1641 Depositions Project: sharing our history, building a legacy
Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Project launch, August 2020
The Project has transformed the public’s understanding and engagement with Irish memory and history and in doing so has contributed to the on-going peace process in Ireland. Freely accessible, the virtual images and transcriptions of the depositions enable each interested person to independently browse, research and read the testimonies. Myths and propaganda surrounding the 1641 rebellion can now be challenged, re-interrogated, and contextualised. Before they were digitised c.20 scholars a year consulted them in the old library in Trinity. Today current global usage surpasses 20,000 registered users.
Here are the tragic stories of individuals, and here too is the tragic story of our land. To learn this, I believe, is to know who we are and why we have had to witnesses our own troubles in what became a divided island. A nation that forgets its past commits suicide.
The Rev and the Rt Hon. the Lord Bannside, Ian Paisley, 2010
The 1641 website and an accompanying exhibition on ‘Ireland in Turmoil’ were launched at the anniversary of the outbreak of the Rebellion, 22 October 2010, by President Mary McAleese and the late Ian Paisley, Lord Bannside. Building bridges and reconciliation have been the themes of Mary McAleese’s presidency, something that was fully realized during the state visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland in May 2011. The launch of the 1641 exhibition offered the President an opportunity to make a powerful statement on the importance of acknowledging our shared and contested past without being bound by it. Ian Paisley, the late Lord Bannside, who in the past had repeatedly invoked 1641 to stir up anti-catholic sentiment, also attended the launch and responded to the website and exhibition.
We are, even after the publication of the Depositions, unlikely to agree a common version of history but we can agree that to have a common future, a shared and peaceful future, there is nothing to be gained from ransacking the past for ammunition to justify the furthering of hatred and distrust.
There is however everything to be gained from interrogating the past calmly and coherently, in order to understand each other’s passions more comprehensively, to make us intelligible to one another, to help us transcend those baleful forces of history so that we can make a new history of good neighbourliness understanding and partnership between all the people and traditions on this island.
President McAleese, at the launch of 1641 Depositions Exhibition: ‘Ireland in turmoil: the 1641 depositions’, 2010
The extensive interest of the general public was palpable: all events related to it were at full capacity, and it made headlines around Ireland and the world, with features, opinion pieces and articles appearing in the local and national press. Print press include The Irish Times (2012, 2010), The Irish Independent, The Irish News, The Newsletter, The Belfast Telegraph, together with international outlets, The Independent, The Guardian, The New York Times and others. RTE, RTE Radio 1, the BBC, CBS and ABC broadcasted news items and features about the depositions.
Economic and societal impacts stemming from enterprise partnership bear fruits to this day. The Project’s process of digitisation and semantic tagging also benefited from and contributed to IBM’s LanguageWare, a natural language processing (NLP) technology developed by IBM. The collaborative research environment that enabled exchanging knowledge with IBM continued in subsequent projects, providing new software insights to a technology that is now being used by IBM Watson, a supercomputer that combines artificial intelligence (AI) and sophisticated analytical software.
Students and teachers have been particularly benefited by the Project, facilitated by the creation not only of this main website with all depositions, but also a set of freely available online teaching modules aimed at 14 to 16-year olds. Created with the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and launched in 2015, the teaching modules had reached close to 5,000 students across Ireland by 2016. Of note is the work of Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) and secondary school teachers throughout the province. The lessons align with the Bridge21 model of 21st Century Learning and Activity Model, and are designed to include team-led activities, project-based, technology-mediated learning, where the teacher acts as facilitator, empowering students to do historical research and also to develop and hone key skills of enormous benefit outside of the classroom.
Working with Trinity College Dublin’s arts and humanities is exciting for IBM – we get a completely different perspective and insights that we can apply in different areas to create entirely new products.
Marie Wallace, senior research and development manager at IBM LanguageWare, 2010
Since being published by the Project, the collection also became an engine driving research and scholarship at Trinity and beyond: the depositions now feature in undergraduate courses and dissertations, PhDs, ‘special subjects’ and other courses, used also by genealogists and the general public. In Trinity alone a new generation of postgraduate students work on a myriad of subjects relating to the depositions. Examples include MPhil theses by Ciska Neyts (TCD), Morgan Robinson (TCD), and Grace Hoffman (TCD), and PhD theses by Eamon Darcy (TCD), Grace Hoffman (TCD), Joan Redmond (TCD and Cambridge), Inga Volmer (Cambridge) and Heidi Coburn (Cambridge).
