Belfast Telegraph

Massive Northern Ireland Troubles collection to become part of digital age

By Claire Williamson

The only collection of its kind of irreplaceable archives of the Northern Ireland Troubles is to be conserved in digital form.

The unique and internationally renowned Northern Ireland Political Collection (NIPC) held in Belfast's Linen Hall Library consists of more than 350,000 items and is to be digitised thanks to almost £400,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

It includes printed material relating to Northern Ireland politics and society and features the activities and opinions of groups ranging from paramilitaries, to Government, to social pressure groups.

The areas to be digitised were chosen for their rich cultural history and include political posters from 1966 to 2014 – numbering over 6,000 – and the collection of political periodicals covering the same time period.

Not only will the digitisation allow instant access to selected rare pieces, it will also help protect the collection's more fragile items, ensuring all content is conserved indefinitely.

The periodicals include runs of more than 2,750 titles from political parties, security forces, paramilitary groups as well as socialist, fascist, feminist and anarchist organisations.

Among the titles are a 1982 Belfast Bulletin, Journal of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, The Purple Standard and NuSight: Ireland's News Magazine from 1969, An Phoblacht, Protestant Telegraph and many more.

The NIPC is the only collection of its kind in the world as no other institution in a localised conflict has systematically collected material from all sides since the beginning of the conflict. Much of the material is irreplaceable and many of the pieces are held by the NIPC alone. The collection began in 1968 when the then librarian, Jimmy Vitty, was handed a civil rights leaflet in a city centre restaurant.

Over the years the archive has grown to include all types of printed materials including leaflets, Christmas cards, smuggled communications and politically branded children's bibs.

Paul Mullan, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Northern Ireland, said: "This is an exciting project not just for the Linen Hall Library but for Northern Ireland, as more people will be able to access large portions of this collection from such an important period in our history.

"The collection brings together material from such a diverse range of sources that it provides an invaluable resource that gives a truly unique insight into a difficult and contested heritage."

Julie Andrews, Linen Hall director, said: "We are constantly striving to make our invaluable collections available to as wide an audience as possible. The grant will make it possible for people all over the world to view this rare and incomparable resource."

Alongside the project, the Library will organise a number of exhibitions, a schools outreach project and an intergenerational reminiscence project asking local community groups to record their memories of significant events.

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