My project has changed a lot since I started. I planned on documenting retired Bord na Mona peat workers reactions to Sculpture in the Parklands at Lough Boora, and their stories about living and working in Lough Boora at the height of it’s industrial production. I specifically wanted to focus on the peat workers because of they had worked with the land that is now reclaimed, as opposed to mechanical maintenance workers (fitters) of Bord na Mona who worked in shops, often off-site. By chance, I spoke to peat workers who had never been to Sculpture in the park, or fitters who had, but didn’t vocalize many of their opinions on the place. The best audio I got relating to the reception of the parklands and how it reflects industrial heritage was from Tom Egan, the land manager at Lough Boora, and Michael Camon the leaser of our cottages. Tom was integrally involved in the founding SIP, so he had very insightful reflections. I think Michael opened up so much because he was comfortable being interviewed in the cottages that are familiar to him, and the JNBC had already established a trusting, respectful relationship with him.
I’ve never collected oral history before, and I realized that I’d totally taken for granted the human interaction and psychological aspects of collecting honest, undiluted stories from strangers. We met about 12 retired Bord na Mona workers at a pub in Kilcormac. Assuming it was going to be a free-for-all of elderly men reflecting on the good old days, we prepared a few questions that we thought would spur personal stories related to what we were looking for. All of the men could talk for hours about the peat industry, and Bord na Mona as a company, but questions like “What did you do for fun when you weren’t cutting turf?” fell surprisingly flat. Maybe it was too personal, or too long ago. But a moment that really stood out to me was a four second clip of two Bord na Mona workers, that no one knew had been recorded until later review of the tape. I talked to Patty and Jimmy for about an hour and a half, and they we’re both pretty shy. Katherine then took them to another room to talk to them for her project. She ducked out to grab them scones, and on the tape you hear a few seconds of silence, and then, “It’d be hard to tell everything that happened, ain’t it? Jimmy, wouldn’t it? So many things were goin’ on”. Something about the tiredness of his voice struck me. These people have a story they want to tell, but capturing it is a lot harder than I thought it would be.