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Resources for Historians: Catholic Parish Registers at the National Library of Ireland

Parish register

The National Library of Ireland’s (NLI) digitalisation of Catholic Parish Registers is an encouraging example of how technology can both stimulate and satisfy the genealogical interests of the Irish public. Populating the branches of the family tree that stretch further back than the 1901 Census can often prove to be a challenging and onerous task. The first full government census of Ireland was carried out in 1821, followed by censuses every ten years thereafter. It is a tragedy for Irish genealogy that the pre-1901 records of the Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages have been decimated by the intervention of various unfortunate events and decisions. While the returns for 1861 and 1871 were never preserved for posterity, the census data for 1881 and 1891 was obliterated when the records were pulped during the First World War, possibly due to a shortage in paper. The returns from 1821-1851 were, famously, almost completely destroyed in the fire that engulfed the Public Record’s Office in 1922 in the early stages of the Civil War.

Consequently, arguably one of the best, if not the best, source of general data on individuals living in nineteenth century Ireland is the Catholic Parish Registers. The NLI holds a vast microfilm collection of Catholic parish registers on microfilm and has recently completed the project of digitalisation whereby the microfilm pages were scanned and uploaded as images to be perused on the NLI’s website. In fact the project is arguably the continuation of efforts that began as far back as 1949 when the NLI offered its services to the Catholic hierarchy to ensure the permanent preservation of parish registers. An NLI staff member was duly dispatched to every diocese and over a period of twenty years (with additional filming of some Dublin registers in the 1990s) the NLI developed microfilm copies of over 3,500 registers from 1,086 parishes in Ireland (North and South) with some records stretching back  as early as the seventeenth century. Now, approximately 373,000 digital images have been uploaded to the NLI’s website.

To search the records, the NLI has provided a user-friendly format, whereby the researcher reviews a map of Ireland, divided by county. Simply click on the county you are interested in, e.g. Wexford, and you will be immediately presented with the various parishes (in this example, from the Diocese of Ferns). Select your parish, e.g. Wexford (town) and you will be brought to the various digitalised microfilm copies of the original registers. The microfilm is arranged by time period and you can peruse records of births or marriages. Some of the very early registers can be that more difficult to decipher and appear to be a little damaged and perhaps watermarked, thus justifying the timely intervention of the NLI over sixty years ago in making permanent copies of the registers before their details were lost forever.  However as researchers and historians the digitalised microfilmed images can allow us to experience that evocative thrill of studying our ancestors, in the handwriting of a near contemporary who preserved, for posterity, the beginnings and the most significant moments in their lives.

Begin researching:


Further reading





Resources for Historians: Maynooth Research Guides in Local History


Maynooth Castle in 1885, available at Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maynooth_Castle_1885.jpg) (accessed 6 Feb. 2015).


By Adrian James Kirwan

This month’s ‘Resources for Historians’ is a change from our usual review of useful websites. Instead the resource under scrutiny is a series of publications whose purpose is to guide readers through various source materials that would be of potential use to historians. While the series title points out that these are primarily geared toward local history there is much in the series that is of use to the study of a wide range of subjects.

The books follow a set format with the first chapter giving an introduction to the context of the sources’ creation and the uses to which they were put. This chapter is in essence a history of the sources. This gives the historian an insight into the available sources and the limitations imposed by their creation. This is followed by a chapter on accessing the sources, providing an overview of the various archives that hold the material under investigation and how to access them. The final chapter normally provides hints as to the potential uses to which the sources under investigation can be used. The books are normally finished with appendices that give an overview of the resources that are available.

An example of the material covered by these books is Jacinta Prunty’s Maps and map-making in local history (Disclaimer Jacinta Prunty is the author’s Ph.D. supervisor). The book provides an introduction to the world of maps and provides the reader with the essential knowledge needed to read, understand and use maps as historical sources. It guides the reader through the nature of maps, the manner of their creation with particular reference to map-making in Ireland. The book then provides all the information needed to locate and assess the main body of maps needed for a local or national study of Ireland.

