Irish Roots

Long Live the Revolution!


When you live through big changes happening over years, it can be hard to grasp the full scale of what’s going on. This was brought home to me a couple of weeks ago, while I was manning an information stand with some of my colleagues from the Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland ( at a genealogy event in Glasgow.

We fielded query after query (after query after query …) from hordes of descendants of the hundreds of thousands of Irish people who moved to Scotland as economic refugees in the nineteenth century. Time and again, they would start with “I know there are no Irish records, but …” And time and again, to their delight and amazement, we could demonstrate just how easy it was to find their ancestors using only what’s free online.

Finally, one individual who had already done a good deal of Irish research said to me, “I know there are holes in the Irish records, but when they’re good, they’re very, very good.”

That stopped me in my tracks. Irish records very good? It’s an outlandish thought for someone who has spent decades weeping and wailing about the destruction of the Public Record Office in 1922.

But there is truth in it. For genealogy at least, there has been a true revolution in access to Irish records over the past five years. (Nearly) all of the major sources are (nearly) all online, most free, most searchable with a flexibility and degree of fine detail that would have been unimaginable even in 2010. And things are still improving year by year. We should step back, take in the bigger picture and realise how well we’ve done.

So thank you to the Scots for that small enlightenment. And just one piece of advice to them for the referendum: Come on in. The water’s lovely.