Irish Roots

December 19th, 2011

John Grenham


Genealogy attracts (and creates) obsessives, a tribe of which I count myself a proud member. Faced with a complete absence of relevant sources, some researchers simply refuse to give up. Their research broadens to include anything that just might possibly, on a lucky day and squinted at from the right angle, contain something that sheds a glimmer of light on their family. The heroes of the tribe are those who go on to transcribe the records and make them publicly available. And the champions among those heroes are undoubtedly Albert Casey, whose monumental 16-volume O'Kief, Coshe Mang, (1952-71) remains invaluable for Cork and Kerry research and, more recently, John Hayes, who has collected an extraordinary compendium of transcribed and scanned sources at his website failteromhat.com.

The passion seems to strike local historians less intensely than genealogists, but when it does the results can be just as precious. One of my favourites is Chapters of Dublin (chaptersofdublin.com), started by Ken Finlay more than twelve years ago and now run by David Brophy. The original basis of the site was three classic histories, F.E. Ball's six-volume History of the County Dublin, St. John Joyce's Neighbourhood of Dublin and Chart's Story of Dublin. Ken scanned the books, ran them through an Optical Character Recognition programme and proof-read the results word by word. Then the addiction truly set in. Every out-of-copyright history, guide or travellers' account of Dublin city and county underwent the same process, including Thackeray's Irish Sketch Book (1842), M'Cready's Dublin Street Names (1892) and Harris's History and Antiquities (1766).

This was a finite group, however large, and inevitably the scope of the site expanded beyond Dublin. It now includes almost 60 books and many more short articles, videos maps and photographs, and resembles nothing so much as the old Dublin second-hand bookshop, Greene's of Clare Street. But with everything instantly searchable.

Corrections, comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.


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