD Library, is being launched on December 2nd by Heather Humphreys, Minister of Arts, Heritage & the Gaeltacht. Also speaking at the launch is Paula Meehan, the Ireland Chair of Poetry, accompanied by poets Biddy Jenkinson and Michael Coady, who will also be reciting their own poetry.

This new archive is a permanent repository of readings by Irish poets and writers in both the English and Irish languages. Bringing the voices of our poets together within a curated digital environment will ensure that these cultural heritage recordings are preserved for future generations. Currently in Ireland there is no central repository for significant sound or video archives of readings of poetry by Irish authors.

The Irish Poetry Reading Archive was created by UCD Library in 2014 and is hosted in UCD Digital Library. The concept evolved organically, as the understanding of the need for and benefits of such an archive developed, and as the Irish poets and publishers of poetry provided input and advice.

In the recordings captured by the Irish Poetry Reading Archive, the poets read a selection of their poems, offer a brief overview of the context and circumstances that influenced the writing of the poem, and also provide manuscripts of the poems chosen. This allows the audience to interact with the poem and poet in a unique way. Over the past 18 months, the voices of 36 Irish poets in both the Irish and English languages were added to the archive. Poets represented to date include Michael Longley, Paula Meehan, Bernard O’Donoghue, Theo Dorgan, Moya Cannon, Maurice Scully, Gabriel Rosenstock, Padraig MacFhergusa, Anthony Cronin and many more. In addition conversations with six Irish publishers of poetry have been recorded.


Film and audio formats are excellent for capturing poetry, a spoken word tradition, and a part of our oral tradition. Establishing this significant digital poetry hub at an Irish university ensures that its future is secure, as it is not susceptible to projects ending as funding expires. Excellent examples of such archives exist in other countries and are located in universities for similar reasons – including Penn Sound (University of Pennsylvania; http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound); Lunch Poems (University of California, Berkeley; http://lunchpoems.berkeley.edu/; and the Woodbury Poetry Room (Harvard University; http://hcl.harvard.edu/poetryroom/).

The Irish Poetry Reading Archive production team, co-ordinated by Ursula Byrne and Evelyn Flanagan, in collaboration with Dr Lucy Collins, will continuously develop this archive. UCD Library is in an excellent position to develop and host this archive within the UCD Digital Library, having a highly skilled digital team to support it, along with fine-tuned work processes already in place. Further, UCD Digital Library, has been accredited through the data seal of approval process, certifying that it applies standards and best practices recognised by the European Commission for Trusted Digital Repositories.

The archive will grow to include voices representing the diverse Irish poetry landscape: additional established poets; emerging poets; emigrant poets; performance poets; avant-garde poets; and poets of the Irish diaspora. The voices of two of these groups are difficult to capture-our emigrant poets, whose poetry captures their initial engagement with Irish culture, and our performance poets, who often do not publish in traditional formats, preferring to make their work available on media sites such as YouTube.

There is also a wide range of historical footage of poetry readings and interviews with poets, captured in audio and visual recordings and held in both analogue and digital formats in Ireland. Created by many stakeholders, including publishers, filmmakers, and poetry festival organisers, much of this material has not been formally curated or preserved. We know that older formats for capturing audio and video deteriorate over time. Some of the materials that are now accessible on the web are hosted on websites that, in the future, may not be sustained and some are very likely to become inaccessible. These substantial, rare and important collections of poetry material are at great risk of being lost.

This new digital archive will make Irish poetry accessible to new audiences at home and abroad. It will help strengthen direct links between teaching and research in the area of poetry and popular interest in Irish poetry among all age groups.

Educators at all levels will derive value from this archive, drawing on the readings by the poets themselves, along with their recollections and insights of the time, place and context that influenced their writing.

Future developments allow for the creation of a digital poetry hub capable of capturing and preserving the living Irish experience of poetry – in festivals, readings, and in scholarly venues. Such a hub will enable linkages and connections to be made with other online poetry resources nationally and internationally. A central digital poetry platform will also provide a new communications venue for the poets themselves, with easy access and the ability to embed links to their work or reuse their recordings in other ways, on websites, at book launches, at festival awards, in workshops, Irish studies abroad, etc. This is an important step forward given the complexities and expense around the licencing of digital materials.

The Irish Poetry Reading Archive complements and builds on the rich and diverse collections of poetry already held in UCD Library. The UCD School of English, Drama Film, the UCD School of Irish, Celtic Studies, and Folklore, and Poetry Ireland have assisted in developing the vision of this archive. It is poised to develop into a resource of national scope and significance, serving both a national and international community of readers and scholars with interests in Irish poetry.

Linking to the Irish Poetry Reading Archive

Recordings are placed initially on to the UCD Special Collections YouTube space and then curated and batch uploaded into a permanent digital repository within the UCD Digital Library