In this article John Gibbons talks about the value of oral history and the importance of making the recording. John started recording in Offaly in conjunction with the Offaly History in December 2014.  Since then over forty people have volunteered to be recorded. You do have a story so why not contact John or we can put you in touch via Offaly History. John has contributed material to Offaly Archives which will prove very useful in years to come. A story worth telling is a story worth saving.

John writes:

I would ask if there is anyone who could make themselves available to allow me to record their memories of ‘The Electric’ in the period around and about 1947 to 1962. Also, I am interested in recording persons talking about their working life in Bord na Móna.

To explain: from the recording of the interviewee, usually not more than one hour duration, I transcribe the recording, then send two copies of the transcription to them for correction. The idea is that they keep one copy for themselves and send the other copy (with corrections and amendments as they see fit) back to me. On receipt of the corrected transcription, I then make the requested adjustments, when this is complete I present them with one copy of the original unabridged recording and two copies of the approved abridged transcription. If they wish, the interviewees can pass on a copy of the final transcription of the interview to a local historical society of their choice or to a local archives such as Offaly Archives.

Just a brief note on Oral History: it can be said to be the collection and study of information from individuals, a recording can be made of persons remembering or having observed participation in past events. These memories can serve as an aural record for the recordee’s own families and to be available in the Local History society’s Archives.

The collection of oral history is not new, only the methods used in accordance with advances in technology. Primitive societies have long relied on oral tradition to preserve a record of the past in the absence of written histories. In Western society the use of oral material goes back to early Greek historians.

The importance to Ireland of the organised collection of oral and written history could be said to be demonstrated in the mid – 1930s by among others, Professor Seamus O Duilearga who was one of the founding members of the Folklore Society of Ireland in about 1926, this was to become the Irish Folklore Commission in 1935. Its base was and still is, University College Dublin.

One of its more publicised early initiatives, which occurred in the mid – 1930s, was done in tandem with the Department of Education and Teachers organisations, was in its time, a revolutionary scheme to encourage over 100,000 children in 5,000 primary schools to collect stories and information from their local areas.

One of the women who I recorded in Offaly in 2016 recalled that she had recently been shown a copy of her own presentation, which she had written in 1937.

The case for recording in any fashion possible, is well proven, in order to facilitate present and future generations to reach back to past generations, particularly to read and listen to their own relatives stories.

One of the reactions I have observed when talking to persons that have expressed an interest in being recorded is; ‘My story would not be of interest’, this thought can in most cases be changed once they participate in a recording, they can realise how important it is to record their memories as part of a project. Everyone’s story is important no matter how long or short it is! 

Brief Background to Oral History Project’s instigated by John Gibbons

I worked 47 years in the Irish Electrical, lift and Escalator industry. Since leaving the work place in January 2012 I have, among other things, availed of further education. In 2012 I attended two oral history courses and from 2013 to 2017 I attended UCD, in September 2017 I was awarded a BA in History. I am a member of the Oral History Network Ireland and the Alternative Visions Oral History Group.

I have since December 2014, in conjunction with local history groups, recorded persons in Laois and Offaly in relation to their memories about life before and after  Rural Electrification, to date I have recorded over 40 persons. This project is ongoing.

As mentioned above I am interested in recording persons talking about their experiences in Bord na Móna.

In 2016, utilising excerpts from my recordings, I presented a 45-minute audio/slide presentation, to members of Edenderry History Society. In May 2017 I showed an audio/slide presentation to Offaly History Society in Tullamore and another presentation in Rhode in November 2017. A fourth presentation was shown to members of the Ballinteer Active Retirement Association in March 2019 and a fifth presentation was shown in Tullamore in January 2020.

A 7,000 word article about Rural Electrification in Offaly, was published in the September 2018 edition (No. 10) of the Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society journal. A Blog ‘Memories of Rural Electrification — in County Offaly’ was posted on the www.offalyhistory.com web site in September 2019.  In December 2019 I had a similar article published in the federation of Local History Society Journal No. 24. In September 2020 I presented copies of thirty recordings and transcriptions to the Offaly History Society Archives.

  My contact details are available from Laois and Offaly History Societies or I can be contacted directly by e-mail: john _f_ gibbons@hotmail.com.