Skip to main content

OS200 research project

This year marks 200 years since the first Ordnance Survey of Ireland. As home to a significant Ordnance Survey Archive, the Library of the Royal Irish Academy is pleased to be a partner in the OS200 research project.

OS200 is a 3-year project jointly funded by the Irish Research Council (IRC) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), which aims to gather historic Ordnance Survey (OS) maps and texts, currently held in disparate archives, to form a single freely accessible online resource for academic and public use. This digital platform will reconnect the First Edition Six-Inch Maps with the OS Memoirs, Letters and Name Books. In this blog series, we will highlight some of the OS archival materials held in the RIA Library.

Leather bound volumes shelved in a map case. County names are embossed on the spines.
Ordnance Survey 1st edition maps: county volumes in the Library of the Royal Irish Academy.

Ordnance Survey and the Royal Irish Academy

The British Ordnance Survey established a department in Dublin in 1824 under the leadership of Colonel Thomas Colby (1784-1852) and Captain Thomas Larcom (1801-1879). As well as working on cartographical outputs, civilian topographical workers were employed to study placenames in historical documents and to visit the regions to learn about local pronunciation. This department was also encouraged to write letters to Larcom, detailing local toponymy, archaeology and folklore uncovered in conversation with knowledgeable locals. John O’Donovan, MRIA (1806-1861), a leading authority on Irish language, was one of the most prolific members of this team. Once the 1st edition maps were published, non-cartographical materials, such as the letters, transcriptions of historical sources, sketches of buildings and antiquarian items by artists such as George Petrie, MRIA (1790-1866), George Victor du Noyer (1817-69), and William Frederick Wakeman (1822-1900), were no longer deemed to be of use to the Ordnance Survey. Due to its significance for historical studies, the Royal Irish Academy requested that this material be deposited in their Library in 1857 and this request was granted by the British government in 1861. Along with other Irish repositories, the RIA Library was also gifted a set of the 1st edition maps upon publication. Footnote 1

Black and white head and shoulders portrait of a man in military uniform.
Portrait of Sir Thomas Aiskew Larcom, MRIA (1801–79), by Sir Leslie Ward.
Oil portrait of a man in Victorian civilian clothing.
Portrait of John O’Donovan, MRIA (1806-1861), by Charles Grey. © The National Gallery of Ireland.

The first edition OS maps

The first edition OS maps, completed by 1846, were drawn on a scale of six inches to one mile. These maps are bound in volumes, arranged by county, and are available for consultation in the Reading Room. Digitised copies of the first edition maps are freely available through the website of Tailte Éireann, the state agency established in March 2023 to incorporate the former Ordnance Survey Ireland and the Property Registration Authority and Valuation Office. This digital resource displays the 1st edition OS maps as a composite map of the island of Ireland. The line breaks between original map sheets are just visible. In the printed county volumes, in most cases, an index map is included as a guide to the numbered map sheets that follow.

Map of county Carlow spread over two pages of a large bound volume.
Carlow County index map, Ordnance Survey, 1st edition.
Detail from an index map of county Carlow showing St Mullins within the boundary of map sheet 18.
Carlow County index map detail, highlighting sheet 18, Ordnance Survey, 1st edition.

Each sheet is spread across two facing pages and measures 35in (w) x 24in (h), or 89cm x 61cm, resulting in volumes of considerable weight and size. For this reason, the map sheets for large counties such as Cork and Donegal are divided between two volumes. The RIA Library copies of the maps are a very popular, frequently consulted resource. In recent years, conservation work on several volumes has been supported by generous donations.

The print volumes also include the details of the surveyors and engravers in minute type at the bottom of each sheet. Recently, we welcomed visitors to the reading room who were conducting research about a relative who worked as an OS engraver at the Phoenix Park office. With the aid of magnifying glasses, they found his name appeared on map sheets in several county volumes. Recording and sharing additional information such as this is one of the aims of the OS200 digital platform.

Detail from Carlow map showing details about surveyors and engravers responsible for the map sheet.
Carlow County map sheet detail listing the names of surveyors and engravers, Ordnance Survey, 1st edition.

Keep an eye out for our next blog to learn more about the OS archival material held here in the RIA Library and to find out about the launch of the OS200 digital resource.

