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National Archives of Ireland: Anyone give a damn?

Some really sad news for archives in the budget from Ireland today, the National Archives of Ireland is being amalgamated with the National Library of Ireland and will loose its separate identity. The history of the National Archives of Ireland is indeed a sad one – its predecessor, the Public Record Office of Ireland was established under the Public Records (Ireland) Act, 1867 to acquire administrative, court and probate records over twenty years old. During the Civil War, the Four Courts, where it was based, was seized and the repository building destroyed by fire in June 1922, along with most of the records, some dating back to the thirteenth century.When the southern part of Ireland became independent as the Irish Free State in 1922, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland was set up to take over the records of that part of Ireland which remained in the United Kingdom.

The National Archives of Ireland (Irish: Cartlann Náisiúnta na hÉireann) is the official repository for the state records of the Republic of Ireland. It was established by the National Archives Act 1986, it came into existence in 1988, taking over the functions of the State Paper Office and the Public Record Office of Ireland. The National Archives moved to its current premises in Bishop Street, Dublin, in 1991. What does the future hold for its records and its fantastically hard working and amazing staff? or for the documentary heritage and memory of Ireland and its government? Does anyone care? I do and so should the citizens of Ireland and beyond.

7 thoughts on “National Archives of Ireland: Anyone give a damn?”

  1. Rachel Hardiman says:

    Hello Patricia,

    That’s really sad news – not only a matter of national shame and a terrible blow to the current staff, but surely also of personal sadness for the many Irish archivists and records managers who cut their professional teeth or furthered their career in the Archives.

    I suppose it’s far too early to know what any of teh specific impliactions might be?



  2. Jessica says:

    Hi Patricia,

    Here in Canada, we amalgamated our National Library and Archives about four years ago. It seems to work out alright as we now have both librarians and archivist under the same roof and a snazzy new building in the middle of nowhere (another story). I worked there this summer and there were a few people from all over the world who came to study this combination of national library and archives. It might not be such a bad thing if they put the two together. The bad news will be if the archivists get fired or some such thing. Any reasons for this move?

  3. Leah Benson says:

    Hi all,

    We are a bit shocked here in Ireland at the announcement of the merger of the National Archives, National Library and the Irish Manuscripts Commission. The initial wording from the government was their intention to ‘Merge the National Archives and the Irish Manuscripts Commission into the National Library’, this would be a terrible blow to the National Archives as it implies that they would be subsumed into the library. Yesterday the Department of Arts Sport and Tourism (DAST) issued a press release in which they write ‘The Minister said that it was intended that the National Library of Ireland, the National Archives and the Manuscripts Commission would be amalgamated’. Obviously we would like this notion to reassessed altogether, and are urging as many people as possible to contact the government to this voice their opinions, but if they are going to push ahead there is an enormous difference in being merged into an institution and being amalgamated with it. It is almost impossible to see how this measure will affect savings to the government, particularly in the short term, which is apparently the reason for the move. If we were to follow a model similar to that of Canada, which I believe is successful, this would require substantial additional resources, in staff and capital expenditure, which would appear to be out of the question at the moment. I understand talks will take place to clarify the situation and we will be watching these with interest.


  4. Hi Patricia

    It’s not clear to me, from what you’ve written, why this merger is, of itself, something regrettable. From what you say, NA/CN is just a 20-year old institution, formed from two older departments. Here, since 2003, TNA = PRO + HMC. What’s in a name? Reorganising departments and pulping headed notepaper seems just to be what governments do these days, when they haven’t got banks to buy.

    Job losses, reduced access, book-burnings – those would be causes for concern – but there could just as well be a worthwhile outcome, as seems to be the Canadian case.

    One to watch with interest.


  5. Patricia Sleeman says:

    I understand the precedent of course but I think it is different in this instance. It is really important to note that the discussions and announcement took place while no National Archives Advisory Council was in place, although individuals were appointed last May, a Chairman has not been announced and no meetings have been held. As Public Servants the staff of the National Archives were restricted in making any kind of public comment and without the NAAC there was no voice outside of the NA arguing for its existence.

    There is another point: The wording is ‘merged into’ not ‘merge with’ and the joining up in Canada was driven by the two institutions, not the government. This is also being done as part of a budget that is a very crude response to the current global financial mess: it’s not being done as part of a strategy to develop the organisations. Note that the National Gallery, IMMA & Crawford Gallery are being ‘merged’ but that is explicitly stated that they will retain separate identities.


  6. Patrick kelly says:

    Dear Patricia,

    What I want to know is what effect will this move have on the digitisation of the 1911/1901 census? As you are well aware, the 1911 census is now nearly a year behind, It now looks as if my fears about the whole Irish Genealogy set up in Ireland is true.

    To highlight these fears is sent the attached letter to the main man himself, as to date I have had no reply, now I can see why?

