About Pròiseact Thiriodh

Banner with composite photos of Tiriodh


Tiree and the Tiree Collection

Tiree is an attractive fertile Argyllshire island, some fourteen miles by six, lying beyond Mull and Coll as the outermost of the Inner Hebrides off Scotland's west coast. Its eight hundred inhabitants are mainly involved in crofting, fishing, tourism and local government-based employment. Well-known for its flora and birdlife, it has beautiful sandy beaches etched around most of its circumference and these now attract wind surfers from all over the world.

Part of the Argyll Estate since the seventeenth century, Tiree has held a pivotal position in the history and cultural life of the area. It has long been famed for its poets, both those who offered praise in the households of the Gaelic gentry and those who later had as their patrons the crofters and cottars of the island's thirty townships. The oral culture of the community is rich and varied, passed from one generation to the next in a chain of transmission whose exponents were and are highly valued, as collectors from the School of Scottish Studies found when they began to record there in the early 1950s.

There are now some 500 recordings from Tiree and the descendants of Tiree emigrants in the archives of the School of Scottish Studies. These date from the early 1950s to the 1980s but the bulk were gathered in the course of a special "Tiree Project" instigated by the late Eric Cregeen, Reader in Scottish Ethnology, and carried out by him, assisted by Margaret Mackay, now Director of the School of Scottish Studies, between 1974 and 1983. This sought to build up a picture of the social, economic and cultural life of the island in the 18th and 19th centuries, a period of great change, using oral tradition and testimony as well as documentary and other source material.

The examples from the School's archive chosen for Pròiseact Thiriodh are mainly in Gaelic and reflect the work of pioneering collectors in Tiree from the earliest days of The School of Scottish Studies onwards; Calum Maclean, Hamish Henderson, John MacInnes and Eric Cregeen.

In addition to the material from the School of Scottish Studies a number of BBC Alba Tiree recordings broadcast from the late 1970's onwards, were selected and their content complements that of the School. The inclusion of a variety of material from 2 collections allowed comparisons to be made with regard to linguistic difficulties, cataloguing times, identification of contributors and copyright issues.

For some time the Tiree community through their local heritage organisation has been exploring with the School of Scottish Studies ways of ensuring that the Tiree material in the archive be made available for the enjoyment and education of locals and visitor alike. Pròiseact Thiriodh is a much welcomed first step in addressing these issues.

All indications suggest that those involved in Pròiseact Thiriodh very much enjoyed listening to and learning from the lore of their ancestors and friends.

Community Cataloguing

Pròiseact Thiriodh was underaken in order to address and test the technology, methodology and key issues central to Tobar an Dualchais. This is a £3 million project proposal to conserve by digitisation, and create on-line access to 18,000 hours of Gaelic and Scots sound archive material to the widest possible educational audience.

Pròiseact Thiriodh also responded to a desire from the Tiree and Coll Gaelic Partership to have some hours of material pertaining to the these islands digitised and returned for the education and enjoyment of the local community. The work of the project complements the activities in An Iodhlann of The Tiree Historical Society.

Central to the methodology envisaged for Tobar an Dualchais / Kist o Riches is the desire to have a positive cultural and economic impact in the rural/island where much of the material was originally garnered. This approach recognises the importance of local knowledge and linguistic abilities and the need to create appropriate employment in these often economically fragile localities.

During Pròiseact Thiriodh three members of the of the local community were trained, and employed on a part-time basis between May and September 1999 to catalogue and track 30 hours of BBC Alba and School of Scottish Studies material of Tiree origin. They received an initial training session, on going support and a follow up training session throughout their period of employment. They proved positively the benefits of this approach.

We would like to express our thanks to Josie Brown, Margaret Campbell, Mairi Campbell and Catriona Campbell, who took up the challenge of cataloguing. We would also like to thank Robert Gray who attended our first training session. We must also remember Hector MacPhail who also attended enthusiastically our first training session but was prevented due to illness from commencing employment. Hector sadly passed away in July 1999.

We are very grateful for the support provided by Dr John Holliday and the Tiree and Coll Gaelic Partnership in implementing Pròiseact Thiriodh.

We hope that you will enjoy our website wherever you are in the world, especially if you belong to Tiree. Do not hesitate to send us your views and comments.

Technologies and methods

A wide spectrum of technologies are utilised to prepare, catalogue, search, and serve the content available through this service. Please read the sections below and follow the links for further information.

Preparing the audio content

The audio material for this project was provided from the archives of the School of Scottish Studies and BBC Scotland on 1/4" reel-to-reel tape. These recordings had been made at speeds of 3.75 ips, 7.5 ips and 15 ips - sometimes with mixed speeds used on a single tape!

The quality of the audio in these recordings varies, as some were made by staff and students of the School in respondent's households, while others are broadcast quality recordings from the BBC.

Producing the CD-Audio recordings

The following procedure was used to produce the CD-Audio recordings.

  1. Each tape was recorded simultaneously to x2 Sony MiniDisc using a professional Revox tape deck connected via XLR analogue inputs to two Tascam MD801R MkII professional minidisk recorders. The format used was stereo as dual-channel mono.
  2. One copy of the minidisk (MD) was then used for catalogueing the recording and the other retained in the School's archive as a backup.
  3. Once returned to the School after cataloguing and/or the cataloguing was completed, each MD was recorded to CD-Audio (Red Book) via digital inputs (coaxial), using a Tascam MD801RMkII and a Marantz CDR620 CDR.
  4. Each of the CD-Audio recordings was then duplicated using a PC fitted with a HP 8200 CDRW and Adaptec EasyCD software.

