Irish Roots

May 30th, 2011

John Grenham


One of the many mixed blessings to emerge from the destruction of the Public Record Office in 1922 is the attention that we have been obliged to give to records that are fragmentary, or very local in scope, or just downright peculiar. After 90 years, however, it is hard not to feel that desperation has already forced us to search every nook and cranny. There are just a few unexplored frontiers left, and estate papers are probably the most valuable of these.

Between 1700 and 1850 the majority of the population lived as small tenant farmers on large estates owned by English or Anglo-Irish landlords. Inevitably, the administration of these estates produced mouth-watering quantities of paper: maps, tenants' lists, rentals, account books, lease books and much more. But the records are not systematic, vary enormously in the areas and periods they cover and in their level of detail, and have ended up scattered across multiple archives and libraries. As well as Ireland, many of the larger landlords also had holdings in England and Wales, and many records of their Irish estates have ended up in English and Welsh archives. Tracking down these surviving records has long been beyond the stamina of all but the most stubborn of researchers.

The Landed Estates website (landedestates.ie), a project of the Moore Institute at NUI Galway, has been a precious beacon of light since 2008, bringing together precise location data, photographs, published material and information on the scope and location of surviving records for estates in Connacht. Now the project has expanded to include Munster estates. The level of detail is exemplary, and the integration with Google maps allows a visualisation of the relative positions of the estates. Above all, the project provides a wonderful central storage point for all the information that will emerge in the future. Long may it continue.

Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.

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