Other very useful guides in the series are C.J. Woods, Travellers’ accounts as source material for Irish historians; in addition to an introduction the book has annotations of over 200 accounts and a bibliography. Indexes of travellers and places at the end of the book allow the reader to trace either individual travellers or allow one to enquire into any traveller accounts of a particular area. The same format is seen in Raymond Refausse’s, Church of Ireland records which provides a guide to published catalogues, editions of archives and manuscripts of the Church of Ireland as well as a guide to the main repositories for Church of Ireland records (a second edition of this book was published in 2006).

 Other books in the series include Business archival sources for the local historian; A guide to sources for the history of Irish education, 1780-1922; Medieval Gaelic sources; The big houses and landed estates of Ireland: a research guide; Exploring the history and heritage of Irish landscapes; Sources for the study of crime in Ireland, 1801-1921; A guide to Irish military heritage; Counting the people: a survey of the Irish censuses, 1813-1911; Medieval record sources, Pre-census sources for Irish demography.

These guides are a highly recommended starting point for students, amateur historians or even experienced historians who are seeking to expand and understand the range of potential resources that are available to them.

Further reading:

See the complete series of Maynooth Research Guides in Local History available at Four Courts Press:



Resources for Historians: Documents on Irish Foreign Policy (DIFP)


Documents on Irish Foreign Policy (DIFP) is an eight-volume collaborative project undertaken by the Royal Irish Academy, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the National Archives of Ireland chronicling the evolution of Irish foreign policy, from 1919-45. The collection constitutes an important gathering of pivotal source documents from the collection of the Department of Foreign (previously External) Affairs in the National Archives. All volumes are available in hard copy form with digital versions of volumes I-VI available through the DIFP website. The latest volume (IX), covering Irish foreign relations from 1948-51, is set for publication in November 2014.

As with any collection of primary source documents, these volumes are not exhaustive but have been carefully selected by the editors and organised along thematic and geographic lines. This is quite similar to the Foreign Relations of the United States series.  Therefore while the collection is an invaluable resource and reference tool for historians of Irish foreign policy and international relations, serious scholars should not rely solely on the collection but rather use it as a springboard for more focused mining of the DFA documents in the National Archives.

Great care has been taken to preserve the integrity of the documents and to ensure the transparency of the editorial process. An excellent editorial touch to the collection has been the addition of the marginal notes to the reproduced documents and the identification of the authors of these notes, where possible. Such notes are often quite telling and gleefully seized upon by historians of foreign policy looking to gauge the reaction of the home government to the observations and reports of the diplomatic corps and to international affairs in general. While spelling mistakes may have been corrected by the editors, all other additions and amendments have been tracked. Although the collection cannot be comprehensive, the editorial board of the project is composed of the pre-eminent scholars of Irish foreign policy-seasoned historians such as Professor Ronan Fanning, Dr. Michael Kennedy, Professor Dermot Keogh and Professor Eunan O’Halpin who select the documents for inclusion based on their perceived importance and significance.

Users can browse the online volumes by year or document number. The DIFP website also provides a key word search option. The advanced search setting is highly recommended along with Boolean methods (i.e. search for “Vatican”, not Vatican). Any historian interested in the DIFP collection or in Irish foreign relations in general should certainly make the effort to follow @DIFP_RIA on Twitter. Links to digital copies of illuminating DFA documents are posted as part of the project’s #docoftheday social media drive.  For example followers can read the 1936 report of the Irish delegate to the League of Nations on Emperor Haile Selassie’s infamous speech to the League of Nations Assembly or the correspondence surrounding the appointment of Professor T.A. Smiddy as Ireland’s first Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary to the United States (1924-9).

The efforts of the DIFP project to publicise and disseminate crucial documents on Irish foreign policy should serve as the inspiration and foundation for any budding historian of Irish foreign relations.

Useful website





Emma Edwards, co-editor of Holinshed Revisited, completed her PhD on international history (NUI Maynooth) in 2013. Her research is broadly concerned with the ethos and practise of the League of Nations and with the evolution from pre to post-war internationalism.