Introduction to Richard John Ussher and the Bird Notes Collection

Writing on the natural history collections at the Royal Irish Academy Library, James P. O’Connor, MRIA described the field naturalist, archaeologist and ornithologist Richard John Ussher, MRIA (1841-1913) as follows:

Richard Ussher was a quiet, courteous and rather shy man. This demeanour, however, hid the determination, fearlessness and contempt for discomfort which he displayed in his explorations both ornithological and paleontological.

Born at Cappagh House, Cappagh, Co. Waterford in April 1841, Ussher showed a keen interest in natural history from a young age and was an avid egg-collector, a hobby he would eventually relinquish, spending his later years working with the Irish Society for the Protection of Birds. His formal education was hindered by periods of ill-health which meant he was unable to obtain his degree from Trinity College Dublin but, as R. M. Barrington has noted, Ussher spent many winters in warmer climates like Spain, Italy, and Corfu where he likely indulged his interest in natural history. He became a Justice of the Peace for Co. Waterford in the 1860s and married Elizabeth Finlay soon after, building a new house at Cappagh in the 1870s.

Beige envelope postmarked and addressed to Ussher at his Cappagh home.
A letter addressed to R. J. Ussher (Ussher Bird Notes Collection Box 3, Envelope 30)

About the collection

Once described as ‘facile princeps’ or the ‘Recording Angel’ for his fastidious approach to recording Irish avifauna, Ussher was one of Ireland’s greatest naturalists. His Birds of Ireland, written with Robert Warren and published in 1900, was concerned with telling the story of birds on the island of Ireland and was, as described in the preface ‘compiled by Irishmen to supply that information about the Birds of their country which has been long and increasingly demanded’.  
Ussher became a member of the Royal Irish Academy in 1905 and in 1911 gave the sum of £300 as the nucleus of a fund for promoting the study of the vertebrate zoology of Ireland, past and present. He later bequeathed his manuscripts, notes and papers which came to the Academy after his death in 1913 following a short illness. The collection contains approximately 9,000 items including correspondence, cards, papers, galley proofs, notes, jotters, notebooks, photographs, leaflets, postcards, journals, newspaper cuttings, and specimens like eggs and feathers.

Bundle of letters tied together with cotton tape.
A bundle of letters from the Ussher Bird Notes Collection. (Ussher Bird Notes Collection, RIA Library)
Box containing two smaller boxes and sparrow egg speciments.
A small box containing two sets of sparrow eggs (Ussher Bird Notes Collection, RIA: Box 10)

News from the Library

Earlier this year, the RIA Library successfully applied for financial support from the Heritage Council as part of the Heritage Stewardship Fund, which supports staff in local authorities, state agencies and educational institutions with responsibility for heritage programmes. This funding will enable the phased cataloguing and digitisation of material from the Ussher Bird Notes Collection for ingest to the Digital Repository of Ireland (DRI). This is an exciting opportunity, and we look forward to seeing this incredibly valuable collection be made accessible to researchers and the public. The dedication of Ussher and his collaborators culminated in a very important historical record, which allows us to trace and compare the habits, characteristics, migration and breeding patterns of Irish avifauna.  

Pencil sketch of a male Blackcap with notes beneath.
R. J. Ussher’s sketch of a male Blackcap (Ussher Bird Notes Collection, RIA Box 6, Envelope 1)

The importance of the collection in relation to Ireland’s biodiversity

In the face of growing concerns over catastrophic climate change, we have witnessed the depletion of native and non-native bird populations on both a national and international scale. Species such as the corncrake—which used to be regularly observed across Ireland during the summer—have sadly been added to Red List of Birds of Conservation Concern. Fortunately, in recent years there has been an increase in conservation initiatives and rewilding projects to help restore the numbers of endangered or at-risk species of avifauna. Conservation initiatives directed towards the protection of corncrakes, for example, include the Corncrake/Traonach LIFE project, and other initiatives undertaken by BirdWatch Ireland, who work closely with farmers and landowners, and are involved in habitat management on Tory Island and on their Termoncarragh Reserve in Co Mayo. 

