‘Éireann and I: Archive’ – Representing the Experiences of Black Migrants in Ireland

Image Credit: Larry Ovie, Éireann and I Archive.

Arts and Creativity Editor Emily Sheehy discusses the importance of the ‘Éireann and I’ archive during Black History Month.

Traditional archival institutions often neglect marginalised communities from the stories they tell. As October is Black History Month, there is no better time to highlight the work that has been done by African communities and individuals in Ireland to conserve and tell their history. The archive ‘Éireann and I’ has established a body of photographs, films, interviews, artwork and more that tells the story of Ireland’s Black community. Founded by Beulah Ezeugo and Joselle Ntumba, Éireann and I aims to collect and contextualise the experiences of Black migrants in Ireland. The material is sourced through submission or collaboration, allowing participants a sense of agency in presenting and preserving their narratives. Éireann and I represents an alternative space for Black individuals in Ireland to “explore memory and history as shared collective experiences.”

The body of work creates a multifaceted and vibrant picture of what it means to be Black and Irish. One series of photographs taken in Galway’s first African Church in Ellington Hotel, Direct Provision Centre in 2001 showcases a thriving community despite the restrictions of direct provision. The pictures show African men and women singing and playing music, and the lively atmosphere  is  felt from the pictures. Some are dressed in beautiful traditional outfits. In one image, three men are sitting down reading the Bible and sharing a common interest in their religion. The importance of celebration, community and faith is clear in these pictures, and Éireann and I and its contributors recognise this in its conservation.

The body of work creates a multifaceted and vibrant picture of what it means to be Black and Irish. 

The archive also captures a history of protest and political activism within the Black community in Ireland. As well as personal stories, Éireann and I “can and should be a resource for political education as well as a practice that is rehabilitative and restorative.” A series of photographs taken in Dublin City in 2005 depict a protest against racist deportation policies in response to two mothers being deported to Nigeria, leaving their children in Ireland without parents. Many Black men and women are seen holding up placards labelling the governments actions as child abuse and racist. It is accompanied by an audio clip of chanting, saying “No deportation” and “Bring them back!” Material like this is important for recognising that Black activism has been present in Ireland long before the Black Lives Matter movement, and a reminder that there is still progress to be made in combating racist policies in Ireland, such as Direct Provision.

In addition to curating an archive of Black history in Ireland, Éireann and I also focuses on the present and future of the Black Irish community, and seeks to promote Black Irish creatives and artists. ‘Sounds from Home’ combines their archival work with some of Ireland’s most prolific black artists. The hour-long mix aired on Dublin Digital Radio explores Black memory and migration to Ireland, while also featuring poetry and music from the likes of Felispeaks and Denise Chalia. Their ‘Reverberate’ series includes interviews that chronicles the oral histories of Galway’s African diaspora – how and why people migrated to Ireland, the communities they’ve built during their time here, and the unique cultural identity of being both African and Irish.

Éireann and I have recently been invited to take up residency in a number of institutions in Ireland, such as the IMMA, as part of the Museum of Everyone’s Communal programme. Their ‘Open Table’ workshop certainly fosters the sense of community they wish to preserve in their archival work. In this workshop, led by Imani Mason Jordan and Ebun Sodipo, participants were invited to share food, writing and poetry, and explore the nature of hospitality, intimacy and caring for one another. 

It is clear that as well as preserving the past, Éireann and I is also committed to creating a future where Black individuals are recognised and celebrated in Ireland, and have a space and community to call their own. 

For their latest project, Éireann and I have called for photographs accompanied by speculative writing from Black Irish writers that acknowledge feelings of loss, displacement and hostility endured by migrants. The upcoming publication, titled ‘Dreaming Still,’ “imagines alternative contexts where wonder and pleasure is prioritized in the here and now.” It is clear that as well as preserving the past, Éireann and I is also committed to creating a future where Black individuals are recognised and celebrated in Ireland, and have a space and community to call their own.