Archives in Ireland are managed by a number of institutions. The most important is the National Archives.
A number of local authorities maintain archives as do educational and cultural bodies. The Manuscripts Department of the National Library and the Military Archives are also of importance in this context.
The National Archives was created under the National Archives Act 1986, commencing in 1988 when the State Paper Office and Public Record Office were merged.
The Public Records Office was the larger office. Its predecessor was established in 1702 as a repository of the records of the Lord Lieutenant and government. Prior to that, records were moved to England on completion of the term of the office of the Secretary.
The Public Records Office of Ireland was established in 1867, principally to house court records over 20 years old, records transferred from the State Paper’s Office and the records of the different Commissioners and bodies. The office was located in the Four Courts complex.
On the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, the Public Records Office became responsible for records of baptisms and burials to 1870 and marriages to 1845. Control of the Church of Ireland records is shared between the National Archives, and the Representative Church Body library.
In in April 1922 the Four Courts was seized by Anti-Treaty rebels and mines were laid in the Public Record Office building with the e Four Court complex. Following bombardment by state troops, a fire started which resulted in very major explosion on 30th June 1922. The record repository and almost all records in it were destroyed.
The Public Record Office was rebuilt in the 1920s. The Irish Manuscripts Commission which was also established in the Record’s Office attempted to identify missing records.
In the 1940s, Commission published a survey of manuscripts and private records, which subsequently passed to the National Library of Ireland. The National Library commenced a program of surveying records of interest held in other countries.
The Public Records Office commenced to obtained access to records of government departments and offices as documents were archived. Access to public documents was liberalised in the 1960s and the records from the revolutionary period was released for public inspection.
The Public Records Office and State Papers Office increased in professionalism and staff numbers in the early 1970. In 1970, the Corks Archives Council, later the Corks Archives Institute was one of the first local authority archives services.
An Irish Manuscripts Commission Survey of Business Records was established in the 1970s. A number of professional archivists were trained in UCD Archives Department, which was established in 1970.
Proposals had been made for new legislation for many years, which was finally enacted at the strong personal initiative of Dr. Garret Fitzgerald as Taoiseach. The National Archives Act 1986 provided for the amalgamation of offices and gave the new National Archives new responsibilities in relation to departmental records, courts records, and records of other state bodies listed in the schedule. The National Archives came into being in its new form in June 1988.
The National Archives moved into the new premises in Bishop Street in January 1992. A significant redevelopment and extension were undertaken in the first decade of the century.
The Director is responsible for its management. The Archives is an agency within the Civil Service responsible to the Department of [Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht].
The legislation established the National Archives Advisory Council, consisting of 12 members. This is drawn from academics, administrators, and professional archivists. The Council advises the Minister’s on policy relating to National Archives, and more generally on archives of the public body. The Council publishes annual and other reports. It meets approximately six times a year.
The Act requires the Departmental records must be preserved until their destruction is authorised by the Director or other officers. Generally, all Department records over 30 years must be transferred to the National Archives and made available for inspection by the public.
Particular records may be withdrawn or covered. They may be covered by certificates that they are in regular use or are required in connection with administration or that they should not be made available on one of the grounds specified in the Act.
National Archives hold many other records, including records from private sources. The National Library and libraries of the main universities have similarly acquired substantial records.
The statutory obligations of the Archives in regard to material in its custody includes preservation, restoration, and arrangement and description of archives,
preparation of guides, lists, indexes and finding aids to archives,
- making archives available for public inspection,
- making and providing copies of archives,
- publication of archives,
- finding aids and other materials,
- provision of educational services regarding archives.
Most records held by the Public Records Office in June 1922 were destroyed in the Four Courts’ fire. Some records dating back to the 13th century survived. The records held include those from the late 19th century.
The principal archives held are as follows.
- Governmental archives up to 30 years ago from the foundation of the state.
- Archives of the Chief State Secretary Office 1790 to 1922. Chief Secretary Office.
- Archives of other state agencies operating in the 19th and 20th century with some archives in the 17th and 18th century.
- Archives of courts and probate registries in the late 19th century with some dating to the 14th century.
- Archives from other sources including, harbour boards, health boards, schools, charities, trade unions, estate offices, solicitors’ offices, some 17th and 18th century material.
- Census returns 1901 and 1911,
- Tithe Applotment Books of the 1820s and 30s,
- the primary final valuation of the 1840s to 1860 (Griffiths valuation).
The Act provides for voluntary transfer of records by local authorities. This was repealed in 1994 and the local authorities were obliged to make arrangements for their own records and make them available for inspection.
Departmental records include books, maps, plans, drawings, files, photographs, films, microfilms, magnetic tapes, optical tapes, and other documents or processed material.
The making of copies of archive material with consent of National Archives is not a breach of copyright. It is an offence to remove archives from the National Archives. The Director may dispose of archives in his custody.
Record may not be withheld
- where they are contrary to the public interest,
- will constitute breach of the statutory good-faith in relation to information received in confidence,
- might cause stress or danger to living persons in that they contain information about individuals,
- might lead to an action for defamation.
Military Archives holds the records of the Department of Defences since 1919. This is situated at Cathal Brugha Barracks, Rathmines.
The Local Government Act 1994 established statutory protection for local authority archives. Similar provisions were made by Harbours Act, 1996.
The Freedom of Information Act gives right to public access to records of government departments and assets subject to conditions and restrictions. Similar provision was made by the National Cultural Institutions Act, 1997, and Statistics Act, 1993.