Handwritten table of dates on a sheets of notepaper.
A table tracking the dates that the sight or sound of a corncrake was observed by one of Ussher’s collaborators. (Ussher Bird Notes Collection Box 3, Envelope 30)

The Ussher Bird Notes Collection contains important historical data concerning the migration patterns and behaviours of both native and non-native species of birds, serving as a historical snapshot of Ireland’s avifauna, and providing researchers with insight into how Ireland’s landscape has changed in the face of growing urbanisation, pollution, deforestation, and other factors fuelling climate change and biodiversity loss. 

We hope that by making this collection more accessible, researchers will be encouraged to use and analyse the data compiled by Ussher and his colleagues to contribute to growing discourses around conservation and biodiversity efforts in Ireland.

Concluding remarks

We would like to extend our sincere thanks to the Heritage Council for their support in funding this project. Please check our website and/or follow us on social media for regular project updates.


Bird Watch Ireland, “Positive news for Ireland’s Corncrake population but numbers remain critically low,” 18 August 2023,

Bird Watch Ireland, “Red and Amber Lists of Birds of Conservation Concern in Ireland (BoCCI4) 2020-2026,

Corncrake LIFE.

James P. O’Connor, ‘Some natural history collections at the Academy Library’ in B. Cunningham and Siobhán Fitzpatrick (eds), Treasures of the Royal Irish Academy Library (Dublin, 2009), 104-17.

Patricia M. Byrne, ‘Richard John Ussher’, Dictionary of Irish Biography, DOI: 

R.M. Barrington, ‘Richard John Ussher’, Irish Naturalist 22 (1913), 221-7.

This year marks the 100 year anniversary since entomologist, Cynthia Longfield (1896-1991)(link is external), joined the party of the St George expedition in 1924. This team of naturalists, sponsored by the Scientific Expeditionary Research Association, embarked on a partial replication of Darwin’s famous journey to the South Sea. Longfield donated her entomological library and personal papers to the Royal Irish Academy Library, including photograph albums and scrapbooks she compiled during the expedition. To celebrate this anniversary, Dr Angela Byrne gave a lunchtime lecture in the Library, listen back to Cynthia Longfield Library Lunchtime Lecture.

The St George departed Dartmouth harbour on Wednesday, 9 April, 1924. It was a 1000 tonne sailing yacht with auxiliary steam and Longfield’s diary mentions it was equipped with a laboratory and dark rooms.

Fig. 1. The St George sailing yacht ‘All ready to slip the moorings’ (RIA MS LRC/27/5).
Fig. 2. The ‘Scientists’ (RIA MS LRC/27/3).

The scientific expedition party included Mr Hornell, ethnologist, Mr Johnson, biologist, Dr Crossland, marine biologist, Col. Kelsall, ornithologist, Miss Cheesman, entomologistMr Collonette, entomologist, Mr Chubb, geologist and Mr Riley, botanist. They called at Madeira, before crossing the Atlantic to land at Trinidad and Tabago. From there, they sailed down the Panama Canal into the Pacific Ocean. The expedition party landed at a number of islands in the Gulf of Panama before sailing to the Galápagos Islands. From there, they headed west to French Polynesia, before returning via Rapa Nui, known by many as Easter Island.

Fig.3. The route taken by the St George.

Longfield’s entomological mission began at the first stop in Madeira. Following an expedition to the north side of the island on 30 April, she described the butterflies they encountered:

Saw quantities of Gonepteryx, Polyommatus, Colias, 2 Vanessa Atalanta, some Pararge and one lovely Vanessa Callirhoë, a perfect specimen which we failed to get. It is ever so much redder than our Red Admiral. Altogether we caught or saw 10 out of Madeira’s 11 species of Butterflies, the eleventh being the grayling (Hipparchia Semele).


She added a note later to say that Mr Hicks, the expedition’s journalist, spotted the grayling on their last day on Madeira.

As they crossed the Atlantic, Longfield’s diary paints a pleasant picture of fine meals, highly-contested tennis tournaments, lantern slide lectures and other entertainment of their own making. Longfield celebrated her 28th birthday on board the St George. A little party was put on and Miss Cheesman decorated the evening menu with entomological sketches.

Fig. 4. ‘My birthday menu. Drawn by Miss Cheesman’ (RIA MS LRC/24). Fig. 5. “Amblies” on Narborough Island’ (RIA MS LRC/27).

