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Aonghus Storey

Irish Left Archive

The Irish Left Archive is a political history project which makes digital documents from and about left political groups and campaigns in Ireland available online. It includes a website with a digital document collection, an index of organisations, publications and people active on the left in Ireland in the 20th Century, a graphical timeline of left formations, and an interview podcast talking to activists, historians, artists and others involved in left politics.

It was started in 2007 as part of the political blog, the Cedar Lounge Revolution, initially posting documents, leaflets, pamphlets, posters and newspapers from the latter half of the 20th century in PDF format, alongside some commentary and background, as a regular blog post. It has since expanded to a separate indexed and searchable website, and now encompasses almost a thousand documents.

The project is co-curated by Ciarán Swan and Aonghus Storey.

Irish Left Archive

Irish Left Archive

A freely accessible online archive of materials relating to Irish left politics.

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The core of the website is a digital document collection, organised by the organisations, publications and people associated with them. This allows users to find relevant material in a number of ways, whether they are looking for a particular party, person, or event/policy area, or a particular time period, for example.

It also includes document collections on particular subjects, a calendar of historical events and publications, and extended articles on groups and people. It also includes additional projects such as the Timeline of the Irish Left, Snapshots of Political Action and a bibliography of Irish left periodicals.

The aim of the website is to provide multiple ways to explore the document collection and associated information,


When I joined the project in 2013, I developed the custom website to better make use of the range of information the project had built up. This allowed a more structured information architecture than the former blog format with a manually-maintained index. The site is built using Symphony CMS 1, which provided a well-structured early example of a CMS with a fully customisable content structure and no default front-end, prior to the later trend for similar approaches and fully headless CMSs.

The core information is structured around documents, organisations, publications and people, and the relationships between them. With that structure in place, it's possible to create numerous ways of exploring the data.

Symphony CMS provides all data to the front-end as XML, which is then translated into HTML with XSLT.

The code for the website is available in the repository below.

  • PHP
  • XSLT
  • JavaScript

Source repository for the Irish Left Archive project website.

View repository

Symphony CMS is no longer developed and we plan to migrate the site in the near future.

Semantic standards and metadata

From the outset, the website aimed to make the information as accessible as possible, and with a structured information model in place, I wanted to also reflect that structure in the front-end.

For bibliographical details, it includes Dublin Core metadata. However, as that is a very generalised schema, I've also included COinS, which defines a more detailed ontology and improves the data provided when using the Zotero bibliography manager to automatically create references. While the standard has limited uptake, it provides the best fit from a currently unfortunately fractured set of standards.

In addition to the document metadata, other entities on the site are described with types in RDFa. This semantic data is included where relevant, and in particular structures the data for organisations, publications and people, and the relationships between them.

UI Elements

The original iteration of the website used a combination of JavaScript elements from Bootstrap 3 and various ad hoc JQuery additions. To improve the codebase and make use of more modern ES6 features and depend less on JQuery, I created the ILA UI Elements JavaScript module. It's part of the process of separating out potentially re-usable elements, both in the spirit of FLOSS and easier maintenance. This includes the image gallery viewer and horizontal scroller for document thumbnails, as well as a simple visibility toggler.



  • JavaScript
  • SCSS


Some javascript UI elements used for the Irish Left Archive website.

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Developing the project

Part of the Irish Left Archive project is to find ways to draw out the history represented by the digital collection. Having created a structured information architecture in developing the website, we then had the freedom to explore other ways of presenting that information to make it more accessible and give more visibility to specific topics.

The first effect of creating the website was that the archive now had space to provide information not just about the documents themselves, but also the organisations which produced them, the periodicals to which many belonged, and the authors of and contributors to those documents. Over the years this has expanded to a large Linked Data structure of information about hundreds of entries and how they relate to each other.

Additional features

We added extended articles on particular organisations and subjects and document collections, which cut across the material to focus on a particular topic. With several newspapers and periodicals in the collection having multiple articles on various topics, this has allowed us to pick out subjects that might otherwise be missed in their contents.

Here are some of the articles I've added:

Other features and ways to explore the collection have been added since we first launched:

  • Subject headings – currently, subjects covered include elections and referendums, historical events, and some key policy areas and topics, using a custom, project-specific vocabulary.
  • Calendar – the calendar highlights events for particular dates using cuttings and articles from the document collection, and lists documents published and subject headings occurring on each date.
  • Bibliography of Irish Left Publications – aiming to provide a complete bibliography of Left periodicals, including those not represented in the document collection. This also allows a more comprehensive list to be displayed for each organisation, regardless of the collection's coverage.

Timeline of the Irish Left

The Timeline of the Irish Left is a diagram showing the development of left political organisations and parties in Ireland. It illustrates relationships between groups, splits and merges, and the longevity of each organisation. The timeline expanded on the organisation data the project had accumulated and created a searchable visual representation to make it quicker and easier to understand the relationships, while also directing people to more detailed information with descriptive 'popovers'.

It was first created in 2014, and originally inspired by a diagram in a print magazine by John Goodwillie, which showed the "left family tree" from the 1960s to 1983. I realised the idea was well suited for an online equivalent updated to the contemporary, and also pushed back to the start of the 20th Century.

The timeline has been incrementally improved and expanded over the years since, and updated to account for changes to political organisations since its creation. It now details the development of over 200 organisations from the turn of the 20th Century to the present.

Screenshot of the Timeline of the Irish Left
The Timeline of the Irish Left.

The timeline was originally implemented using an external library. This had always been a slow solution due to the scale of both the diagram and the library (of which only a minimal feature-set was used), so I eventually wrote a custom Javascript module for rendering it, which developed into Timeline.js.


In recent years we have added an interview podcast to the project, to complement the document sources with a more qualitative view of the experiences of those involved in politics. We have talked to a range of political representatives, activists, historians, writers and artists about their political experiences and perspectives.

Irish Left Archive Podcast

Irish Left Archive Podcast

A podcast looking at Left politics in Ireland from the Irish Left Archive.

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Snapshots of Political Action

In 2022, we started a joint project, Snapshots of Political Action, with Alan Kinsella of Irish Election Literature to make available collections of documents and leaflets gathered at particular protests and demonstrations.

The aim is to provide an insight in to the organisations that actively participate in particular campaigns; and in to how left organisations respond to political events and changes – often with a need to respond quickly to a developing situation, in contrast, for example, with regular periodicals. It also complements the existing Irish Left Archive collection by capturing the activity of groups which may distribute leaflets at marches and rallies but don't have more formal publications.

Snapshots of Political Action

Snapshots of Political Action

A project from Irish Election Literature and the Irish Left Archive bringing together material from demonstrations, marches, rallies and protests.

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