The Archives and Records Association (UK and Ireland) has awarded the prestigious Ellis Prize to the Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland, marking the first time the prize has been presented to a group rather than an individual. The Virtual Treasury comprises five core partners, the National Archives, Ireland, The National Archives (UK), the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, the Irish Manuscripts Commission and The Library, Trinity College Dublin.
The award, considered the ‘Oscar’ for the recordkeeping sector, has been given for only the tenth time in 50 years. It will be presented at an event at the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland this evening [November 21 2022].
The Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland is a research programme working to digitally recreate the state archives destroyed by fire in 1922. Led by Trinity College Dublin the Virtual Treasury is funded by the Department of Culture under the Decade of Centenaries Programme (2012-2023).
The award recognises the programme’s collaboration with over 70 libraries and archives worldwide, and its ground-breaking efforts to deliver back to the Irish nation and its diaspora more than 700 years of Irish history and culture, though a free, permanent, and growing online resource.
Since the launch of the Virtual Record Treasury in June 2022, the public has been 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.
The project demonstrates to the global record-keeping sector what can be achieved with innovation and imagination, through the use of new technology and through trans-national and trans-sectoral collaboration. It brings hope to other nations who have lost similar cultural treasures through acts of war and natural disaster.
The Ellis Prize was set up by Roger Ellis, who served in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Section of Civil Affairs of the Western Allied Armies during the Second World War. Known as the ‘Monuments Men’, this group’s task was to protect cultural treasures, so far as war allowed.
Ellis is noted particularly for the salvage of the library of the Colombaria Society, Florence in 1944, which held codices, incunabula, manuscripts, and books and had been damaged by a combination of explosions, fire, and rain. The links to his past work in awarding this prize to the Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland are clear.
Like Ellis in Florence, in 1922 the staff of the Public Record Office in Dublin worked to salvage what was left of their archives. Recently, in the capable hands of the conservation team in the National Archives of Ireland, these ‘Salved Records’ rescued from the rubble, emerged from their wrappings to become one of the most captivating aspects of the research partnership that became the Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland.