Making the Past a Place - thoughts for Cong 2015


Making the Past a Place - thoughts for Cong 2015

This post is written in preparation for Cong 2015 ( which takes place in Mayo on 27th & 28th of November. It represents the work of John Tierney of Eachtra & Bernie Goldbach of LIT.

In Ireland the past is all around us. For the last 5 years Bernie & I have been collaborating on a number of web projects using digital multimedia to bring the past into the present. We have crowdsourced the survey of over 700 historic graveyards generating a geolocated dataset ( which has brought people from all over the world to boreens, roads and fields in parishes all over Ireland. We’ve 'cracked' how to use historic headstones for tourism development and now we are developing a project to attach genealogical/historical datasets to the historic homesteads of Ireland ( 

Over the last 3 years we have received funding from diverse sources to develop our vision. LEADER companies in ten counties have supported our community-led approach as every parish is equal in the eyes of the past. Today we have funding from the Dept of the Taoiseach Local Diaspora Fund and Dublin City Council for pilot projects taking place in 8 counties.

The key to developing our past as a resource for community engagement and tourism development is to build geolocated datasets. We can go into a graveyard and take a single geolocated photo of each headstone - we convert the epitaph on the headstone to a database and each name on those headstones is then geolocated. We can add audio, video or textual stories about key people, places and events and in that way build a geolocated dataset, potentially rich in media and thereby capable of augmenting reality.

Our first attempt at this approach took place 4 years ago when we followed’s use of LAYAR for real estate in Ireland. Had just bought a Samsung SII, turned on LAYAR and scanned a 360 circle to find that my neighbour had just put his house up for sale - reality was indeed augmented then - at least on a noseyness level. We took this same technology and poured our graveyard surveys into LAYAR with the intention of encouraging genealogical tourists to use AR to find their family headstones - cutting out the confusion of which county/parish was the graveyard in, how to find the graveyard and thereafter how to sift through 200 historic headstones to find the right one.

Using LAYAR to find family gravestones in West Cork

With the Historic Graves Project we have been building geolocated databases of names and surnames - all with temporal attributes if a date is inscribed in the stone. We have come to view the Irish landscape as being populated by historic name clouds hanging over our places of the past - graveyards, national schools, factories, cross-roads, fields & homes. And we are working with communities to construct these digital name clouds and attach them to places for tourism purposes. 

Nameclouds from historical documents over Dublin city


With appropriate digital media (geolocated) we believe we can guide people through the physical landscape and walk in their forebears footsteps. This house is where Paul O’Connell’s grandfather grew up in Co. Cork - it won’t surprise ye to know he was a blacksmith and some of the tools he made are still hanging in the ruined homestead.

A family homes in ruin. O'Connell family- Kilmurry, Co. Cork


Our methodology crowdsources surveys of places of the past and then transposes something onto it - the simple action of taking a 2 dimensional image & adding a third dimension (geolocation) is easy to learn & right now we are training groups in Galway, Clare, Limerick, Cork, Tipperary & Dublin to do these surveys with the view of escalating the project in the next 3 years with the goal of surveying every parish in Ireland.

At the same time we have started to link the Irish parishes with their corresponding diaspora communites using digital media & heritage. The simple action of taking a geolocated photo of a heritage place in one country becomes a tool for building relationships between communities & between countries. This geolocated image then becomes a hook to which we can attach a range of media to build community tourism experiences which can be designed, layered and augmented in the coming years. 


Time travel in Thomas St., Dublin ©kingeimear


If one's great-grandmother served in WW1 as a nurse in the Whittington Hospital in London then to visit that place is to walk in her footsteps. If one's great-grandfather served with Sean Heuston in the takeover of the Mendicity Institution on Ushers Quay in Easter 1916 then to visit the Mendicity is to trace their path. If your people from Kilgefin in Roscommon moved to Lewis County in West Virginia in the 1860s then how can you trace their footsteps?  We are answering these challenges with crowdsourced surveys, by adding geolocated datasets and by telling the stories of people and places.

·      4 take away points at the end.

  • Crowdsourced heritage datasets work
  • Geolocating the datasets builds for augmented reality
  • Stories _&_ data bring the audience
  • The digital media must be engaging, informative & low in bandwidth


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