Wednesday 14 April 2021

Ireland's Land Commission records are back in the news

The preposterous lack of access to the Republic's collection of Land Commission records relating to the transfer of estate land from the gentry to their tenants has received another airing in the press. On this occasion it is Professor Terence Dooley of Maynooth University, one of Ireland's most highly regarded historians, who is rattling the cage via the Independent newspaper.

The Department of Agriculture is the custodian of
the Republic's Land Commission records

These records – about eight million of them – are under the strictest lock and key in a Department of Agriculture facility in Portlaoise. They have neither been conserved nor digitised, and the public is not allowed to access them. Their warders insist they are working papers and do not come under Freedom of Information legislation, a banal response wheeled out many times since the collection was closed.

The Department of Agriculture's other knee-jerk excuse for not allowing access is that the papers are fragile. Surely that's a very good reason for getting them into the hands of archivists without delay!

While Professor Dooley is primarily concerned that scrutiny of this collection could help to better understand Ireland's revolutionary era, genealogists continue to lament the lack of access to its documents such as wills, family tree records, lease books, rentals of tenants, maps, title deeds and correspondence dating back to the 1880s.

For some reason, even material pre-dating 1921 – which would normally see historical records released from data protection considerations under the 100-year-rule – is deemed too 'sensitive'.

Northern Ireland doesn't feel this sensitivity; Land Commission records for the counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, LondonDerry and Tryone can be viewed by researchers in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland's Search Room. (See PRONI's Land Registry leaflet.) They are not digitised, but neither are they locked and hidden away, wrapped up in excuses.