Comment: Sir Henrys is part of our history

THERE is a great quote from Niall Tóibín that I recently stumbled across in an old 1980 BBC radio documentary about Cork city and its inhabitants, called As Others See Us.

Comment: Sir Henrys is part of our history

Tóibín observes that a peculiar form of nostalgia sometimes breaks out amongst Cork people, who can be afflicted with homesickness even when they are at home. This insight resonates with my experiences of curating an archival exhibition on the legendary and iconic Cork nightclub, Sir Henrys (1978-2003), which opens to the public in UCC Library this summer. For many locals, Sir Henrys was, in a sense, ‘home’.

Overwhelmingly, people describe the atmosphere in terms of warmth and collectivism, of shared meaning and experience. Sir Henrys is remembered as far more than a venue. As one of our blog contributors, Tríona Dunlea, recalls, it had a “sense of community that I have never felt anywhere else”.

The process of archival research is complicated by the line that, ‘If you can remember Sir Henrys, then you weren’t really there’. On the contrary Henrys’ memories endure.

The archive and exhibition are ‘crowdsourced’. Using digital social media — in particular our Facebook, Twitter and blog sites — we have generated a large and diverse community of participants, who contribute to the project in various ways.

The archival process is driven by a desire to capture both the tangible and the intangible; that is, it documents material artifacts (ephemera such as flyers, photographs, videos, mixtapes, posters, and ticket stubs) and what one might call ‘cognitive’ artifacts (oral histories, memories, stories, and myths). Crowdsourcing enables the community itself to create, share and collaborate in the production of Sir Henrys’ history.

An outcome of that process is the mobilisation of memories beyond nostalgia. The websites are buzzing with renewed friendships amongst far-flung individuals and groups. This kind of transformative nostalgia is especially poignant in the contemporary context.

People message us from across the globe — Corkonian ‘exiles’ living in Europe and beyond, in America, Canada, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Dubai... One ‘thank you’ email was particularly touching, from James Stout in Australia: “A few of us here in Oz working far away in the mines are watching closely your page and every few days when the post come up it’s all we talk about for days… Daycent, boiiiii!.”

The vision for the project is shaped by Martin O’Connor (UCC Library), Stevie G (local DJ/producer/promoter) and me (a social policy lecturer/popular music researcher). This brings a fun and interesting mix of perspectives — archival, experiential and academic. The encouragement we’ve received from UCC Library is crucial to the project’s success. There is a common, and somewhat unfair, perception of universities as elitist and out of touch. Projects like Sir Henrys are important for challenging that stereotype of ivory tower stuffiness. Happily, that high culture/low culture snobbery is increasingly eschewed.

We also find inspiration in virtual community-oriented projects, such as Jez Collins’s Birmingham Music Archive. Community collaboration and partnership is fundamental to the future of any university. UCC belongs to the city, to its inhabitants, and to the wider community.

Cork has a strong and vibrant musical history and there are many unexcavated music sites — in the archival sense — like the Arcadia, for example, with its showband and punk histories; Chandra’s; or “the magic nights in the Lobby Bar”, as John Spillane put it. This project marks the beginning of archiving local, somewhat hidden but socio-culturally important popular music histories.

The project’s catchphrase has become ‘Happy days!’, a term that is replete in our online commentaries. It neatly encapsulates my enjoyment of the Sir Henrys Archival Exhibition and I look forward to many happy days to come in this community I find I am now a part of.

* Eileen Hogan is a lecturer in the School of Applied Social Studies, University College Cork and is completing her thesis on popular music-making in Cork through the Institute for Popular Music, University of Liverpool. The Sir Henrys Exhibition opens in UCC Library from July 9 to September 27.

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