Resources for historians: Foreign Relations of the United States


Historians of Irish Foreign Policy will be familiar with the work of the Royal Irish Academy to digitalise the papers of the Department of Foreign Affairs. Digitalisation projects such as this, which are often key term searchable, save considerable time, effort and resources for practicing historians, for both established scholars and students embarking on postgraduate theses. Digitalisation projects can never be expected to be complete or exhaustive with editorial input sometimes influencing the presentation and arrangement of primary sources and most historians (including this one!) would not be prepared to exclusively embrace digital sources in order to forgo the pleasure of traditional archival research. However the digitalisation of important sources marks the increasing and welcome tendency to ensure a greater democratisation and accessibility of academic research.

While a trip to Dublin’s National Archives may be within the means of most Irish historians, a research topic that encompasses international or transnational elements can be financially draining on scholars bereft of funding. Certainly few historians, let alone postgraduate students, could manage a research trip to Washington to comb the ambitions and reactions of the superpower that held such a pre-eminent position in post-war international affairs.

The Foreign Relations of the United States published series (FRUS) comprise the collated diplomatic correspondence, reports and memoranda of the U.S. State Department that have been declassified and edited for publication. A large cohort of these sources have also been digitalised and uploaded by the library of the University of Wisconsin. The digitalised collection of the University of Wisconsin begins with the Lincoln administration and covers over one hundred years of U.S. diplomatic history with a selection of post 1945 documents also made available online by the State Department and maintained by the University of Illinois at the U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian website.

The collection is presented in volumes arranged by subject area and year with a table of sources and abbreviations at the beginning of each volume. To access the documents on the University of Wisconsin page, browse their collections until you reach FRUS. There are two different methods of researching the material. You can browse the collection which will allow you to locate material by year and by subject. The subjects of the volumes are usually divided by the area of the world with which they are concerned e.g. the British Commonwealth, the American Republics, the Far East and Europe or by a particular event or organisation e.g. Conferences at Malta and Yalta (1945). This method would suit a researcher who is broadly interested in the practice and evolution of U.S. foreign policy. The collection includes the observations and reports of the U.S. diplomatic corps as well as the responses and accompanying reports of senior State Department staff. If you have a more specific research objective, the collection is also key word searchable. Ensure that when you select the ‘search’ option to limit your search to the FRUS catalogue rather than the entire collection of the University of Wisconsin. A Boolean search is essential to ensure a more exact match to your search time e.g. look for “League of Nations” rather than League of Nations. This method brings you to the precise pages within the volume in which your search term can be found.

FRUS portal


It is the back and forth and changing nature of the diplomatic correspondence in this collection that provides intriguing nuggets of information for historians. It is interesting to note what ideas and observations from diplomatic staff on the ground were accepted and taken on board by Washington and what was rejected and why. Engagement with this collection is an easy and rewarding experience for any scholar of twentieth century world history, a history undoubtedly shaped by the growing reach, confidence and increasingly globalist foreign policy of the United States.



Cork Street Fever Hospital records deposited at RCPI archives

By Ciarán McCabe

The news that a collection of hitherto largely-unused manuscripts have been acquired by an archive is to be welcomed by any history enthusiast. Recently, such news emerged from the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI) when that body launched a cataloguing and preservation project on the records of the Cork Street Fever Hospital, which were donated to the RCPI in 2013. The Wellcome Trust-funded project is scheduled to last twelve months and will facilitate the records being made accessible to researchers. Upon reading about the project on the RCPI Heritage Centre’s blog (http://rcpilibrary.blogspot.ie), I felt some excitement, as I had worked closely with the Cork Street Fever Hospital records for the duration of a one-year Masters in the Social and Cultural History of Medicine (in the School of History and Archives at UCD) and had always hoped for their depositing in an archive. Every Friday for a year, I visited Cherry Orchard Hospital in Dublin, where the Cork Street records were stored, and was consistently amazed at the wealth of material in this collection long neglected by researchers.

