Museum Reels & Manx Tapes: 2 out of 3 Years Ain’t Bad for UOSH

Tuesday 27 October is UNESCO World Day for Audiovisual Heritage. What better day is there to celebrate the progress of Unlocking Our Sound Heritage, two years into the three-year project in the National Museums NI Sound Archive?

Since starting in autumn 2018, the UOSH team’s highlights include the following:

  • Digitisation – In November 2020, the team will pass the 3,500-mark for digital preservation of old reels, cassettes, CDs and other formats – that’s 70% of the end target of 5,000.
  • Cataloguing – Some 2,000 of these digitised items have been catalogued.
  • Ingestion – Almost 4,700 audio files have been created from the digitised and catalogued items, and ingested into the National Museums NI and British Library archives.
  • Rights Clearance – 3,250 of these recordings have been cleared for onsite research access.
  • Volunteers – 22 volunteers have worked regularly on the project, gaining useful experience – not least our newly appointed Cataloguing Officer, Sam Guthrie. Welcome, Sam!
  • Engagement – These audio files have been centrepieces of community engagement programmes (face-to-case and online), ‘Dark Side of Ballycultra’ events at the Ulster Folk Museum, and presentations to international academic conferences.
  • Media Coverage – Two reports on UOSH were broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster’s ‘Evening Extra’ during October.

Most of the above statistics relate to the ‘unlocking’ of dormant and at-risk sound items from the National Museums NI Sound Archive at Cultra, with the support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the oversight of the British Library.

In recent months, the project has extended its reach to take in collections from project partners, including the Glens of Antrim Historical Society, Larne Museum and the Somme Museum. To take in these collections and keep project workflow going between the public health restrictions of 2020 has been no small challenge.

One of the toughest tasks of all was an inter-national loan achieved during October. After months of tight travel restrictions on the Isle of Man, Jude Dicken and Emma Le Cornu of Manx National Heritage caught the ferry from Douglas to Liverpool, and then on to Belfast, driving on to Cultra with 12 boxes of tapes in their car. In so doing, they made the sacrifice of having to undergo personal quarantines after their return. We salute them! A video of their trip, entitled ‘A Manx Tale: 3 Legs & 600 Tapes’, is now on National Museums NI social media.

The Manx collection contains some very valuable recordings, capturing many aspects of the island’s modern history, from native Manx speakers (recorded as far back as 1909), the Peel Viking Festival, and the famous Isle of Man TT motorbike races. This collection will be digitised and catalogued by the National Museums NI team in the months ahead, before returning home next June.

In the last year of the project, up to autumn 2021, the UOSH team will keep building up the figures towards their overall targets.

We aim also to enhance the profile and access to the Sound Archive at National Museums NI, as museum folk and the general public have been coming to a greater appreciation of the value of audio archives in recent times. Accordingly, we plan to:

  • Introduce sound clips into the museum’s education resources for schools.
  • Enhance online information about the holdings of the Sound Archive.
  • Initiate a commercial audio-digitisation service at National Museums NI.
  • Create greater access to audio files for research purposes as part of a long-term vision for the Sound Archive.

Listen out for more!


For further information about UOSH at National Museums NI:

  • Search the recordings digitised to date on the online catalogue.
  • Watch our National Museums presentation, ‘Saving Sounds and Making Noise in Ulster’, at the International Association of Sound Archives conference, broadcast online from today.
  • Catch the clip on BBC Sounds of Radio Ulster’s ‘Evening Extra’ interview (15 October) with a Trinity College law professor listening back to his fascinating recording as an 11-year-old boy in Kerry in 1980.