Here at the British Newspaper Archive, we love to hear about the discoveries our users have made on our site. Last week, we had the pleasure to receive a letter from Councillor Dan Kelly, from County Tyrone, detailing his experiences using the Archive. The letter is reproduced in full below.
I come from the small village of Glenmornan in rural County Tyrone. Recently, I was asked for help with some local research – not being an historian, I started in my local library (Strabane) and progressed on to the Public Record Oﬃce (Belfast) and National Library and National Museum (both Dublin). Whilst each proved useful, it was only when I learnt of and accessed the Newspaper Archive that I started to make significant progress. Being located near the border, the partition of Ireland profoundly fractured our community and reintroduced the scourge of emigration which broke that oral link to knowledge about our history. Reading through the newspapers archived on the BNA website however, has allowed me to lift the veil that was hiding that history and has revealed a world I didn’t know existed.
It is no exaggeration to say that the calibre of the journalism is a joy to read and the detail means I can follow events as if I was there in person. I found myself embroiled in local rebellions and great political rallies (of which no memory exists) at a time of great political turmoil in Ireland, Catholic Emancipation, and the building of the local church and school. Rolled my eyes at the scandal when the MP for North Tyrone (who lived in the ‘Big House’ nearby) was discovered operating a shebeen with cases of House of Commons whiskey and the long running (and widely reported) saga through the courts of the attempt by the local parish priest to evict the school master from the school house. I found myself being introduced to family members and attending ‘Limelight’ cinematic evenings in a local granary (the Hall being too small to house the crowds), cabaret evenings, dances and bazaars for fund raisers, funerals and pageants, Saint Patrick’s day celebrations (after the prohibition on celebrating it was lifted by the Government), and the wearing of green (after the prohibition on wearing that was lifted by the Government!). I’ve witnessed the arrival of the railways, the digging of the canal, illicit distilling, the overnight ‘disappearance’ of the lake, and Dr Sigerson and the discovery of the Neolithic remains, the arrival of Gaelic games, the post box, the telegraph, the motor car, the first set of traﬃc lights and a thousand things more! The BNA has opened a window into a world I was sure was lost and gone forever. It has been a remarkable journey of discovery and I regularly find myself sitting up to all hours pouring over papers and finding that the answer to one question invariably sets the scene for asking several more…and so the search begins anew! I’ve very recently come upon a page of some significance and following the guidance on the website, sought help with copyright and copying. My query was so immediately and comprehensively answered, that you will recall I had no hesitation in placing an order. Within hours, I had a high-resolution digital scan of the page I sought – ready for printing. This was a new departure for me – and though too expensive for everyday use – there is no doubt, I will be making use of this service again for those very special pages.
Your site is very accessible in terms of cost, is easy to navigate (especially given the bookmarking and filing options) and the scans are superb quality and clear to read. Whilst I can imagine its use to historians of all shades, it is just as relevant to those of us who aren’t. I’ve laughed out loud and I’ve been reduced to tears. The insights garnered over the months since happening upon the BNA website have captivated a community and I cannot commend the team at BNA highly enough. The work you are doing has had a transformative impact on me, my family, and my community and I wanted you to be able to share in that knowledge. Over two hundred years of fractured history (most of it thought lost), has been pieced together in ways which seemed out of reach to us just a few short months ago. It is fascinating to be part of a community connecting with its roots and setting out on a new trajectory. A local history group has been established, contact has been made with Government oﬃcials, and a number of historic sites and persons projects have been developed. The English writer Jane Austen wrote ‘think only of the past as it’s remembrances gives you pleasure’ – and to be frank, there is no doubting the pleasure the historical ‘remembrances’ prompted by the BNA have given us over these past few months. Sincere thanks for all your assistance to date and looking forward to seeing what the future unfolds!
Beir mo dhea-mhéin chun do mhuintire!
Councillor Dan Kelly