The Cork Street Fever Hospital opened on 14 May 1804 following a public campaign by a group of philanthropic Dublin men to establish a specialised hospital to cater for the fever-stricken poor of Dublin city. The timing of the initiative was significant. The turn of the century had seen a particularly acute fever epidemic across Dublin, which impacted greatly on the poorer classes of the city. The establishment of this institution is not to be as a stand-alone development. Fever hospitals had been emerging across Britain and Ireland since the mid-1780s as part of a wider move away from ‘general’ hospitals and towards specialisation in institutional care. The historian M.C. Buer referred to a ‘fever hospital movement’ in this period and it is in this light that the establishment of the Cork Street hospital is to be understood. These early fever hospitals – Limerick (1780), Chester (1784), Belfast (1790s), Manchester (1796), Waterford (1799), Cork (1802), Newcastle-upon-Tyne (1804), Leeds (1804), Cork Street, Dublin (1804), Liverpool (1806) – were established in a context wherein information pertaining to the activities of the founders and managing committees were exchanged between these institutions. For example, the design of the Cork Street hospital was carried out in consultation with fever hospital doctors from Manchester and Liverpool, and it appears that the Manchester hospital served as an administrative model for that in Cork Street.

Cork Street Fever Hospital and House of Recovery

The location of the new hospital on Cork Street was also significant. Cork Street is located in the Liberties, which lie to the south-west of the medieval city core and where the city’s textile industries were concentrated. The Liberties were largely populated by artisans, small manufacturers and various other categories of the poor and it was for this population, who were susceptible to illness from the city’s regular fever outbreaks, that the Cork Street Fever Hospital was built. The fever hospital remained open until around 1953, when it was moved out to Cherry Orchard (just west of Ballyfermot) and the buildings on Cork Street were retained for use as a welfare home for elderly people. The buildings are still standing and the HSE today operate Bru Chaoimhin care centre at the Cork Street site.


The Cork Street Fever Hospital is an institution of critical importance to the history of modern Dublin. The wealth and range of material in the manuscript sources, now held by the RCPI, is rare for an Irish institution, but a notable absence in the early-nineteenth-century records is (as far as I could see) any patient’s register. Nonetheless, the records of this hospital will provide an insight into so many aspects of Dublin’s history: medical practice; how the poor experienced illness and disease; the role of philanthropy; the evolving role of the state in providing, or at least funding, welfare services.

Further reading:

Jacinta Prunty, Dublin slums, 1800-1925: a study in urban geography (Dublin, 1998); Laurence M. Geary, Medicine and charity in Ireland, 1714-1851 (Dublin, 2004); Eugene Dudley, ‘A silent witness – Cork Street Fever Hospital’ in Dublin Historical Record, lxii, no. 1 (Spring 2009), pp 103-26.

‘Resources for Historians’: The Chief Secretary’s Office Registered Papers, National Archives of Ireland

By Ciarán McCabe

An 1818 petition from prisoners in Cork City Gaol to the Lord Lieutenant, asking for a regular allowance of tobacco, which the petitioners claimed had ‘become an absolute necessity of life’, provides an opening into one of the most important bodies of source material for historians of modern Ireland. For anyone interested in nineteenth and twentieth-century Irish history, the Chief Secretary’s Office Registered Papers (CSORP) in the National Archives of Ireland (NAI) is an indispensable collection of source material. These papers, contained in 3,770 cartons, reveal practically all aspects of British administration in Ireland between 1818 and the foundation of the Irish Free State in minute detail. Despite their undoubted significance, the CSORP are notoriously difficult to use. This difficulty arises from a number of factors, largely due to a change in referencing and cataloguing during the nineteenth century but more significantly, the destruction of the public record office at the Four Courts in 1922 has made researchers’ efforts daunting, to say the least. It is a common experience for researchers to identify items in the 337 registers and index books that line the walls of the NAI’s Reading Room, only to be told that the item cannot be found, usually arising from the source’s destruction in 1922.

Fortunately, the challenge of searching and negotiating the CSORP has been considerably alleviated by an ongoing project launched in 2008 by the NAI. On foot of a bequest from the late Professor Francis J. Crowley of California, the detailed entries for the CSORP material for the years 1818-22 have been made available online. The website could not be easier to use. By inserting your keyword into the ‘Search’ box, every appearance that word makes in the catalogue entries appears on screen. For my own research into street begging in early-nineteenth-century Ireland, this has (somewhat!) removed the intimidating spectre that hovered over the CSORP as a body of source material. For instance, the word ‘beggars’ appears thirteen times; there are twelve mentions of ‘mendicity’; ‘vagrancy’ and derivative terms appear twenty-one times; and there are 219 matches for ‘House of Industry’. Each one of these searches reveals sources of potential interest and relevance which I may otherwise have missed if I had been reliant on the index books. As with all websites reviewed under our ‘Resources for Historians’ feature, the use of the NAI CSORP site is free of charge and open to all.

