By her own admission, Catriona Crowe had no ambitions at all when growing up in Dublin in the 1960s. Despite thinking she would just like to listen to a lot of music, drink too much, generally misbehave and have a nice time in college, she earned a degree in English and History from University College Dublin and began a career that would lead her to becoming Ireland's premier archivist and one of the country's most respected social and cultural commentators.
While public history takes many forms, increasingly it focuses on the collection, preservation and dissemination of individual and community memory in accessible formats such as radio, television and the internet. In her role as senior archivist and head of special projects at the National Archives of Ireland, Catriona Crowe brings invaluable primary sources to the attention of countless individuals and communities.
As manager of the Irish Census Online Project, which has made available since 2007 the 1901 and 1911 censuses of Ireland online and free of charge to the general public, Catriona has enabled ordinary people to trace and learn about their families. The website has proved to be enormously popular, as evidenced by the fact that it passed the billion-hit mark in November 2014. The census project is widely recognised as the single most-successful online educational project ever undertaken in Ireland.
According to Catriona Crowe, public history engages people of all ages and classes to reflect upon the past, to think about consequences for the present and, in some cases, to change public policy. An example that illustrates the powerful impact that archives can have on public history and policy is the discovery by Catriona in 1996 of 2,000 files on Irish children who were adopted in the United States between 1948 and 1974. The only item in each file relating to the birth mother was a signed form giving her name and address and a commitment that she would never try to contact her child again. Catriona Crowe's discovery of the files and the subsequent media attention eventually led the government to set up a contact register for adopted children and birth parents - a project in which Catriona was actively involved. The adoption files case led her to realise that there are ethical consequences to the job of making records available to people and that such consequences go right to the heart of public history.
The excellence of Catriona Crowe's work in presenting historical knowledge to a public audience is widely acknowledged among academic disciplines and cognate professions. Equally importantly, perhaps, is the contribution she has made to reforming the protocols that govern the care and custody of records - primary sources that have suffered neglect and indifference at the hands of the State for decades. Thanks to Catriona Crowe, new standards have been set for managing and preserving public records and documents.
Catriona Crowe's contribution to education and the arts in Ireland has been exceptional. She is a member of the editorial team of Documents on Irish Foreign Policy, which published its ninth volume, covering the period 1948 to 1951, in November 2014. She is the editor of Dublin 1911, a book that gives people the opportunity to experience the Dublin of a century ago through rich illustrations, fold-out census reports, thematic essays and previously unpublished photographs. Published in 2011 by the Royal Irish Academy and described by The Irish Times as a triumph of book production, the book was inspired by the popularity of the 1901 and 1911 census website.
Catriona was elected to the Royal Irish Academy in 2012. She is a past president and founder member of the Women's History Association. Her work has been published in many journals, notably the Dublin Review, Irish Archives and Saothar (Journal of the Irish Labour History Society, of which Catriona is honorary president). She has made significant, thought-provoking contributions to contemporary debates in national newspapers, particularly as an acclaimed reviewer for The Irish Times. She reviews exhibitions and theatre productions and delivers public lectures throughout the country to many different communities. She was a jury member of RTÉ's A Poem for Ireland campaign and is currently chairperson of the Irish Theatre Institute.
Catriona Crowe brings her vast experience and wisdom to bear on public life in ways that bring immediate, tangible benefits to people's lives. She is passionate about social change, is a strong advocate of basic human rights and holds a lifelong belief in fairness and respect. In particular, she works tirelessly on behalf of Dublin's north inner city community. She is chairperson of the SAOL Project, a rehabilitation initiative for women with addiction problems and their children, and chairperson of the Inner City Renewal Group, which delivers employment and welfare rights advice and support to people living in the north inner city.
The University of Limerick is very fortunate to have Catriona Crowe as its adjunct professor of history since 2013. Catriona's role includes giving an annual master class to students in the Department of History and delivering an annual public lecture. She is a willing and wise counsellor to individual members of staff and to the department collectively. UL is grateful to Catriona Crowe for the invaluable knowledge and expertise she brings in the role. We are very proud of her achievements and we are delighted to honour her today with this well-deserved award.