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Sam Boal
Savita Halappanavar

Online archive of messages left at Savita mural expected to be accessible by 2023

Online record of over 1,200 messages will be part of Archiving Reproductive Health project.

DUBLIN CITY LIBRARY and Archive says it hopes the digital archive of messages left at the Savita Halappanavar mural will be completed by early 2023. 

The project will be housed by Digital Repository Ireland’s Archiving Reproductive Health series, which already includes several online archives, including In Her Shoes: Women of the Eighth, Posters and City Streets: The Linguistic Landscape of the Eighth Amendment Referendum Campaign, and RetweetThe8th: a Twitter dataset from the 2018 Referendum.

DRI says the goal of the overall project is “to provide long-term preservation and access to the many at-risk archives generated by grassroots women’s reproductive health movements during the campaign”.

Ms Halappanavar died at 17 weeks pregnant in 2012 from sepsis – the young woman had requested an abortion, which was denied on legal grounds by University Hospital Galway. Her death sparked a wave of outcry over Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws. Halappanavar’s story and image were widely used during the successful campaign to repeal the eighth amendment of Ireland’s constitution, which prohibited abortion.

During that tense referendum campaign, over 1,200 messages were left at a mural dedicated to Savita by artist Aches on Richmond Street South in Dublin city centre. 

Dublin City Library and Archive commissioned a photographer to capture all the artefacts on-site on 29 May 2018, four days after the historic vote, for the purposes of a digital archive. 

At the time, Dublin City Library and Archive said: ‘The international best practice advice on condolence archives of this nature emphasises that we should ‘First, let the materials do as they were intended: Provide comfort’.”

DRI has noted that due to the online nature of much of the campaign, the “rich record of how this referendum campaign unfolded, and of how volunteers and community groups contributed to the national conversation, is at real risk” – due to social media accounts closing, platforms going out of date or losing track of where certain important information exists.

In an update on the project provided to The Journal, Linda Hickey, senior archivist at Dublin City Library & Archive said: “We’re just assigning metadata at the minute but it’s in progress, so there’s hope to have it up online by early 2023.”

“These images will be part of the Archiving Reproductive Health archive, in their own category, and all of the photographs we have will be available for the public to look through.”

This month will mark the 10-year anniversary of Savita’s death. 

“It was estimated that there were 1,200 cards left at the mural and we have 200 photographs, but there are maybe five or six cards in each image, so we’ve captured each one,” Hickey said, noting that archivists on the project went through the photographs to make sure as many messages as possible were captured. 

Speaking about the technicalities of the process, Hickey told The Journal: “Assigning metadata involves assigning tags and information about each photograph. We want it to be searchable so we have to assign metadata before it goes up anywhere.” This information includes things like the size of the file, the date it was taken, the kind of camera that was used.  

Asked whether the files would be searchable by keywords that were written on cards left at the mural, Hickey told The Journal that this hadn’t been decided yet. 

On the matter of the physical cards and messages themselves, Hickey said, “I know Dublin City Council had hoped to collect them, but I think they were collected by Together For Yes and very understandably given to Ms Halappanavar’s family.”

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