On the Galápagos Islands, Longfield and the party encountered a mass of marine iguanas (amblyrhynchus cristatus). She wrote in her diary:

The beach was alive with “amblys” very hard to see against the stones, but always giving themselves away by continuous spitting. This they seemed to do for no particular cause, and usually in the opposite direction to us, but they could spit a good distance.


In French Polynesia, we learn more about Longfield’s entomological enterprises. On the island of Moorea, Longfield notes in her diaries her admiration for the dramatic landscape around Cook’s Bay and the striking profile of Mount Mou’aputa. She also hiked Mount Rotui on a collecting expedition:

…I climbed the slopes of Rotui for 1000 ft, on a collecting trip. I got 10 butterflies, Hypolinmnas Bolina, Euploea, Atella and a small Blue, also about 20 small moths. The mosquitoes were bad on this island.

Fig. 6. Cynthia holding an ‘ambly’ by its tail (RIA MS LRC/27). Fig. 7. ‘Moa Rua’ or Mount Mou’aputa (RIA MS LRC/27/70).

Sadly, Longfield’s diaries are discontinued shortly after these entries. However, from her photograph albums we do get a flavour of her experience of the final leg of the journey. She clearly took some delight in being pictured with the famous Easter Island statues, or Moai, before beginning the long journey home.

Fig. 8. ‘C.L and a statue’ on Easter Island (RIA MS LRC/27/74).

Mar cheiliúradh ar Sheachtain na Gaeilge, tá an-áthas ar Thaisclann Dhigiteach na hÉireann (DRI) bailiúchán uathúil Gaeilge a thabhairt chun suntais sa Taisclann – Tionscadal Gréasáin Cheirníní Doegen, a chuir Leabharlann Acadamh Ríoga na hÉireann i dtaisce in DRI le go ndéanfaí é a chaomhnú agus le go mbeadh fáil air go ceann i bhfad.

I mbailiúchán Thionscadal Gréasáin Cheirníní Doegen tá taifeadtaí fuaime ar chanúintí Gaeilge a rinneadh idir 1928 agus 1931 mar chuid de shuirbhé sistéamach ar chanúintí na Gaeilge. Fuair an bailiúchán a ainm ón bhfear a rinne na taifeadtaí thar ceann Rialtas na hÉireann, an Dr. Wilhelm Doegen (1877–1967), a bhí ina Stiúrthóir ar an Roinn Fuaime i Leabharlann Stáit na Prúise, Beirlín. I measc na dtaifeadtaí tá scéalta béaloidis, leaganacha de pharabal an Mhic Drabhlásaigh, amhráin (idir chanta agus labhartha), dioscúrsaí, paidreacha, agus míreanna foclóra ilghnéitheacha amhail aithris ar na huimhreacha ó 1 go 30 agus ar laethanta na seachtaine, iad go léir á rá ag cainteoirí dúchais Gaeilge ó 17 gcontae. Tá taifeadadh amháin i mBéarla sa bhailiúchán freisin – óráid le W.T. Cosgrave, a bhí ina Thaoiseach nuair a mhaoinigh Rialtas na hÉireann an scéim taifeadta. Tá tábhacht ar leith ag baint le Bailiúchán Doegen ó thaobh chanúineolaíocht na Gaeilge de toisc go bhfuil go leor de na canúintí áitiúla atá sna taifeadtaí marbh anois.

Cuireadh na buncheirníní i dtaisce i Leabharlann Acadamh Ríoga na hÉireann agus rinneadh iad a dhigitiú ina dhiaidh sin mar chuid de Thionscadal Gréasáin Cheirníní Doegen. Tá siad caomhnaithe ó shin i dTaisclann DRI agus ar fáil go leanúnach. Tá tras-scríbhinní ag gabháil leis na ceirníní sa bhailiúchán digiteach agus iad curtha i gcomhthéacs le tráchtaireacht ar mhaithe le taighdeoirí. Agus na cóipeanna digitithe de na buncheirníní ar fáil go hoscailte sa DRI, chinntigh Leabharlann Acadamh Ríoga na hÉireann gur féidir le teangeolaithe, béaloideasóirí, staraithe, oideachasóirí, agus aon duine ar spéis leis tuilleadh a fhoghlaim faoi oidhreacht agus faoi chultúr na hÉireann iad a aimsiú agus a athúsáid sa teanga dhúchais.