Producing the MP3 audio

Each item identified in the recordings is held online in ISO MPEG1 Layer3 (MP3) format , encoded as a mono 24Kbps stream. Although this results in files that are highly compressed, they can be streamed in real-time over a typical ISP dialup connection. The MP3 files were created as follows:

  1. Each CD-Audio was digitally "ripped" and encoded into MP3 using the Xing Corporation's AudioCatalyst 2.1 software. This produced an MP3 (.mp3) audio file for each track on the CD.
  2. Corresponding playlist files (.m3u) that refer to the MP3 audio file were automatically generated from the Access database holdng the recordings metadata.
  3. Both the MP3 (.mp3) audio and the .m3u files for each CD were transferred via FTP to the Apache virtual WWW server.
  4. The virtual Apache WWW server was configured to return the appropriate MIME types for MP3 (.mp3) and M3U (.m3u) files, allowing the audio to be streamed in real-time over HTTP.

Cataloguing the audio content

The MiniDisc (MD) recordings produced from the 1/4" tape recordings were catalogued in the community on Tiree using consumer MiniDisc equipment purchased for the project ( x3 Sony MDS-JE520) or loaned to the project by BBC Scotland ( x3 Sony MZ30 ).

Once catalogued, each MD was returned to the School of Scottish studies in Edinburgh, using a Post Office "Freepost" service. On receipt of catalogued MDs, further MDs were sent out to cataloguers on Tiree for them to continue their work.

Cataloguing training workshop

A training workshop was held at the Scaranish Hotel, Tiree on the 20th & 21st April 1999 for 4 resident Gaelic speakers, recruited to undertake cataloguing work, by the project sponsors, the Tiree Historical Society. This workshop covered the following:

  1. Use of the MD equipment to:
    • play and listen to the recordings
    • mark the start and end of a track for each item identified in the recording for catalogiung
    • title each of the tracks identified
  2. Cataloguing of the audio content using the schema devised for the project:
    • listen to recording and identfy "items"
    • assign classification to each item
    • provide a short description of the item
    • select "keywords" to be associated with each item

The catalogue information was completed and returned on A4 recording sheets, one for every item identified in the recording.

Creating the metadata

A "schema" or data model to hold the "metadata" about each item in a recording was developed by Information Tools, EUCS. The schema is a hybbrid, using parts of the existing model used by the School of Scottish Studies to catalogue their archives, together with Dublin Core Metadata Elements.

Once completed, this data model was implementd in a Microsoft Access 2000 database and an Access application interface developed to support the input of metadata records. The metadata for each item was then entered into the database from the cataloguing records returned together with the MD from the cataloguer on Tiree.

Online editing of metadata

To help correct errors, typos etc. users can be given "editorial" priveleges as part of their authentication, allowing them to edit the content of the "Short Descroption", "First Line" and "Full Description" fields of an item.

Searching the audio items

Once authenticated, users can search for and display items in the collection and play the associated aidio. This is a two-step process:

  1. First, users search on a Verity Search97 index of all the records in the database. This index is rebuilt automatically at regular intervals by a small Cold Fusion application. This search returns a list of items that match the user's query.
  2. Second, users select any one of the returned items to display the full record for the item, including the link (URL) that requests the audio file for playing. This is implemtented as a Cold Fusion application that runs an SQL query against the Access database via ODBC and displays the results, building the URL to the audio as required.

Supporting user comments

Users can add comments to be associated with each item's record, and can display the comments made by other users concerning this item. So, for example, a knowledgeable user might suggest an alternative translation of an item, or point out an error in the item's metadata.

Serving the metadata and audio

The audio is held online as MPEG1 Layer3 audio (MP3), encoded in mono (L & R channels) at 24Kbps (twenty-four thousand bits per second), permitting reliable streaming of acceptable audio over a typical dialup internet conenction. These files are held on the file system of the Apache WWW server, with one directory per recording and one file per item in the recording. This WWW server has had the following MIME types added to its configuration to permit the streaming of MP3 over HTTP:

AddType   audio/x-mpeg     mp3 mmp
AddType   audio/x-mpegurl  m3u pls

The search interface - indeed most of the WWW site - is implemented as a WWW to database application, using Cold Fusion Application Server 4.5 on NT Server 4 together with IIS4 and Access 2000.

The interface that the user sees is generated "on the fly" as a result of querying the Access database. The interface employs the Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to define the "look and feel" of the interface and we have attempted to ensure that the HTML is valid against the HTML4 standard.

Although the Pròiseact Thiriodh WWW site can be viewed with any browser this site is best viewed with Internet Explorer 5 (IE5), note that Netscape 4.Nn does not have adequate support for CSS.

Each full record contains a generated URL that points to the .m3u playlist file which references the MP3 audio file for this item on the WWW server's file system. For example:


Further information

If you require further information about the issues described in this document, please contact project.tiriodh@ed.ac.uk.

BBC Logo with URL to BBC Alba WWW site Tobar an Dualchais / Kist o Riches