Many of the sources have been photographed and digitised, and the visitor to the site can access a wide range of images not only of letters and hand-writing, but of close-up images of postal marks and a number of fascinating maps, one of a proposed new penitentiary in Waterford city. The context in which any source was created is crucial to the historian’s understanding of that source and in this regard, the CSORP website provides useful commentary on each year for the subject period (1818-22). Events and developments of significant social, cultural, economic, and political importance are outlined, and the weaving of select items from the CSORP into this narrative enhances the reader’s understanding. Those with an interest in archives are also catered, as the conservation methodology is also outlined using photographs and step-by-step guides through the conservation process. Articles on the use of wax and wafer seals, and watermarks on the CSORP are particular gems!


(Courtesy of the National Archives of Ireland)

This website is accessible at: http://www.csorp.nationalarchives.ie/index.html

Cataloguing for the years 1823 and 1824 is on-going. The petition from the smoking lobby of Cork city prisoners is available at NAI, Chief Secretary’s Office Registered Papers, CSO/RP/1818/116.

Further reading: Brian Griffin, Sources for the study of crime in Ireland, 1801-1921, Maynooth Research Guides for Irish Local History, no. 9 (Dublin, 2005); Tom Quinlan, ‘The registered papers of the Chief Secretary’s Office’ in Irish Archives, i, no. 2 (1994), pp 5-21.

‘Resources for Historians’ will be a monthly post reviewing a free, internet-based resource for historians and history enthusiasts. Potential contributors or alerts about possible sites for review are most welcome and should be sent to the editors at holinshedrevisited@gmail.com

Resources for historians.

Dippam, Documenting Ireland: Parliament, People and Migration, available at http://www.dippam.ac.uk/

By Adrian James Kirwan

Dippam is a free-to-access online archive of records relating to Ireland from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. A visit to the website’s homepage will present the user with access options for three separate databases. These are the EPPI: Enhanced Parliamentary Papers on Ireland; IED: Irish Emigration Database; and the VMR: Voices of Migration and Return. Access is free of charge to all these databases.

The Enhanced Parliamentary Papers on Ireland database gives the user access to all parliamentary papers about Ireland and Irish affairs from the period following the Act of Union (1801) to 1922. This amounts to over 14,000 documents which includes material relating not only directly to Ireland but also the Irish in Britain and overseas. The database is easy to use with a keyword search function which can be restricted chronologically and/or by document type.

The Irish Emigration Database contains over 33,000 documents relating to emigration from Ireland. The main types of documents contained in this database are privately created documents such as diaries; newspaper extracts in relation to emigration; and official government papers. The material in the database covers the whole of Ireland and North America from 1700 to 1950, but the bulk of these sources pertain to the period 1820 to 1920. This database is also searchable by keyword, date range and document type.

The final database available on this site is the Voices of Migration and Return. This is a database of interviews with ninety-three migrant and returnees from the nine counties of Ulster. The interviews are on average two hours long and were carried out by researchers from universities across Ireland. This has the most advanced search function with categories for sex, age group, denomination, birthplace and decade of migration and return, amongst others.

In conclusion, the website provides an array of documents in relation to Ireland. The Enhanced Parliamentary Papers database is a great resource for those studying Irish history particularly in light of its free access. The two other databases should provide plenty of material for those interested in migration studies either for academic or personal research.

‘Resources for Historians’ will be a monthly post reviewing a free, internet-based resource for historians and history enthusiasts. Potential contributors or alerts about possible sites for review are most welcome and should be sent to the editors at holinshedrevisited@gmail.com.


Adrian James Kirwan, co-editor of Holinshed Revisited, is an Irish Research Council funded Ph.D. candidate at the Department of History, National University of Ireland, Maynooth. His research focuses on the interaction between society and technology.

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