Tugann na ceirníní sa bhailiúchán luachmhar seo an t-éisteoir ar ais in am, rud a ligeann dó guthanna ón am atá thart a chloisteáil agus iad ag labhairt i gcanúintí a bheadh ​​caillte mura ndearnadh iad a thaifeadadh don chéad ghlúin eile. A bhuí le foilsiú na dtaifeadtaí seo i dTaisclann DRI, tá na ceirníní caomhnaithe anois le go mbeidh fáil orthu go ceann i bhfad, rud a chinnteoidh go mbeidh na glúnta atá le teacht in ann teacht orthu agus sult a bhaint astu.

Déan iniúchadh ar an mbailiúchán i dTaisclann DRI:

Is taisclann dhigiteach iontaofa í Taisclann Dhigiteach na hÉireann, a sholáthraíonn caomhnú fadtéarmach agus rochtain ar shonraí daonnachtaí, oidhreachta cultúrtha agus eolaíochtaí sóisialta na hÉireann.

In celebration of Seachtain na Gaeilge, the Digital Repository of Ireland (DRI) is delighted to highlight a unique Irish language collection in the Repository – Tionscadal Gréasáin Cheirníní Doegen (the Doegen Records Web Project), which was deposited in DRI by the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) Library for long-term preservation and access.

The Doegen Records Web Project collection contains Irish dialect sound recordings created during 1928–31 as part of a systemic Irish dialect survey. The collection takes its name from the man who carried out the recordings on behalf of the Irish government, Dr Wilhelm Doegen (1877–1967), who was Director of the Sound Department at the Prussian State Library, Berlin. The recordings include folktales, versions of the parable of the Prodigal Son, songs (both sung and spoken), discourses, prayers, and miscellaneous items of vocabulary such as recitations of the numbers 1 to 30 or the days of the week, all recited by native Irish speakers from 17 counties. The collection also includes one English language recording – a speech by W.T. Cosgrave, who was head of the Irish government that funded the recording scheme. The Doegen collection’s importance to the field of Irish dialectology is significant as many of the local dialects in the recordings are now extinct.

The original records were deposited in the Royal Irish Academy Library and were later digitised as part of the Doegen Records Web Project. They have since been preserved in the DRI Repository for sustained access. The recordings in the digital collection are accompanied by transcripts and contextualised by commentary for the benefit of researchers. In making the digitised copies of the original recordings openly accessible in the DRI, the RIA Library has ensured that they can be discovered and reused by linguists, folklorists, historians, educators, and anybody interested in learning more about Ireland’s heritage and culture through its language.

The recordings in this valuable collection transport the listener back in time, allowing them to hear voices from the past speaking in dialects that would have been lost if they had not been recorded for posterity. Thanks to the publication of these recordings in the DRI Repository, the recordings are now preserved for long-term access and will continue to be discovered and enjoyed by future generations.

Explore the collection in the DRI Repository:

The Digital Repository of Ireland is a certified trusted digital repository that provides long-term preservation and access to Ireland’s humanities, cultural heritage, and social sciences data.

Charles Haliday(link is external) (1789-1866)’s name is often uttered in the Library of the Royal Irish Academy. His extensive collection of pamphlets and tracts is one of the most frequently consulted resources in the Academy Library. As well as being an interesting historical figure in his own right, his family and their circle of friends were equally fascinating. A recent donation with a special inscription has shone a spotlight on this compelling set of characters.

Portrait of Charles Haliday
Fig. 1 Portrait of Charles Haliday, 1789-1866
Title page of Úraicecht na Gaedhilge. A grammar of the Gaelic language
Fig.2 Title page of Úraicecht na Gaedhilge. A grammar of the Gaelic language (1808), RIA D/745a

In November 2023, Eoin Bairead, a regular visitor to the Library and a volunteer contributor to Irish History Online, came across an inscribed copy of a 19th century Gaelic grammar at a book sale. Úraicecht na Gaedhilge. A grammar of the Gaelic language (1808) was published under the pen name “E O’C”, a pseudonym of Charles Haliday’s elder brother, William(link is external). The Haliday brothers (or Halliday, the spelling preferred by all but Charles) were raised in a household highly critical of Irish culture, but William demonstrated a passion for the language from youth. He completed the grammar at the age of 19, and fear of parental disapproval may explain why the work was published under a pseudonym. His closing remarks are a little morbid for so young a scholar, but we hope he would be edified to know the “black characters of the writing” did endure!

