Ireland’s Public Records Office: Beyond 2022

What’s this? A post about Irish records on an English genealogy blog?!
Back in 2016 Irish Central ran an article reporting that, according to DNA test results, the average British person is one fifth Irish. In England, northern regions generally have the highest rates of Irishness, although London isn’t far behind. However, Wales, and particularly Scotland have higher average Irish ethnicity than England, with as high as 46.6% for Scots close to the border with England. In Ulster, on the other hand, the average person’s Irish DNA is just 51.9%. This is explained by not only the proximity of Scotland to Northern Ireland, but also the deliberate colonisation which took place in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

My own largely northern England DNA bears out all of the above. According to Ancestry’s Ethnicity Estimate I have 29% Irish DNA and 12% Scottish. Much of the Irish comes from two 2x great grandparents who were born in County Mayo and migrated to England around the time of the famine. The rest of the Irish, and I believe all of the Scottish, comes from a 3x great grandfather from the Belfast/Antrim area, plus a different line where both 3x great grandparents are from either Derry/Londonderry or Newry (a mystery caused by a census enumerator’s inability to decipher with certainty the place of origin). There is also another 3x great grandmother whose origins are simply ‘Ireland’. I know nothing more than that. I do think these percentages are skewed a little by the Irish diaspora, and the fact that many more people in North America and Australia have tested than people within the United Kingdom. I suspect these percentages for me should be a little lower, but the general thrust of the results does tie in with my documented family tree.

Since you’re reading this blog about English ancestry, there’s a pretty good chance that you, too, may have some Irish ancestry. Even if you don’t, read on anyway, for the sheer wonder of what I’m going to tell you!

The tragedy of Ireland’s lost records
If you do have Irish ancestors and have tried to trace them back in the old country you’ll know how difficult it is. For all my Irish ancestors, once they arrive in England I have a great deal of information about each of them; but as to their origins – even the parish or township where each was born – I have nothing at all.

The reason is largely this:
On 30th June 1922, in the opening engagement of the Irish Civil War, Dublin’s enviable Public Records Office was destroyed by explosion and subsequent fire. Along with the buildings, most of seven centuries’ worth of archived records were lost. These included censuses and parish registers.

What comes next owes much to the dilligence of a certain Herbert Wood. At the time of the explosion and fire he was Deputy Keeper of the Public Record Office. Very fortunately, three years earlier he had published’ A Guide to the Records Deposited in the Public Record Office of Ireland’. This publication gave the precise location of every single item in the archives.

Beyond 2022
For the past few years a number of Irish historians and archivists have been working on a project to create a virtual 3D reconstruction of that former Public Record Office. A collaboration between the National Archives of Ireland, National Archives UK, Public Records Office of Northern Ireland, Irish Manuscripts Commission, and the Library of Trinity College, Dublin, plus over 40 other institutions in Ireland, Britain and the USA, the goal was to recover as much as possible of what was lost. And thanks to Herbert Wood they knew exactly what they were looking for. Their work has involved identifying surviving material and surrogate copies or substitutes available in various repositories in Ireland and worldwide.

The short video below (2 mins 44 secs) was published four years ago and gives more information about the aims of this truly extraordinary project.

Here’s another more recent short video (3 mins 2 secs) from 2020. It has some of the same information but different images, and by this time they had already worked out the structure of the website. I think it’s amazing.

The wait is over
This week, exactly one hundred years after that devastating fire, the virtual archive went live. You’ll find it [here] and it’s entirely free to use, no matter where in the world you are.

I’ve been delaying any further attempts at work on my Irish lines until the launch of the website. It also seems like a good time to use this as a springboard to start to learn more about what Irish records are available.

So far I’ve only had time for a quick click around, but based on the second of those videos above, I’m itching to do more. If you have Irish ancestry and find you can use this fantastic new resource to bring about a breakthough in your research, please do share in the comments.