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New Digital Repository of Ireland

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The DRI (Digital Repository of Ireland), an online resource site for social and cultural data, was launched a little while ago. The NCAD (National College of Art and Design) is one of the organizations who have joined the repository adding two of their collections for display on the DRI website, the Michael Healy Collection consisting of 36 objects and the KDW (Kilkenny Design Workshops Collection), consisting of 2040 objects. Both collections are kept at NIVAL (National Irish Visual Arts Library) at NCDA. The Kilkenny Collection dates from 1963-1985. Kilkenny Design Workshops, a semi-state agency at the time, celebrated their 50th anniversary this year. The Healy Collection is a compilation of diary pages from 1916. All of the objects in the two collections have been specially digitalised for the DRI site.


Minister for Skills, Research and Innovation, Damien English TD, was at Croke Park for a major international conference on digital preservation on the 25th June 2015 to officially launch the site. “Fostering collaboration in the academic sector is central to the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs; and the launch of the Digital Repository of Ireland is indicative of the powerful outcomes which can be achieved when strategic collaborations, with support from cultural, social and industry partners, are facilitated. Together the partners involved in this project have created a valuable resource which will serve to safeguard Ireland’s rich social and cultural data, benefitting research, education and the public at large,” said Minister English.


DRI will feature content from social sciences, humanities and cultural disciplines. Other collections on the new site includes: Letters of 1916, the Clarke Stained Glass Studios Archive, Irish Lifetimes, Saol Agus Saothar Sheáin Mhic Ghiollarnáth and The Teresa Deevy Archive. Then there are award winning collections like the Inspiring Ireland Collections, and multi-media collections from the RTÉ (Raidió Teilifís Éireann) and the CMC (Contemporary Music Centre) archives.


The Director of DRI, Dr. Sandra Collins, said in response to the new online repository: “DRI offers exciting historical, cultural and contemporary content that tells the story of Ireland and its people. The content comes from some of the finest institutions across Ireland, and is available without charge for people to view and to enjoy. Some of the collections we care for are restricted by copyright or the sensitive nature of the data, but researchers can request access. We are an open repository, and we want people to explore and enjoy their cultural and social heritage.”

The repository can be found online ( and has a rich display of digital objects, video clips, photographs, digitised manuscripts, oral histories, sound recordings, digitised paintings and museum objects, books and letters. There are thousands of digital objects filled with Irish history and took the DRI nearly four years to research. Using software development, policy and legal framework design, and data curation by digital archivists and librarians, this most extensive and well researched art archive is now available for researchers, and those interested in Ireland’s rich culture history.

The Michael Healy Collection 20th April – 17th May 1916

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Michael Healy’s Collection has 36 objects and consists of dairy pages (typed transcripts), a watercolour image of a design for a stained glass window (for Clongowes College) and an illustration of the An Túr Gloine studio made by the artist Patrick Pollen. Art historian Dr. David Caron researched the work of Michael Healy and added material to the collection. The diary entries are of the days from the 20th of April to the 17th of May 1916. It tells the story of what he was doing during this month and his memoires of the upheaval that was prevalent during the days before, during and after the time of the 1916 Easter Rising. He recalls in his diary the days spent working on the window and bicycle journeys he takes in the Dublin area while the Rising was in full swing.

Michael Healy (1873-1941) lived at 40 Bishop Street, Dublin 8 (a local from the Dublin 8 area) and enrolled at the Metropolitan School of Art when he was a 24 –year-old, before he began working for the Irish Rosary as an illustrator. His editor at the Irish Rosary was a priest called Fr Glendon. He was very impressed with Healy’s talent and encouraged him to go to Florence to further his studies. This he did and left in the Autumn of 1899 for Florence. There he began working for a Florentine painter called de Bacci-Ventui and studied in the life school of the R. Instituto de Belle Arte until his return to Ireland in May 1901.

Back in Ireland he took up a job as an art teacher at the Dominican College at Newbridge. This did not work out for him for long and he turned to stained glass as an art form, which eventually became his career and passion. He was recruited by Sarah Purser who founded the studio of An Túr Gloine (The Tower of Glass) and produced his first window The St. Simeon Window for Loughrea Cathedral (Connaught) in 1904. At An Túr Gloine he studied the stained glass technique under the late A.E. Child (who also features in his diary) and continued as one of Ireland’s greatest stained glass artists for the next 40 years. Other well known and recommended works Healy was commissioned for includes the Annunciation and Visitation windows at Blackrock College, the St. Patrick window at the Sacred Heart church in Donnybrook and the Madonna with St. Catherine at Dundrum.

The Kilkenny Design Workshops Collections 1965-1988

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The KDW collection and archive consists of photographic material (prints, negatives, 35mm slides and large-scale transparencies). The KDW was a state-sponsored design research and development body that was established in 1963 by Córas Tráchtála (the Irish Export Board) to improve the design of Irish products and increase exports. In 1965 five workshops at the former stables at Kilkenny Castle opened for silver and metalwork, textile weaving, textile printing, ceramics, and woodworking. Products were designed using wool, silver, wood, bronze, gold, ceramics and other textiles and exhibitions showing off these designs have been captured and digitalised for the online repository.

These workshops were run by William H. Walsh. The workshops employed European designers to teach other designers the tricks of the trade and progressed from craft-based industries to include industrial and product design. During the 70’s and the 80’s KDW mostly concentrated on the area of industrial design. The workshops expanded and later on retail outlets opened in Kilkenny, Dublin and London. Exhibitions were organised and designer development training schemes were provided for students as part of the KDW initiative. Unfortunately in 1988 all three retail shops had to close when the state withdrew state-funding and debts could no longer be covered.

NIVAL was gifted in 2011 with the Kilkenny Design Workshops Archive for public research purposes and to be catalogued to an institutional standard. Recently a new iPad app was developed for those with an interest in the KDW and can be accessed at The app allows for a “virtual-tour” around the workshops at the old stables at Kilkenny Castle. There are television interviews with William H. Walsh (founder of the Kilkenny Design Workshops) and recordings of Ȃke Huldt (the man responsible for the Scandinavian Report) and old brochures and catalogues to enjoy.

This year is the year of the Irish Design 2015 initiative and coincides with the 50th Anniversary of KDW’s official opening back in 1965. Karen Hennessy, Chief Executive of the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland and a director of Irish Design 2015 said: “We are delighted to present this visually rich and informative KDW app in partnership with the Heritage Council. The KDW app is a digital resource designed to engage people in an accessible and interactive way about the work of KDW and its impact on design in Ireland. It is particularly timely that we are launching this app in the year that celebrates Irish design both at home and internationally through Irish Design 2015. We hope the app content encourages people both nationally and globally to find out more about the heritage of Irish design, the Kilkenny Design Workshops and how good design can be instrumental in a country’s economic success.”

When this journalist spoke to one of the librarians at NIVAL she informed me that there will be more collections and archive material eventually added to the DRI site. Approximately three hundred work images have been removed from the KDW collection pending clarification of copyright legislation.


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