    The Taoiseach. 20th November 2008


    Ref; Irish Genealogy

    Sir, It beggars belief, that in this the 21st century, Ireland still seems to have no visible sign of a coordinated policy on Irish Genealogy. It is for this reason, I write this note to you as a last ditch attempt, to implore you to find somebody, within the government that has a working knowledge of the government’s policy in relation to the field of Irish family history. To give a fair and honest answer to the 3 following points.

    We all know our history, in relation to the destruction in the early 1900s. First of all, the lost of all government records, with the disastrous fire that destroyed the Customs House. This was followed with the more serious destruction of the Four Courts, with most of its contents.

    Before these disasters, unlike the rest of the world, Ireland up to the 1920s, the Irish people were the most documented and recorded race in Europe, if nor the world. However, after these two disasters, most of that recorded information was destroyed; leaving the Irish Nation in the dark ages as far as its historical genealogical recorded heritage was concerned.

    National Archives

    In December 2006 the National Archives of Ireland,(NAI) issued on line the first element of their 1911 census project, Dublin County, and Dublin City. (Free to view) Which I must say was an instant success around the world. Here at last there seemed to be a light at the end of the Irish family history tunnel. But alas, since that issue, we were promised the next issue in June / July 2008. This failed to appear, and the NAI stated that this issue would be out in October2008. This instalment also failed to appear, we are now informed, that it should be issued by the end of November? As you can see it has taken over the better part of a year to place on line one county and city, at this rate there is no way that the NAI can meet their stated target of having on line both the 1901 and 1911 census by the year 2009??I suspect that the world is watching as to just what priority the Irish Government places on making this recorded heritage available to the Irish people and the wider world.

    General Register Office

    In the General Registers Office (GRO), Modernization Statement, dated October 2003, the GRO stated that it was their intention as part of the programme, to make available online to the Irish nation and the wider world, the records of Birth, Marriage and Deaths. Now after 5 years, many attempts to get an answer, or even a progress report on when this vitally important work would be available, the spokesperson for the GRO stated that under Irish law, this element of the modernization project would now not happen?

    Yet in the fight against crime, in particular, Fraud and Identity theft, many of the more enlightened countries around the world, are making these very record’s readily available on line to Banks, Credit Companies, governmental departments, and many other organisations, that have a statutory requirement to check all types of applications’, from, New Passports, Social Security Benefits, to loan and mortgage applications. I am sure, that you yourself could add a few more reasons why these records should be made available sooner than later??

    Please remember, like me, most of the amateur family history researchers carry out their searches as a hobby, and on a shoe string. When the government of the day decided to set up the Irish Family History centres around Ireland, one must ask what was their primary aim? Surly, the intention was to make available (free of charge) to the Irish nation and the many millions of Irish descendants scattered around the world the ability to trace their long lost families. In many countries around the world you have on line censuses from 1831 to 1930, plus their Birth, Marriage, and Death records. With these available, you have a very good chance to trace your family tree on the internet. This is not the case in Ireland. Prior to the 1901 census the only other records available, that covered most of the population of Ireland, where the Birth, Marriage, and Death records of the various churches. Though not complete, they are the most valuable records available. I know that there are many other records, like Griffiths Valuation in Ireland, but not that many covering the most vulnerable lower working classes of the nation at that period in time.

    Irish Family History Foundation

    This leads me on to the Irish Family History Foundation. To gain full access to most genealogical web sites, like BDMindex or, or many others. The costs are about £100, for this you get full access to their records for a year. So how can the IFHF justify a 5 Euro charge for a single entry view? We know we have to pay, but if the IFHF wants to be taken as a serious genealogical supplier, then they must at least offer the same type of payments, i.e. monthly, or yearly subscriptions, like other family history sites on line.

    Now sir, to justify my opening statement, I would like to highlight the following example.

    This shows the day to day workings of Irish genealogy. The B.M.D records for Dublin

    County, both north and south are covered by different centres of the IFH. On the other hand, the records for Dublin, the capital city are located at the Dublin City Library at Pearse Street Dublin. The Dublin Heritage Centre, which is co-located in this establishment, allows you to view on line, a small part of each entry. Now here are the Irish at their best,

    to view the total entry you have to visit the library in person, need I say more? I for one would like to know just who is pulling the strings, the Government or the church.

    Furthermore to view some records you have to obtain written permission from the church? Surly these records are the propriety of the state, and the church act as custodians?

    Sir, I hope I have directed this cry for help to the correct person. I know that you are a very busy person, nevertheless, I think it is time you got out the big stick and knock some heads together and sort out this serious matter so that the world knows that the Celtic tiger is still alive and tuned into what is required in the field of Irish Genealogy.

    I remain Sir, your obedient servant.

    Patrick Kelly

  7. Kevin Roache says:

    I also commiserate with this sad news. Another vital job seems to have fallen victim to the times we live in…

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