Digital access to the depositions means that global communities have available a unique collection previously inaccessible. These studies not only suggest fresh ways of conceptualising how we might study both the testimonies and the events they record, but also provide an opportunity for learning how best to analyse events that caused and surrounded incidents of mass killing and massacre in a global comparative perspective.
The 1641 Depositions Project made publicly available online a unique and unparalleled source of information for the causes and events surrounding the 1641 rebellion and for the social, economic, cultural, religious, and political history of seventeenth-century Ireland, England and Scotland. Following two previous attempts in the 1930s and 1960s, the Project published all the depositions in a fully searchable TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) compliant format. The Project has transformed our understanding and engagement with Irish memory and history and in doing so has made a contribution to the on-going peace process in Ireland. It has also become a flagship digital humanities project.
Want to know more? Please contact Professor Jane Ohlmeyer or Professor Micheál Ó Siochrú, Principal Investigators of the Project, at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By studying these past occurrences of atrocity and massacre and by attempting to unravel why they occurred, how the victims survived, how they remembered, how perpetrators were punished, and how communities were reconciled (or not) our understanding of the present can be more fully informed.
Professor Jane Ohlmeyer, MRIA, FTCD, FRHS
Watch an introduction to the 1641 depositions and listen how they can be used as a source to recover the experiences of Irish widows by Professor Jane Ohlmeyer.
1. The 1641 Depositions – The online version is available at 1641.tcd.ie. The Irish Manuscripts Commission has published a hard copy of the 1641 Depositions in 12 volumes. Aidan Clarke is the principal editor
2. Annaleigh Margey, ‘Anti-Popery and the 1641 Rebellion’ in A. Morton (ed.) Anti-Popery in early modern Britain, 1520-1750 (forthcoming, 2021/2).
3. Annaleigh Margey, ‘The 1641 Depositions and County Louth’ in Conor Brady, Annaleigh Margey and Noel Ross (eds) Louth History and Society (forthcoming, 2021/2).
4. Annaleigh Margey, ‘The curious case of Knocknamase Castle, County Offaly, November 1641’ (forthcoming).
5. Annaleigh Margey, ‘War and Society in Meath: evidence from the 1641 depositions’ in Arlene Crampsie, Frank Ludlow and William Nolan (eds) Meath History and Society (Dublin, 2015), pp 215-244.
6. Thomas Bartlett, ‘The Shadow of a Year: The 1641 Rebellion in Irish History and Memory by John Gibney, and: The Irish Rebellion of 1641 and the Wars of the Three Kingdoms by Eamon Darcy.’ The Catholic Historical Review 100.1 (2014), pp 157-159.
7. Jane Ohlmeyer and Micheál Ó Siochrú (eds.), Ireland 1641: Contexts and Reactions, Manchester University Press, 2013; paperback, vii + 304 pages, 2014.
8. Annaleigh Margey and Elaine Murphy, ‘Backsliders from the Protestant Religion: conversion in the 1641 depositions’, Archivium Hibernicum, lxv (2012), pp 82-188.
9. Annaleigh Margey, ‘Making the documents of conquest speak: Plantation society in Armagh and the 1641 Depositions’, in Patrick J. Duffy and William Nolan (eds) At the anvil: essays in honour of William J. Smyth (Dublin, 2012), pp 187-213.
10. Annaleigh Margey, ‘1641 and the Ulster Plantation Towns’ in Eamon Darcy, Annaleigh Margey and Elaine Murphy (eds), The 1641 Depositions and the Irish Rebellion (London, 2012), pp 79-96.
11. Micheal O Siochru and Mark Sweetnam, ‘The 1641 Depositions and Portadown Bridge’, Seanchas Ard Mhacha, 24, (1), 2012, pp 72-103.
12. Jane Ohlmeyer, ‘Anatomy of plantation: the 1641 Depositions’, History Ireland, 17, (6), 2009.
13. Micheal O Siochru and Charlene McCoy, ‘County Fermanagh and the 1641 Depositions’, Archivium Hibernicum, 61, 2008, pp 62-136.