Everything You Wanted to Know About Irish Research

Everything You Wanted to Know About Irish Research

Burns Librarian writes a field guide to libraries and archives of Ireland

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

In 15 years of traveling back and forth to Ireland as curator of one of the academic world's premier collections of Irish books and manuscripts, Burns Librarian Robert O'Neill has visited libraries large and small in every corner of Erin.


Robert O'Neill. (Photo by Gary Gilbert)
He can tell you the hours of the Quaker library in Dublin (Thursdays from 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m.), as well as of the Irish Jewish Museum (Dublin has had three Jewish mayors).

He can tell you where to look for duplicates of records destroyed in the bombing of Dublin's Four Courts during the Civil War in 1922, and how many of the county libraries of Ireland, no matter how up-to-date, still close at lunchtime, in keeping with local tradition.

O'Neill has called on his experience in compiling a reference volume, A Visitors' Guide to Irish Libraries, Archives, Museums & Genealogical Centres, newly published by the Ulster Historical Foundation. The work builds on a previous guide done five years ago on the libraries of Ulster.

"I've tried to visit the vast majority of the more than 200 libraries listed in the book, and I've succeeded," said O'Neill.

"There are over 50 pages just for Dublin, with everything from law libraries and medical libraries to the Anglican archives," he said. "If you were to look at the listings for Trinity College and the National Library of Ireland, you'd get an idea of what is of interest to academic researchers. But go to County Louth or Kildare or West Meath and you'll see what is of interest to local historians.

"The National Library of Ireland, the National Archives, the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland and Belfast are well known," he said. "But many county libraries offer significant local resources for historical and genealogical research."

The book is targeted primarily at researchers of family and local Irish history, pursuits of widespread interest among the Irish Diaspora. As many as 70 million people around the world can trace ancestry to Ireland.

The guide offers an introduction to tracing one's Irish ancestors, and provides vital reference details for each parish in Ireland for the tithe and valuation records from c.1830 in the record offices in Belfast and Dublin.

"It might be seen as presumptuous for an American to be tackling this," he said. "But the advantage I bring is the perspective of a visitor."

A Visitors' Guide to Irish Libraries is available for sale at the Boston College Bookstore and at the web site of the Ulster Historical Foundation.  

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