Tag Archives: National Archives of Ireland

Archives in Crisis – Reaction

Action on Archives

On the first sun-filled Saturday of Summer, a darkened and windowless lecture theatre would hardly be the first choice of venue to spend ones day. However, it certainly was for the 250 people who packed the Robert Emmet Lecture theatre to capacity in Trinity College for the Archives in Crisis symposium.

Organised by the Action on Archives group, headed by T.C.D. Research Fellow Dr. Peter Crooks ,the event was also organised in association by the Society of Archivists (Ireland), headed by Cecile Chemin. The symposium was chaired by Dr. Diarmaid Ferriter, Professor of Modern Irish History at University College Dublin. The panel of guest speakers included Catriona Crowe of the National Archives, Eunan O’Halpin, Professor of Modern Irish History at Trinity College and Fintan O’Toole, Deputy Editor of the Irish Times.

The meeting was scheduled to tackle, for the first time by public debate, the proposed merger of the National Archives and the Irish Manuscripts Commission INTO the National Library of Ireland, put forward by the Government in the December 2000 budget. Described as the biggest risk to Irish documented heritage and records since the shelling of the Four Courts in 1922, the meeting certainly did address and tackle this issue of merging the Archives and Library, with O’Toole calling it an “idiotic proposal and symptomatic of the back-of-an-envelope and ill-informed politics that has brought Ireland to the current state of crisis it finds itself in today”. Given the crowd and undoubted public interest in the future of Irish records and archives, the meeting also addressed ‘action on archives’ that must be taken nationally and in all aspects of the profession, its funding, its service, its accessibility and its direction from the Department of Sport, Culture and Tourism and its Minister.

Catriona Crowe, representing the archivists’ branch of IMPACT trade union, addressed the distinct lack of storage capacity that prevents the National Archives from acting on its statutory obligations to receive, catalogue, preserve and disseminate the records of the Irish state as appropriate. Today, records even dating back to the nineteenth and eighteenth lie at risk in the government departments as the National Archives, despite desperately wanting the records, do not have space, staff or budget to take in the records. Staffing levels in the National Archives are at 45 people, the National Library of Ireland has a staff of 100 and the National Museum has a staff of 200. These figures are but one reminder of the funding and personnel issues which are at crisis point at the National Archives. Crowe argued strongly for the necessity for the re-establishment of the National Archives Advisory Council, which was established under the National Archives Act of 1986. The NAAC has not met since 2007. A vocal and informed NAAC is an absent and vital cog in the efficient and dedicated service of the National Archives.

Fintan O’Toole has through the columns of The Irish Times, of which he is assistant editor, has long been an advocate for stringent or at least consistent and beneficial policy on archives and state records from the Government and at the National Archives. The ability of any citizens of a nation to truly know one-self and grasp at the idea of national identity is through the actions of its National Archives. In the wake of recent damming and horrific reports of abuse and deliberate destruction of records in institutional schools, Magdalene laundries, mental hospitals and general hospitals, how we as a people and nation respond to these crises will tell forever more. Through the records and archives of these forgotten Irish and forgotten institutions the stories of those who were previously silent can now be heard.

In fact, the theme of health records, with particular emphasis on those records of Irish mental hospitals, drew particular attention and debate from attendees of the symposium. It was obvious from the passionate interest from audience members, with reference to health records in particular, that ‘action on archives’ is indeed needed in many aspects of how records of health and education are documented and preserved.  Events that lie beyond the immediate hands of record keepers such as the fire that gutted Longford town Cathedral on Christmas morning of 2009 must be averted in the future. Countless birth, death and marriage records as well as priceless golden crosiers were destroyed in the fire but it was only from the ashes did officials realise that these records were even kept in the cathedral.

The Action-on-Archives organised symposium on the current crisis in Irish state record keeping was a hugely positive starting point. It is the primary goal and objective of the group to oppose the loss by the National Archives of its autonomous identity. The work by Peter Crooks to bring this event together should not be lost and should prove to be the first step of a united effort to lobby an uninformed Government decision and highlight to a public the vital importance of the consistent adherence of the National Archives to its statutory obligations, they primarily being safeguarding and preserving of records of the Irish State and therefore also, the actions of a people and government.

