Thursday 27 July 2017

Boston tapes were never meant to be part of current affairs – they're a history project

Graffiti on the Falls Road in West Belfast references Republicans who took part in the Boston College tapes project. AP
Graffiti on the Falls Road in West Belfast references Republicans who took part in the Boston College tapes project. AP

Diarmaid Ferriter

During the 1930s in Ireland, politicians, educators and IRA veterans expressed increasing concern about the urgency and importance of collecting testimony from survivors of the War of Independence for historical posterity.

The idea was that, as the generation involved in the events of 1916-21 got older, if there was no attempt made to record their experiences they would take their accounts to the grave. The response to this was what ultimately became the Bureau of Military History project; initiated by the State, overseen by personnel from the Department of Defence, and advised by a group comprising various scholars and historians.

During the 1940s and 1950s, almost 1,800 interviews were conducted with veterans, on the understanding that their testimony would not be released into the public domain for decades. Their accounts were locked up in government buildings in March 1959 in 83 steel boxes.

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