Unlocking Our Sound Heritage brings previously unseen and unheard sound archives and recordings to your ears, hearts and minds.

National Museums NI have a fascinating catalogue of recordings dating as far back as 1908, and spanning the length and breadth of Ireland. Our specialist Unlocking Our Sound Heritage team are digitising and cataloguing these collections, and opening them up so they can be listened to by the public.

These varied and enthralling recordings were made by individual curators who worked for our museums. These curators had their own areas of interest. Armed with recording equipment which would seem cumbersome compared to our pocket-sized smartphones, they travelled around Ulster and beyond interviewing people about their chosen subjects. Topics explored in the National Museums NI Sound Archive include oral history, agriculture, folklore, textiles, industry and music.

The Sound Archive includes many recordings from our waterways. We have a vast network of recordings relating to the Lagan navigation, Lough Neagh and Strangford Lough, as well as the many rivers across Northern Ireland.

We are especially pleased to present a selection from the May Blair Collection. In the 1970s, May Blair worked on a project with St James’ Primary School in the Maze, outside Lisburn, to research the industrial history of the Lagan Navigation. She interviewed a huge range of individuals who worked along the Lagan – from Belfast to Lough Neagh. Based on these recordings, she wrote a book, published in 1981, called ‘Once upon the Lagan’. She wanted ‘to record a particular way of life – the life of the lock-keeper, the hauler, the lighterman, the bank-ranger – before the last of that generation was dead and gone.’ Subsequently she worked as a project researcher at the Ulster Folk Museum, and deposited her Lagan recordings in the Sound Archive, which is now part of National Museums NI.

It is with great pleasure that we are able to bring you these recordings for the Waterways Story Making Festival. Our hope is that you enjoy listening to the clips and find them informative and inspiring. We really look forward to seeing how the clips can inform your own creations, learning and imagination.

The full sound archive is available at National Museums NI Headquarters in Cultra. If you are interested in listening to any further clips please contact us at uosh@nmni.com.

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and led by the British Library. National Museums NI is one of ten U.K. hubs for UOSH.

Discussion about rumours about a ghost on the river Lagan.

Location: Lagan
Interviewer: May Blair
Speaker: Henry O’Rawe
Recording date: 1977

A description about a man called Brusher Gorman.

Location: Lagan
Interviewer: May Blair
Speaker: Tommy and James Taggart
Recording date: 1977

Catching and eating fish along the Lagan

Location: Lagan
Interviewer: May Blair
Speaker: Walter Floyd
Recording date: 1977

A conversation with a man born on the lock.

Location: Lagan
Interviewer: May Blair
Speaker: Albert Allen
Recording date: 1977

Information about where the men/horses slept

Location: Lagan
Interviewer: May Blair
Speakers: Tommy and James Taggart
Recording date: 1977

Going into lower part of boats in night time for fun

Location: Lagan
Interviewer: May Blair
Speaker: Joe McVeigh
Recording date: 1977

Discussion about ‘beaking’ off school as a child to go on the lighters.

Location: Lagan
Interviewer: May Blair
Speaker: Mr Quinn
Recording date: 1977

Discussion about colloquial names for areas on the Lagan.

Location: Lagan
Interviewer: May Blair
Speaker:
Recording date: 1977

Navigation employees finishing work in 1936 and 1937

Location: Lagan
Interviewer: May Blair
Speaker:
Recording date: 1977

Information about John Savage who skippered Lagan Navigation Company lighters.

Location: Lagan
Interviewer: May Blair
Speaker: Tommy and James Taggart
Recording date: 1977

Information about Paddy Savage who skippered Lagan Navigation Company lighters.

Location: Lagan
Interviewer: May Blair
Speaker: Tommy and James Taggart
Recording date: 1977

Information about payments for working on Lagan Navigation

Location: Lagan
Interviewer: May Blair
Speaker: Paddy Creaney
Recording date: 1983

Information about food eaten and cooked on journeys.

Location: Lagan
Interviewer: May Blair
Speaker: Paddy Creaney
Recording date: 1983

Information about food eaten and cooked on journeys.

Location: Lagan
Interviewer: May Blair
Speaker: Paddy Creaney
Recording date: 1983

A myth about a giant – how Lough Neagh and Rathlin were made

Location: Lough Neagh
Interviewer: Linda Ballard
Speaker: Rose Emerson
Recording date: 1978

A ghost story about Narrow Water/Newry

Location: Newry
Interviewer: Linda Ballard
Speaker: Roger Hall
Recording date: 1982

A legend about a woman jumping from a tower for love – water

Location: Narrow Water
Interviewer: Linda Ballard
Speaker: Roger Hall
Recording date: 1982

Description about working on Lagan Navigation

Location: Lagan
Interviewer: May Blair
Speaker: Paddy Creaney
Recording date: 1983

Experience of sleeping on the lighters

Location: Lagan
Interviewer: May Blair
Speaker: Paddy Creaney
Recording date: 1983

A conversation about fishing on the River Bann.

Location: River Bann
Interviewer: Brendan Adams
Speaker:Hugh Craig
Recording date: 2013

Images courtesy of May Blair