'Irish Roots' archive



Irish Roots


November 3 2014

Pushing Irish heritage Jello up that Europeana hill

I got my first internet connection 20 years ago, a state-of-the-art 14.4 kb dial-up modem complete with a command-line text interface that could magically put me in direct touch with every one of the 893 Irish people then online. It took anything between half-an-hour and a month to download a picture, but my first thought was still "This thing needs a portal" Even at that stage, the sheer amount of indiscriminate stuff to be waded through was just bewildering.

The same bright idea has gone on occurring to internet administrators for the past two decades. After all, is it not self-evident that the poor, puzzled masses need guidance and hand-holding? Apparently not. Thousands of attempts to organise and broker online information have withered and died. The puzzled masses seem to prefer trying to find their own answers.

One institution that valiantly refuses to accept the wrong-headed preferences of the puzzled masses (aka "democracy") is the European Union. And the EU's Europeana.eu cultural portal is an extraordinary example of what top-down, we-know-best internet design can produce. Its aim is no less than "to make Europe's cultural and scientific heritage available". Life, the universe and everything, in other words. Norwegian daguerreotypes, Serbian newspapers, Basque music, Romanian coats of arms - they're all here. It is an extraordinary smorgasbord of … indiscriminate stuff to be waded through.

The organising partner in Ireland is the Irish Manuscripts Commission and they're doing a manful job of pushing our Irish jello up that hill. Search for them under "Providers" and have your mind boggled. Audio of Tipperary spoken Irish from the 1920s; the silent film The Colleen Bawn from 1910; 1,888 pieces of traditional music; 3-D models of Glendalough and the Hill of Tara. And much, much more.

Though I can't see a use for it, the site is fascinating. And just a bit horrifying.

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