Thursday 18 September 2014

New Irish Archives Resource site links 34 archives

Some of the newly-expanded IAR collection
have not had an online presence before
To mark its expansion, the Irish Archives Resource (IAR) has been relaunched at a reception at the National Archives in Dublin. The portal, which has been online since 2010, has doubled in size and now has 34 archive services from Ireland north and south contributing to it. As a result, the number of collections available has increased from 360 to more than 500.

It is important to note that the IAR is a free database of searchable archival descriptions held in Irish Archive Services. It does not hold any archives or records but provides a means to search archival descriptions from contributing institutions.

Among the contributors are the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, the National Archives of Ireland, and many of the island's regional and county archives. Among the new contributors are Trinity College Dublin’s Manuscripts & Archives Research Department, RTÉ Stills Library, the National Museum of Ireland Archives, University College Cork Archives, Derry City Council Heritage and Museum Service, and the archives of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

Speaking at the reception, which was formally attended by Heather Humphries, TD, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the chairperson of IAR, Hazel Menton, said: “This portal now provides a user-friendly pathway for individuals interested in accessing Ireland’s archival heritage. [It] is unique in Ireland by facilitating web users in viewing a rich and diverse range of archival collections on a single website.

Natalie Milne (l) and Hazel Menton (r)
"We are thrilled to announce the expansion of the IAR website, in particular as some of these collections have never had an online presence before."

The site contains details of many collections valuable to family history, and it isn't difficult to navigate using key search terms relating to places, organisations, people or even specific periods of history.

It isn't, however, likely to be a first-stop for researchers. Most of its genealogically-interested users are likely to have already discovered some facts about their family history.

For example, if you know or believe your family may have entered the workhouse in Schull, Co Cork, in the post-Famine period, you can quickly find the detailed description of the relevant collection (Board of Guardians) held by Cork County Archives. Unfortunately, in this particular case you would learn that the Schull Board of Guardians' records were destroyed in 1921 (another fire!), and only those for 1920–1924 survive. Related material at neighbouring unions is suggested for further study.

The IAR is an ambitious project. With adequate funding, it aims to expand the current number of contributing archive services from 34 to up to 70. It is also hoped that collections from the IAR portal will eventually feed into similar major Europe-wide archival web initiatives such as Europeana and Apex. The IAR is currently funded by the Heritage Council, Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Northern Ireland. The site is hosted by University College Dublin’s School of History and Archives.

I hope the relaunch will have the desired effect and encourage more people to study the holdings of our archives services. Irish genealogy research certainly doesn't begin and end online.