ITSC Digitisation Project

ITSC Heritage Council Project 2023

‘Under the bonnet’ work to preserve video and sound recordings of Inishowen songs and singers for future generations.

For over 40 years the Inishowen Traditional Singers’ Circle (ITSC) has been making audiovisual field recordings of the Peninsula’s rich and enduring song tradition, in homes, at singing sessions since 1980, and at the Inishowen International Folk Song and Ballad Seminar since 1990.

Early recordings were made by ITSC founder Jimmy McBride, by the Irish Traditional Music Archive (ITMA) since 2007, and more recently by award winning film maker Bob Gallagher.

We all know however that recording and playing back recordings has changed dramatically across those years - reel-to-reel, tape cassettes and VHS videos giving way to digital files and a plethora of formats and devices.


The Irish Traditional Music Archive, based in Merrion Square Dublin has partnered with ITSC for many years to care for the recordings and provide access to listeners. From 2013-2022, it hosted our flagship digital exhibition 'The Inishowen Song Project', providing free access to sound recordings, videos, song words, and other publications and information relating to the Inishowen song tradition - in total some 2000 items. However as with sound recordings and videos, websites also update and change, and the Inishowen Song Project could no longer be supported online at ITMA in its current format, and the exhibition was 'turned off' in 2023.


Behind the scenes ITSC has been working actively to fund the restoration of the  Inishowen Song Project. It has also given us the opportunity to take a step back and 're-imagine' the digital exhibition, and most importantly to ensure the full collection of original recordings and digital materials are preserved and described properly for future generations.

The Heritage Council

Since its establishment in 1995, the Heritage Council has put in place heritage infrastructure and networks to enable communities participate in and take responsibility for the development and conservation of the heritage of their areas.

With a successful application to the Heritage Council in 2023, ITSC has partnered with ITMA to undertake a vital survey, review and upgrade of  Inishowen material held in the Dublin archive. Grace Toland voluntarily led the project on behalf of ITSC, working remotely with ITMA Archivist Maeve Gebruers, ITMA Digital Access Officer Brian Doyle, ITMA Digital Archivist Adam Girard, and ITMA Librarian Treasa Harkin.


Top right: Grace Toland, ITSC; Bottom right: Maeve Gebruers, ITMA; Bottom left: Brian Doyle, ITMA; Top left: Treasa Harkin, ITMA



The ITSC Jimmy McBride Collection 

The majority of ITSC material in ITMA was generated by its founding organiser, Jimmy  McBride, consisting of 540 audio and video cassettes. These include VHS tapes and V8 tapes digitised under a previous ITSC/Heritage Council 2021 Community Grant Project. To date, all the Jimmy McBride audio cassettes have been digitised as well as 43 of the 87 videocassettes.

ITMA Field Recordings of the Inishowen International Folk Song and Ballad Seminar

ITMA began occasional field recording in Inishowen in 2002-03, and then regularly from 2007 onwards. These ITMA generated audiovisual files are managed as part of ITMA's own field recording collection, but of course are an essential part of the ITSC story.

Other materials 

There are all approximately 700 digital and hardcopy images of events and singers taken by a variety of photographers; hard copy Inishowen International Folk Song & Ballad Seminar brochures; Jimmy McBride paper indices, and 600 song transcriptions in PDF format. There are recordings held in the Collections of other collectors who have visited Inishowen. The considerable digital files generated by film maker Bob Gallagher are currently held externally by the filmmaker.

Photograph of singer John Grant from the Jimmy McBride Collection


Surveyed and located ITSC related analogue and digital material

The Team interrogated the ITMA Library catalogue Soutron and Archive catalogue AtoM, ITMA servers, and Jimmy McBride’s manuscript indices to locate Inishowen related material.

Physical items in the ITSC Jimmy McBride Collection were retrieved from storage and each box and contents checked against existing records, noting any missing or mislabeled items.


Grace Toland (ITSC) on a site visit to ITMA, July 2023 to locate and document ITSC audiovisual materials


Surveyed, located and standardised metadata (catalogue descriptions) (1980s-2021)

Any existing metadata for the Inishowen related material is currently held predominantly in the ITMA Library Catalogue system, Soutron. This system is structured to house individual records for published media such as books, commercial sound recordings etc. As the Jimmy McBride Collection is an ‘unpublished’ archival collection, the agreed decision was made during project discussions, that the material would be best represented in the ITMA archival catalogue, AtoM. This would allow users to discover materials as part of their original collection as well as individual items. However Soutron and AtoM use two different conventions to describe items: AACR2 and ISAGD and so it was necessary to copy and adapt the Soutron metadata for use in AtoM. Dumps of AACR2 data from the ITSC Jimmy McBride Collection were extracted from Soutron to an ‘independent’ spreadsheet, and the elements reconfigured as ISADG metadata, ensuring that the mandatory fields were populated, and that no information that had been captured was lost.

One of the strengths of this particular project was the opportunity to review and standardise the description of events, place-names, individual singers, dates etc. This will be an ongoing process and will call on local knowledge of events, venues, and singers to correct and improve descriptions.

A major enrichment of the metadata was the transcription of detailed content information from the Jimmy McBride typed and manuscript paper indexes. This information was not previously available to users, and provides the detailed song title and singer information which exposes the wealth of the material.


Transcribing from written index to master project spreadsheet


However while Jimmy McBride kept amazing records of his recording work, some more work needs to be done by watching the videos, and listening to the recordings. This work got underway during the Summer of 2023, and names of singers and songs were added to the project's master spreadsheet.


Aural transcription from video to master spreadsheet


Inishowen songs and singers as part of the National Collection

Founded in 1987, the Irish Traditional Music Archive (ITMA) is home to the largest, most comprehensive collection of Irish traditional music, song, and dance in the world.

A major milestone achieved as part of the 2023 Heritage Council project was the work of Grace Toland and ITMA's Maeve Gebruers, to publish a new structure for Jimmy's legacy.


Maeve Gebruers and Grace Toland work remotely on a new archival framework for the Jimmy McBride Collection. You can view the framework here:

This framework will hold the recordings and descriptions currently being prepared for upload, and in turn will feed a new 're-imagined' Inishowen Song Project.

We are so proud to see the collecting work of Jimmy McBride structured and organised so that it will continue to be accessible to future generations of Inishowen families and those who wish to learn from this rich tradition.

ITMA would like to sincerely thank the Heritage Council for its continued support in preserving Inishowen's song legacy. Digitisation and digital preservation are costly and developing professional services which ITSC as a voluntary organisation cannot achieve or afford independently. We are equally indebted to the Irish Traditional Music Archive who partner with us to provide sustainable preservation and access for future generations.

Many thanks to Director Liam O' Connor and especially to Archivist Maeve Gebruers, Digital Access Officer Brian Doyle, Librarian Treasa Harkin and Digital Archivist Adam Girard, for their professionalism and generosity of spirit for the duration of the project.

If you would like to support the Inishowen Traditional Singers' Circle voluntary work in continuing to locate and preserve recordings of Inishowen songs and singers, please do not hesitate to get in touch via our contact page here on the website. Should you be in a position to donate financially to such projects, that would be amazing, and can be done through our donate button here on the website.


Inishowen singers: Annie McGonigle, Roseanne McGonigle († 2020), Annie Hirrell and Evelyn McGonigle.

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