Walking Old Sydney

A FEATURE by KIM HANNA about the Dictionary of Sydney’s Old Irish Sydney 

Front_page_appWalking App

The story of the Old Irish Walking app, like any good Irish story begins a few years back.

In 2012 The Dictionary of Sydney developed a partnership with the Irish Consulate Sydney to develop new content. This project became known as Greening the Dictionary and saw eight new entries come online in 2013. These entries included St Canice’s Church, Elizabeth Bay; Irish in Sydney from First Fleet to Federation; and the surprising, Statue of Queen Victoria in Druitt Street.

The project was such a success that we wanted to develop the collaboration further. The Irish Consul-General, Caitriona Ingoldsby was very supportive and encouraged the Dictionary to apply to the Irish Government’s Emigrant Support Programme to see if we could secure funds to develop a walking app.

We were successful and proceeded to scope out the project. We learnt that walking tours are best kept to under an hour and so this prescribed what stops we could include on our walk. In addition we needed to draw upon content from within the Dictionary of Sydney and this added another boundary to our work. There were several options that we looked at before deciding on the final route. Several test walks were undertaken to ensure that the walk was achievable.

We then set about developing the text for the app, sourcing images, recording the actors. We were lucky to secure two terrific actors to read the text: Aine de Paor and Maeliosa Stafford. When we were recording we advised them that the script was not set in stone and that they should feel free to offer suggestions. Aine thought that we might include some Irish Gaelic in the app and we were thrilled to hear her speak the words! The introduction to the app is much more than we had hoped for as a result of her input.

One of the highlights of the app was the original music score developed by Oonagh Sherrard. Here Oonagh writes in detail about her approach.

My approach to scoring the music for “Exploring Old Irish Sydney” was initially to research the various incidents, locations and people that are featured in the walk and from this research to establish a series of feels or moods that might musically represent these histories. For me, these moods were sadness, loss, hope, resistance, pride, and progress. My brief was to write 6 tunes that were contemplative and had a traditional Irish sound.

I immersed myself in each one of these moods and the stories behind them and bearing in mind the conventions of traditional Irish music, set out to write some short tunes. For instance, Irish music is mainly based on four musical modes, two which are major in sound; Ionion – which translates as our major scale, and Myxolydian which is our major scale with a minor 7th and two minor sounding modes, Dorian which has a minor 3rd, maj 6th and min 7th and Aeolian which has a minor 3rd, min 6th and min 7th.

I usually write by singing. Inspiration can happen any time and I always make sure I have a recorder with me so I can record ideas when they come. I revisit these in the studio and rework the things that need reworking. Sometimes a melody is complete first go, other times, one phrase is good first off then it takes some time to find the right phrase to answer it. Some tunes are discarded. Once the tunes are complete I record them on different instruments, in this case incorporating them in an arrangement with a chordal accompaniment and sometimes a harmony line. These become my drafts. From here I make some alterations to the instrumentation through trialling the tunes on different instruments to work out what sounds best. Then I go into the studio, in this case with some musicians with expertise in this style of playing and record

With everything ready we uploaded the app to the Mac app store (for iPhones) and google play (for Android). We had a great launch of the walking app on 13th March, to celebrate St Patrick ’s Day. Minister Coveney from Ireland was in attendance and entered into a delightful banter with the audience about drinking!

But the talk about the app isn’t over yet as Old Irish Sydney keeps on walking. The app will be profiled in October for Walk21 Sydney 2014. This event is a conference that celebrates walking and liveable communities. What better way to link the old and the new through this connection.


Kim joined the Dictionary  of Sydney as the Executive Officer in January 2013. He
has extensive experience in administration of projects and people, having spent
more than a decade with the Australia Council for the Arts at a senior level.
During his time there, Kim held three substantive positions, Program Manager
Theatre Board, Manager National Audience Development and Project Manager
Market Development. His great grandfather was born in County Armagh.