A couple of weeks back, the National Library released another 10,000 digital images online. I glanced at the press release, lazily presumed these were old photographs along the lines of the Lawrence Collection, interesting in themselves, but peripheral to genealogy, and resumed my nap.
Then something niggled. Something about the Genealogical Office, one of my old stamping grounds. The Library catalogue (catalogue.nli.ie) did indeed have some nice old photos of the Bedford Tower in Dublin Castle, home of the GO up to the 1980s. But a search in the catalogue for “genealogical” digitised items also threw up wonderful, unsuspected riches, no fewer than 132 fully-imaged manuscripts from the GO’s collection.
Over the four centuries when it was the Office of Ulster King of Arms, from 1553 to 1943, the GO was the most intensely Anglo of all Anglo-Irish institutions, exclusively concerned with the heraldic rights of the wealthiest and most powerful. Distasteful as the ethnic politics may be now, some of the records created during those 390 years are extraordinary, and the Library catalogue now provides full direct access to a large sample of them.
My favourites are the seventeenth-century funeral entries, on-the-spot records of burial rites and families, usually accompanied by full-colour paintings of the arms displayed at the funeral. Have a look at bit.ly/1sp3OZ0 . They are both astonishingly vivid research tools and superb works of art, and make up just a small portion of the pre-1943 records now online
With commendable even-handedness, the catalogue also makes available a good selection of post-1943 grants of arms, including those to the Dublin Stock Exchange in 1945, to Muintir Mhathghamhna, the O’Mahony clan, in 1980 and to the Diocese of Clogher in 2006.
My only quibble is the absence of the original GO manuscript numbers in the catalogue reference – all the published guides and indexes use these numbers.
Otherwise, three whole-hearted cheers. More please.