Virtual Heritage Network Conference at UCC

Transport Infrastructure IrelandTransport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) is the result of the Railway Procurement Agency and the National Roads Authority coming together to form one Irish transport authority. Their aim is to deliver high quality transport infrastructure and transport services in Ireland, which in turn aids the economic growth in our country. TII is also one of the sponsors of the VHN conference in UCC, and will see members of their team attending the conference, with some giving talks about their organization. As part of the preparation of the Virtual Heritage Network conference in University College Cork from the 8th to the 10th of December 2016, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rónán Swan of Transport Infrastructure Ireland. Mr. Swan is the head of the Archaeology and Heritage sector at TII, and will be attending the conference with one of his colleagues. Mr. Swan has a pervasive background in Archaeology. Having studied Archaeological computing at post Graduate level in South Hampton, he went on to become an archaeologist and carried out excavations in the nineties. Now he and his team manage the multiple excavations and projects by the archaeological department of TII that take place around the country.

Excavation Discovery

Excavation Discovery

During our interview, Mr. Swan talked extensively about digitizing and publishing the information and all the reports from all the work done by their department on-line. While speaking of his time excavating in the nineties, he said “The general public always wanted to know what we were doing with all the information” that they had gathered. They also wanted to know if this information would be available to them and if they were going to publish this information for public use. Because of this demand for information from the public, Mr. Swan’s department has recently partaken in a project with the Digital Repository of Ireland (DRI) and the Discovery Programme.

The Digital Repository of Ireland is an on-line repository platform for data held by Irish institutions which is open and freely available for public use and research, and the Discovery Programme conducts advanced research in Irish archaeology and disseminating the information globally. Together, the DRI and the Discovery Programme is the key for the on-line publication of TII’s research reports and information. “We’ve developed a system where we can upload all that data onto the DRI platform so that it allows people to immediately to get whatever information they want”, Mr. Swan said about the project. He also said that they work to “give [the information] to the public in the exact same way [they] receive it” so therefore they do not “package” the information for the public, allowing them to use the information their way. Mr. Swan said that within the next three months they will have launched three thousand reports onto the DRI platform, followed by another thousand next year.

Interior of a Medieval Parish Church

Interior of a Medieval Parish Church Artist: JG O’Donoghue

As of now, the archaeological department of TII has two thousand excavation reports, archaeological assessments, and a large publication of about 30 books that they are trying to get onto the digital repository. Unfortunately they have a whole range of data that is currently untapped and nobody is using them”.  This abundant volume of information that has been left unused is another reason for the need of the DRI platform.

While Mr. Swan and I were talking about the access of information to the archaeological reports of TII, I asked would there be a specific group or groups of people, other than archaeologists who would have a particular interest in this kind of information. “An interesting group who use our information are artists,” I was told.  “Many will come to the archaeologists when they’re drawing their inspiration for their work”.

Anglo Norman High Medieval Castle Illustration

Anglo Norman High Medieval Castle Illustration Artist: JG O’Donoghue

Around the country, many artists would use archaeological resources to see what has been discovered, hence why you would see some artists painting and drawing on the sides of motorways and in other slightly unusual places. One artist Mr. Swan named in was JG O’Donoghue, an artist based in Cork, “He’s done some beautiful paintings, and he has worked with us over the years.”  This particularly interesting group of people really shows how the work of archaeologists directly effects and inspires the arts.

That concludes some of the greater points discussed during our interview. I look forward to seeing Rónán Swan and his colleague at the VHN Conference in UCC, to find out even more about their work in TII.

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