Monday, 10 December 2018

Northern Ireland's Prisons Memory Archive

At the stakeholders meeting of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland ( on Friday 7 December 2018, we were given a presentation by Lorraine Dennis on an extraordinary collection in Northern Ireland, the Prisons Memory Archive.

The Prisons Memory Archive is comprised of a series of a thousand pictures and 175 interviews recorded at Armagh Gaol and at the Maze and Long Kesh Prison from 2006-7. Initially recorded as the Prisons Audio Visual Archive, the interviewees comprise of staff, probation officers, prisoners, chaplains, teachers, and visitors with stories to tell from the period of the Troubles (although not exclusively).

The aim of the project was to empower the participants to tell their stories by taking them back to the sites in question. The recordings vary from minutes to hours, with extensive site footage.
The project today is recognised internationally as a model of best practice for an oral history archive.

Of course, the Troubles still remain a sensitive subject to this day, and at one point we were told how there has at times been hostility from many quarters about the project, which probably means that the team have got something right in terms of an approach that favours neither one perspective or another. Indeed, the recordings themselves are anonymous in terms of the political leanings of those involved, and people are labelled by their name only, with participants having self-identified for labelling purposes on how they wish to be referred to.

A taste of the archive's recordings is available online at, but the big development now is that in partnership with the Prisons Memory Archive Management Group and Queen's University Belfast, PRONI is cataloguing and hosting the collection (with Heritage Lottery Funding) as part of the Visual Voices Project, with all of the original recordings to be made available for consultation at the archive under D4616. These can be viewed on four dedicated CALM PCs in the main search room search room, with headphones provided. It was noted that some of the recordings are quite large and so may take a minute or so to load up.

Twenty five recordings are now available at PRONI, with a further 150 to be transferred over the next 18 months.

A huge thank you to Lorraine fort such a fascinating insight into such a seriously valuable and worthwhile project. For a taste of what to expect, watch video trails at


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