Local heritage goes global on free interactive website

08_pride-vol2Aoife Ní Dhálaigh talks to author Paul Gannon about his ongoing bid to record the social and sporting history of his parish – and the decision to bring that work online

A new interactive website put together by Renvyle’s Paul Gannon is hoping to bring the experiences of local people to a global audience – and bring the heritage stories of people from all over the world together in one place.

The website marks a shift in direction for Paul, who has published three books on local history and sport, and stems from a desire to ‘share heritage’.

Now anyone who clicks onto paulgannonheritage.com can access excerpts from social history The Way It Was and the first two volumes of Pride in the Parish: A Gaelic Sporting History, as well as photographs and audio files on local history topics.

‘The home page is about putting up recent sporting pieces and audio – so someone can hear a preview of a big match, then listen to the match itself,’ Paul explains.

‘Pride in the Parish 3 and 4 are about 85% done and the idea is that I can now feed through extracts from both of them over the coming weeks and months, so people can get a flavour of them by degrees.

‘For example, volume three focuses on the stories of Connemara Gaelic clubs in London, New York, San Francisco and Boston, while handball is covered in volume four – including some local victories that not many people are aware of.’

There will also be some new heritage-themed stories posted in the near future to gel in with The Way It Was.

As well as using the website as a medium to pique interest in his books, Paul says he wants the site to be a standalone resource.

The site’s slogan is that ‘a shared experience is ultimately a better experience’ and Paul is looking for people to contribute their historical stories to the website, be they locally based or heritage-themed tales from anywhere in the world.

Paul added: ‘If there’s something local that someone is particularly proud of, I’d love to hear from them – whether their ‘local’ is Renvyle or the east coast, or America.’

The project is the latest product of an interest in local heritage that first found expression in a series of radio interviews on Connemara Community Radio (CCR) in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Paul recalls: ‘I got involved [with CCR] back in 1988, when it was still a pirate station. I volunteered and co-presented a programme with manager Pat Walsh and I decided to do my segment on local history.’

This coincided with a documentary Paul’s brother Michael made, interviewing their uncle about topics including local children’s burial grounds.

Paul,  principal at Eagles Nest National School, in Renvyle, said: ‘I wrote up some of the stories that I recorded for the radio, along with my brother’s piece, for use in primary school.

‘I ended up with half a dozen pieces and it went from there.’

Paul proceeded to collect further stories on local topics in days gone by and, within a year, had written and published a social history called The Way It Was, which came out in 1999.

His most recent work, Pride in the Parish, is in four volumes and deals exclusively with the place of Gaelic games in Letterfrack-Ballinakill. The first volume, extracts of which appeared in the Journal earlier this year, was published last December and successfully launched in Letterfrack, but Paul is eager to get his work to a wider audience.

The remaining volumes are being published as e-books, available to order through the website, and so will be available instantly to people across the world.

‘I could have another launch and sell plenty of copies, but that would still mean the books are limited to a very localised audience. The website is also a vehicle to sell e-books globally – maybe not so much in west Connemara, but this will give me access to the diaspora, and that’s a big reason for doing it.’

Of the website itself, he says it ‘comes from a desire to share heritage’.

‘I want it to be full of substance and content, to have a uniqueness about it. The audio element is a big part of this. Connemara Community Radio has kindly given me permission to access the relevant material.’

Paul paid tribute to Gráinne O’Malley, senior technician in CCR, as well as Seán Mulkerrin of Dash Dot Development, who created the website and edited the books into Kindle versions.

‘Gráinne is super, she’s always so helpful,’ he says. ‘And this was Seán’s first venture into e-books – he was really excited about it and there are probably plenty of other local books that could benefit from [the process]’.