The General Register Office for England and Wales has released free indexes to its historic birth and death registrations, which start from 1837.
They have been created following a project to digitise the registration records and include a number of enhancements on the index sets currently available on many commercial and not-for-profit databases. For example, where possible a mother's name appears in the new index for births registered before 1911, and the age of death is noted for deaths prior to 1865. These details could previously be seen only by buying the full-blown paper certificate, which can be a bankrupting exercise for those with a common name.
Births registered more than 100 years ago (1837–1915) and deaths 1837–1957 are included in the new indexes, which can be freely accessed (you need only to register) and links to the online ordering website.
There is also news of a trial service which sees uncertified digital certificates (births 1837–1934 and deaths 1837–1957 only) being made available for just £6 (the standard price for a paper cert is £9.25); it's a first-come first-served trial that will expire after 45,000 of these digital certificates have been issued and it will start on Wednesday. It's likely to be heavily subscribed.
Peter Calver, who runs the excellent Lost Cousins website, has been beta-testing the new index prior to its launch and has produced an in-depth introduction to it in a special newsletter here. If your Irish research takes you to England and Wales, you'd be well advised to check it out.