For Further Information Contact:

Peter Crooks –!/group.php?v=wall&ref=search&gid=379393677441


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Action on Archives

Action on Archives

Archives in Crisis: 

A Symposium to Debate the Future of Archives in Irish Society  

Saturday 10 April 2010, 3 PM to 5 PM 

Robert Emmet Lecture Theatre, Arts Building, Trinity College, Dublin.  

Moderator: Diarmaid Ferriter 

Speakers: Fintan O’Toole, Catriona Crowe, Eunan O’Halpin 

 In 1922 the bulk of Ireland’s documentary heritage was destroyed. This symposium poses a stark question: what will be the state of Irish archives in 2022 on the centenary of the Four Courts blaze? 

Presentations will discuss the cultural significance of archives in Irish society and the proposed merger of the National Archives of Ireland into the National Library. This will be followed by an open forum, during which audience members will have an opportunity to pose questions and share their views on archival policy in Ireland. 

The meeting will conclude by taking nominations to a new Action on Archives committee, which will seek to make representations to appropriate bodies. 

 Admission Free – All Welcome  

Courtesy of Action on Archives

For further information, contact Dr Peter Crooks, (01 896 1368)

Organized in association with the Irish Chancery Project, Medieval History Research Centre, 

Trinity College, Dublin


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Where Were You in 1911?

The massive success of the digitization of the 1911 census records of Ireland is testament to the endeavour of the critically underfunded National Archives of Ireland.

The project has seen the full Census of 1911 made available free of charge on the National Archives website. ( The documents include A Form, which was the basic household return, filled in and signed by the head of the household. There is one for each household in the country. The information sought was: name, age, sex, relationship to head of the household, religion, occupation, marital status, county or country of birth.

The census also records an individual’s ability to read or write and ability to speak the Irish language, and whether deaf, dumb, blind, and before the age of political correctness or even understanding of mental health, idiot, imbecile or lunatic.

The B1 form contained details of the buildings and their class and inhabitants in an area or townland. The B2 form was a register of out offices, farm steadings and other buildings in possession by the family.The form (Enumerator’s Abstract) and other institutional reports (hospital population, asylum and mental home populations, shipping returns etc.) complete the survey of the Irish population and demography.

The 1901 census is  in the process of being digitized and will be available in 2010. These are the only two surviving complete census returns for Ireland. Following the shelling and destruction of the Four Courts, Ireland’s previous public record office, by Pro-Treaty forces in 1922 during the Civil War, which basically equates to a war crime, the entire census records for Ireland from 1821, 1831,  1844 , 1851 were destroyed and with it the archival evidence of the Irish population and its evolution.

Census records of 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891 were destroyed by the British authorities — apparently in the belief that copies had been made.  These actions and deliberate onslaught on the culture and identity of the Irish people have served to horrendously limit what we know of Irish life, demographics, industry, customs, language and memory. Thankfully today, with the aid of digital surrogates, and with the efforts of the National Archives, a loss such as was suffered should never happen again.

The last few years has seen a huge surge in people in Ireland and the U.K. in particular seeking to trace their familial past and discover how they came to be in their particular place in life, owing from the actions of their ancestors. The popularity of programs Who Do You Think You Are by R.T.E. and B.B.C. has helped bring genealogical history into the mainstream. When I delved into this practice, I, like thousands of other Irish people, found my great-grandfather travelled to New York at the turn of the twentieth century. has an incredible online database of those far-flung immigrants who crossed the treshold in New York seeking a new life.

From the Ship Manifest of my great grandfather’s ship I know he was a farm labourer in Limerick, he boarded at Cobh (Queenstown) he had $3 in his pocket, he could read and write and was travelling to meet his sister in the States. While I can’t confirm his literacy levels I can confirm there was no sister! So, theat lie enabled his passage through customs, out of Ellis Island and into a new life in America.

On a visit to the Ellis Island museum a few years ago, I read some testimonies of those who travelled to America seeking a new life but who instead  were met with a very different reality and eventually returned to Ireland, like my great-grandfather.

One such story was from an immigrant from Kerry who returned home after travelling to New York. He said, “Before we left we were promised the American streets were paved with gold. Having been there I can tell you three things: 1) The streets are not paved with gold. 2) The streets are not paved at all and 3) they want the Irish to pave them.”

Have a look and see where your family past can bring you.

RMS Lucania, the ship my great-grandfather emigrated aboard.

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Posted by on January 12, 2010 in Culture, Diaspora, History


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