Credit: National Museum of Ireland

Archives around the world join forces to bring Ireland’s destroyed Public Record Office back to life

  • Step back in time to explore the immersive digital recreation of the Public Record Office and its collections
  • 70 archives worldwide have contributed tens of thousands of replacement records to recreate the archive destroyed in 1922 Four Courts fire
  • Pioneering research tool allows for deeper exploration of seven centuries of Irish history
  • An enduring all-island and international legacy for the Decade of Centenaries.

On the 27th June the Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin T.D. launched the Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland.

For the first time in 100 years, the public will be able to ‘step back in time’ to explore a virtual recreation of the Public Record Office of Ireland and its collections, as they were on the eve of their destruction at Dublin’s Four Courts at the outset of the Civil War.

When the Public Record Office of Ireland was destroyed by fire in 1922, hundreds of thousands of precious historical documents relating to all aspects of Irish life were lost — apparently forever. The Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland is a vast and growing treasury of replacement documents newly discovered in partner archives around the world.  Freely and permanently available online, everyone with an interest in Ireland’s past will be able to explore seven centuries of Irish history through tens of thousands of searchable documents. (https://virtualtreasury.ie/)

The Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland is the outcome of a five-year State-funded programme of research entitled ‘Beyond 2022’. Led by Trinity College Dublin, Beyond 2022 has combined historical investigation, archival conservation, and technical innovation to re-imagine and recreate, through digital technologies, the archive that was lost on 30th June 1922.

The ground-breaking research programme has been developed by historians in Trinity College and computer scientists in the SFI ADAPT Centre, in partnership with five core partners: National Archives of Ireland, National Archives (UK), Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, Irish Manuscripts Commission and the Library of Trinity College Dublin.  The Virtual Record Treasury is a meaningful legacy for the State’s Decade of Centenaries programme (2012-2023).  It is funded by the Government of Ireland under Project Ireland 2040 through the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media.

The Virtual Record Treasury at a glance:

  • For the first time in 100 years, ‘step inside’ the six-storey Victorian Public Record Office, as it was on the eve of its destruction in 1922, via an immersive 3D experience.
  • Search the Treasury’s collection of 50 million words of text, 150,000 records and more than 6,000 maps spanning an arc of Irish history from 1174 right up to 1922.
  • Interested in Ireland’s first census which took place in 1766? … Or in how Ireland was more intensely mapped and surveyed than anywhere in the world during the Cromwellian era? … Or how Ireland was governed by the English crown in the Middle Ages? … Three ‘Gold Seam’ collections, where up to 80% of the lost material has been retrieved, are a treasure trove of information about life in Ireland across the centuries.
  • Dive deep into Ireland’s past with the Knowledge Graph for Irish History – a powerful new research tool which allows for the discovery of new connections between people and places…2.7 million linked data entities are available to search

‘Beyond 2022’ Programme Director Dr Peter Crooks, Associate Professor in Medieval History, Trinity, said:

“The Record Treasury at the Public Record Office of Ireland was one of the great archives of Europe.  The devastating cultural loss of the archive in 1922 has hampered our understanding of Ireland’s past. Thanks to the meticulous record-keeping of generations of archivists, historians, copyists, genealogists and clerks, thousands of duplicates and transcripts of Ireland’s records, scattered across the world, have been preserved. Record by record, shelf by shelf, historians, archivists and computer scientists are bringing Ireland’s destroyed national treasure back to life.”

 

“The Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland draws strength from partnerships which now link the core partners with over 70 institutions worldwide, including the Library of Congress, USA; the Huntington Library California; Parliamentary Archives of the UK Houses of Parliament and the National Library of Australia. Closer to home, county archives, university libraries and private collections across Ireland have joined in the work. As more partners join and more historical records are added the Treasury will continue to grow.”

Trinity’s Provost, Dr Linda Doyle, added:

“What seemed impossible has been made a reality by the fusion of historical research with technological innovation.  I want to congratulate the team at the ADAPT Centre in Trinity who worked so creatively with historians and archivists to make this virtual treasury accessible to the public. Technology should be at the service of society and, having watched this project evolve over the past four years, it gives me great pride to see that demonstrated today.”

Dr Maurice Manning, Chair of the Expert Advisory Group on Centenary Commemorations said:

“Back in 2018, the Expert Advisory Group was delighted to endorse the initial research concept underpinning the Virtual Record Treasury.  I think it is fair to say that what has been achieved since has exceeded all of our expectations.  Beyond 2022 has created a magnificent opportunity for people of all ages to explore and engage with the past in an unprecedented way, grounded in factual analysis and archival discovery. It is a wonderful and enduring legacy for our Decade of Centenaries.”

 

On the centenary of destruction of the Public Record Office of Ireland, a panel discussion will explore creative responses to cultural loss and disputed anniversaries.  This event features the first screening of a new art-work by Maireìad McClean, Decade of Centenaries Artist in Residence with Beyond 2022, followed by a panel discussion.

Background to the Gold Seam Collections in the Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland:

‘Gold Seam’ collections in the Virtual Record Treasury are full-scale reconstructions of entire series of archives that were destroyed in 1922. Bringing together digitised images of replacement manuscripts with transcriptions and translations, ‘Gold Seams’ provide an enriched understanding of life at the time.

The Medieval Exchequer Gold Seam provides access to one of the most significant and underused sources for the history of late-medieval Ireland and its connections with Britain and the wider world—the records of the medieval Irish exchequer.  Dating back to the thirteenth century and continuing for nearly 200 years, these records are a treasure trove of information about Irish society, economy and politics in the centuries after Ireland was conquered.  The records reveal how royal government was financed and how Ireland was administered by—and for—the English crown.

The Cromwellian Surveys Gold Seam provides unprecedented access for anyone researching land ownership in Ireland throughout the early modern period. The maps and books presented here are extraordinarily rich in detail and provide a window into the world of the Irish Catholic nobility and the mainly Protestant ascendancy that replaced it.

The returns for the 1766 religious census of Ireland are one of the richest sources available to the historical and genealogical researcher for the period prior to the commencement of the statutory census series in 1813.  More than 50% of the 1766 census can be reconstructed in whole or in part. Over 50,000 names of individuals across all religious denominations have been transcribed from these sources. 59 original items from the census survived the Four Courts blaze, covering parishes in Armagh, Cork, Derry, Limerick, Louth, Tipperary, Tyrone and Waterford because they were held over in the Strong Room at Easter 1922.  These salved returns have been conserved and digitised by the National Archives (Ireland) with support from the Irish Manuscripts Commission.

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