Irish roots


THE SINGLE most persistent myth in Irish genealogy is that all the records were destroyed in 1922. It’s uncomfortably close to the truth. Here’s what happened.

The Public Record Office of Ireland had been part of the Four Courts complex for more than five decades when, on April 13th, 1922, anti-Treaty forces occupied the entire compound. The occupation was a direct challenge to the authority of the Provisional Government and continued for more than two months as both sides struggled to avoid direct confrontation.

The time was put to good use by the occupying forces in organising their logistics.

In particular, for their munitions dump they chose the most heavily built and therefore the safest part of the complex, the strong-room of the Public Record Office.

On June 28th, under intense pressure from the British government, the Provisional Government began an assault. After two days of shelling, a number of huge explosions destroyed the Public Record Office.

Fires started as a result of the shelling had ignited the stored munitions and the destructive force of the blasts had been magnified by confinement within the reinforced walls of the strong room. A giant mushroom cloud rose over the city. Everything in the strong-room was destroyed.

From the point of view of genealogy, the biggest loss was the 19th-century census returns, from 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851. How different research would be if they had survived. Only a few fragments, volumes that were in the Reading Room when the occupation began, still exist. Almost two-thirds of pre-1870 Church of Ireland parish registers, declared public records after disestablishment in 1871, were also destroyed, along with the huge collection of original wills and almost all records of seven centuries of government.

It could be said that 1922 simplified Irish research. But only in the sense that death simplifies life.

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