Being Irish on the Prairies
An exploration of emotion, migration, and identity
By Kathryn Boschmann


“But what is really important is that memory is not a passive depository of facts, but an active process of creation of meanings.” (52)

Alessandro Portelli (1991)


This website explores the memories of first generation Irish Canadians and considers the emotional experience of migration. It is based on oral history interviews I conducted in the summer of 2014 with ten Irish Canadians living in Winnipeg, Manitoba as part of my Master’s thesis for Carleton University’s Department of History. The written portion of the thesis examines how these immigrants draw upon traditional performance in the new context of Winnipeg, and looks at how they come to terms with the drastically different landscape and weather of Manitoba. These themes come up in the clips featured on this site, where I focus on the emotional qualities of these narratives.   

While the history of emotions has a growing scholarship, the subject of emotional memories in oral history has focused primarily on stories of trauma. In recent years some attention has been given to nostalgia but there has been little work to examine the variety of emotions that arise in oral history interviews. This website contributes to the discussion of emotion by drawing attention to how emotional memories foster central aspects of identity.

I have selected clips that represent a range of emotional memories that came up in my interviews. The people, places, events, and activities recalled take a significant place in each interviewee’s story because of the emotional connections they have to those memories. Listening to their voices and their storytelling choices can deepen our understanding of emotional moments, as well as the degrees and ways in which these individuals continue to feel connected (or disconnected) with traditions, environments, and communities.

The majority of these clips have been edited slightly for length, to draw focus on particular points, and to ensure the interviewees’ comfort with the online publication of their memories. All interviewees have consented to the presentation of these selections from their interviews on this website. 

Being Irish on the Prairies: Audio Exhibit

Pat Reality turns out to be a different shade
Maureen A very interesting ne’re-do-well!
Catriona Because all of the stories I’d heard
Shirley Why Winterpeg?
Brian I've always tried to live close to the water
Greg We never have warm wind back home!
Joe and Mary It’ll always be a part of my heart
Eileen I don’t feel the pull that he does
Joe and Mary We’ve had wonderful times
Tom And it brings you home

How to Get Around

This site is best experienced with headphones.

You may explore the clips in any order you choose. You can listen to them in the order above or click on a theme (such as “Landscape and Weather”) to listen to related clips. Note that some clips may appear under multiple themes. When you hover above an image you will see the name of the interviewee(s) and the title of the clip.

Once you have selected the clip, you will be taken to the audio clip as well as additional information and analysis posted below. If the video does not open, right click the image and open in a new tab.

You may select the arrow keys above the video to move forward to the next clip in the series or back to the previous one, and the X to return to the exhibit page.