Irish Agricultural Memory and Archives: a Framework to Provide a Window into a Landscape Neglected

Michael Reilly


This research aims to examine how the National Soil Survey (NSS), the first large scale scientific experiment in Irish agriculture, was recorded and is remembered. The thesis takes an interdisciplinary approach, drawing on literature and methods related to archivistics, memory studies and oral history. These three disciplines are combined to investigate what archival records survived. This then provides the basis for looking at the differences between the many different types of records, – written and oral; administrative and personal – which takes precedence, and how they can work together to create a solid evidenced based account of an event etc. Such an interrogation also provides a firm foundation with which to delve into the intricacies of the relationship between the cognate disciplines of archiving, memory and oral history.
An interpretive qualitative framework underpins this study. The chief method of research design is a single case study – the NSS – within which different techniques are used such as textual, or content analysis, archival survey techniques, a case study within a case study and semi-structured interviews. These procedures generate both qualitative and quantitative data. While the latter provides precise facts and figures regarding formats, authors and sources etc. the qualitative data is examined by the general themes arising from the different articles, records and conversations during the course of the project. Data found is also guided by a research agenda which is influenced by the theoretical approach of memory studies such as that articulated by Frank Upward and Sue McKemmish in their article ‘In Search of the Lost Tiger …’ . The oral history method provides the practical steps with which to capture memories that aim to complement the document based archives that have survived.

It is through the construction of this interdisciplinary framework that a new window could be opened for the archivist to explore a landscape that has been neglected by the Irish archival community. Analysis of these disciplines working together to form such a structure provides a deep exploration of whether they act as valuable complements or disturbing competitors.

Frank Upward and Sue McKemmish, ‘In Search of the Lost Tiger by Way of Sainte-Beuve: Reconstructing the Possibilities in ‘Evidence of Me,’’ Archives and Manuscripts Vol. 29, No.1, (2001), pp 65-66



Michael Reilly is a final year Irish Research Council Doctoral Scholar at the UCD Humanities Institute in Dublin. Michael’s research topic concerns the neglect of agricultural memory and archives in Ireland. This area is of particular interest to him as he grew up on a beef farm in the west of Ireland that he now helps to run alongside his mother. Prior to training as an archivist he pursued legal studies in Dublin, before settling to work in the financial sector for a number of years. It was here during the economic crises to hit Ireland in 2008 that he fully recognised the importance of reliable records in order to maintain any measure of accountability and transparency. While this acted as the main impetus to become an expert in this area, it was the idea of the way of life he had grown up with not being represented in Irish national institutions which acted as the determining factor in continuing to study archival science at doctoral level.