Rahan Looks Forward – a Creative Ireland collaboration

Do you have interesting photographs relating to Rahan parish – place or people? Would you like to contribute to a growing archive of images from this area? Read on and see how you can help to visually document this important parish in Offaly.

Creative Ireland is the Government’s legacy programme for Ireland 2016 – a five-year initiative, from 2017 to 2022, which recognises the intrinsic importance of arts and culture to the state. At its heart is the intersection of arts, heritage, culture and community which was demonstrated throughout the commemorative year 2016 by community groups throughout Ireland in creative approaches to commemorating the 1916 Rising in their localities. Underpinning the re-enactments, scripts, concerts, artwork, screenplays, literature, and various other artistic endeavours during that year was the documentary heritage of the state, preserved carefully in our national institutions, our county archive services, and local historical societies.

In Offaly the use of historical source material in the county formed the basis of many of the 1916 projects and one in particular inspired the current collaboration between Offaly History and Tullamore Camera Club. During the 1916 commemorative year, TCC (then the Slieve Bloom Camera Club) approached Offaly History with an idea to recreate historic photographs of the town of Tullamore from 100 years ago. The images were displayed in a space in the town centre during the commemorations and the exhibition is now permanently housed in Offaly History Centre.

Charleville Square/O’Connor Square, Tullamore

Based on the success of that collaboration, Offaly History and Tullamore Camera Club applied for the 2017 Creative Ireland Offaly community grant scheme, for a joint project centred on Rahan, an historic parish in the county and one which is celebrating 200 years of the founding of Rahan Presentation Convent, Killina, in September 2017 during the timeframe of the project. For inspiration we looked no further than Sr Oliver Wrafter. The longest serving member of the order at Killina, Sr Oliver joined the community in 1941, and was involved in primary and secondary education at Killina for over 40 years. She keeps a museum at Killina Heritage Centre where there is an impressive collection of artefacts and documents relating to the order and to Rahan in general. In 1989, she published Rahan Looks Back, a collection of photographs of Rahan and its people in times past. Collected throughout the community, the photographs present a wonderful visual record of life in rural Offaly from the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. It seemed prudent in this bicentennial year to curate a visual archive of life in the present-day parish of Rahan – contemporary and modern to our eyes but in years to come as an important a record as the old photographs in Rahan Looks Back are to us today. And so Rahan Looks Forward was born.

Rahan Looks Back by Sr Oliver Wrafter (1989)

The Rahan Looks Forward project aims to inhabit the space where art and heritage collide, with Offaly History providing the context and source material in the form of historical photographs, map, documents and analysis. Tullamore Camera Club will capture present day Rahan through the medium of photography and provide the creative and visual element to the collaboration. Through this channel, there will be an attempt to recreate Rahan parish of yesterday and today through the digitisation of historic photographs and the creation of a new photographic collection.

Romanesque window, Rahan monastic site

Offaly History has an important set of 19th and early 20th century photograph albums originating from Middleton Biddulph of Rathrobin estate, containing images from Rahan parish such as Rahan Lodge, and the monastic sites of Rahan and Lynally. Tullamore Camera Club have digitally rendered these old and fragile album photographs to the highest preservation standards and a small selection of these will be printed and exhibited by the Club alongside approximately 90 prints of newly captured images of rural life in Rahan parish in late 2017. This exhibition is due to be held in Killina Presentation Secondary School in the last weekend of September as part of the bicentennial celebrations. Offaly History will catalogue and archive these images alongside its historic photographs and archival sources for Rahan parish. It will provide the IT infrastructure necessary to maintain the master digital images and corresponding metadata into the future.

A selection of new photographs by Tullamore Camera Club on display 30 September 2017, Killina Presentation Secondary School. 

A major part of our collaborative approach has been to launch a Facebook page to share some of the old and new photographs in a shared creative space. The immediacy of social media appealed to us and while photographic prints displayed in a traditional exhibition are important, we felt we would reach more people using social media and furthermore we would not be constrained by the number of images we could share.

The final aspect of the project is to appeal to the public and the community in Rahan to share their own photographs whether old or new to the Facebook site or send them to the archivist in Bury Quay to be digitised and added to the record. What should remain by the end of the project, when all aspects are completed, will be a treaure trove of images of Rahan old and new. In this joint endeavour, history meets contemporary visual record-making and a living archive will be the result, one that changes and grows with the community and contributes to the documentary heritage of this historic and important corner of Offaly.

The Creative Ireland plan for Offaly can be accessed here.

As part of the bi-centennial celebrations at Rahan Presentation Convent, join Offaly History in walks around the historic area of Killina on September 30 at 4pm and 5pm.

Have a great photograph of Rahan parish? Post your images on facebook/rahanlooksforward or send them directly to info@offalyhistory.com