Irish Roots: 'Welcome to shabbyland'

The new General Register Office research room is a disgrace


The old Werburgh Street Labour Exchange was always a brute of a building, a pre-cast concrete warehouse better suited to hanging carcases than dealing with the public. For those who went there to collect their pittance of a dole in the 1980s (I was one), it always felt deliberately designed to humiliate.

And now the only Irish genealogical research facility that has no online or offline alternative, the only walk-in location in the country that requires payment, has been picked up and dumped into the middle of this ersatz slaughterhouse.

Tables taken from the old Irish Life Centre room, enough to accommodate about 40 people, have been installed in a space carved out of the old warehouse using only a few flimsy screens. Two-meter-high one-way mirrors are all that separate office space from the public. There are precisely two electric power points in the entire research area, making the use of laptops impossible, never mind the promised research terminals. A single toilet has to serve everyone. It is situated right beside the main index volumes, but its door is of course helpfully labelled with a schematic man, and a woman, and a wheelchair. All the boxes ticked there.

The space is uninsulated, with no internal walls and no ceilings. If you’re coming here in February, wear your thermals. The slightly nausea-inducing mauve and khaki colour scheme will be the warmest thing in the building. For the moment, the GRO staff remain as cheerful and helpful as ever, but they must be dreading the winter.

No doubt the OPW saved a bit by not renewing the lease on the Irish Life location, but at a terrible cost. The flagship genealogical research location in the country is a disgrace. I will be ashamed to have to take research visitors to such a place. What it says about us is unambiguous:

“Welcome to Shabbyland, home of the Couldn’t-Be-Bothered.”

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