pages from book
Figs. 3 & 4 Concluding comments and verse, pp. 200-201, RIA D/745a]

This copy contains an inscription that draws another of the brothers into our story, namely, Daniel Halliday (1798–1836). Daniel studied medicine in Edinburgh before settling in Paris, where he made the acquaintance of several figures of significance, including the United Irishman, John Allen(link is external) (c.1780–1855), and memoirist and MP, Sir Jonah Barrington(link is external) (1756/7–1834). Another of his friends was the author of the inscription. It reads:

Irish Grammar, by the late learned William Halliday of Dublin Esq. – given me by that gentleman’s brother Doctor Halliday of Paris, my esteemed Friend, this 21st July 1826. H. de Montmorency.

Ink inscription on the title page
Fig. 5 Ink inscription on the title page verso of RIA D/745a]

It would appear the noble surname of de Montmorency is claimed here by Hervey Morres(link is external) (1767-1839). His energetic assertion that the Morres family were descended from a French aristocratic family was later exposed as fraudulent in the 1890s by John Horace Round in his article, “The Montmorency imposture”. However, Morres’s battle for a name of distinction is perhaps one of the least interesting aspects of his eccentric life.

Morres began his military career in the Austrian army at the age of 15, before returning to Ireland to join the United Irishmen. He was arrested for his involvement in the 1798 rebellion but was later released. He credited his liberation to Napoleon Bonaparte’s intervention and travelled to France to thank him. In 1811 he moved to France and joined the army. He likely supported Napoleon’s brief return to power in 1815, but later denied this.

Despite his questionable approach to genealogy, Morres displayed aptitude for the study of history, antiquities and literature. His interest may have extended to the Irish language, given that Daniel Halliday saw fit to gift William’s grammar to him. What we can say is that the affectionate inscription is evidence of the warm friendship between the two. We are delighted by this serendipitous acquisition, which has enhanced our knowledge of the Haliday family and their intriguing network of friends.

Further reading: “Hervey Morres and ‘the Montmorency imposture’”, History Ireland 28(2)

UCD Student Blog Series

The Library is delighted to announce the fourth and final post from our UCD Student Blog Series. This year the Library collaborated with students on the MA Archives and Records Management providing them with access to archival collections. The students worked on four collections: Charles Vallancey Papers (A050), Falkiner C. Litton Papers (A051), Ouzel Galley Collection (A052) and Charles Haliday Papers (A053). The students wrote blog posts about the fascinating material they came across and this blog was written by Roisin Costello. Rosin takes a glimpse into the archive collection of engineer, antiquarian and great enthusiast of the Irish language, Charles Vallancey (c.1725-1812) FRS, MRIA.


The early years of Charles Vallancey’s life are ambiguous, with no surviving records of his birth, family, or education. A number of historians have attempted to place him prior to his arrival in Ireland during the 1750s, with the most common consensus being that he was born in Flanders to a family of French Huguenot descent, educated at Eton College, and qualified as a ‘gentleman cadet’ at the Royal Military Academy of Woolwich in the early 1740s, specialising in engineering and surveyance. Soon after, in 1746, Vallancey joined the British Army Corps of Engineers and was later appointed as an extra engineer in Co. Cork, Ireland. He excelled in his career as an engineer, with some of his major feats including a military survey of the south and south-west coast of Ireland, the publication of a treatise on inland navigation, and the replication of Sir William Petty‘s (1623-1687) Down Survey, all culminating in his appointment as the ‘Chief Engineer of Ireland” around the turn of the 19th century. However, engineering appears to only have been one of his passions.

[Fig.1 – Charles Vallancey (c.1725-1812)]
[Fig. 2 – Sir William Petty (1623-1687)]

Vallancey’s Affinity for the Irish Language

An area that commonly sparks interest is the origin of Vallancey’s grá for Irish language. Alongside his engineering career, Vallancey published numerous works on the language, history, and antiquities of Ireland, Collectanea de rebus Hibernicis, Essay on the Antiquity of the Celtic Language, and A Vindication of the Ancient History of Ireland to name but a few. Much like his early years, little is known about when, where, why or how his career in researching the history of Ireland and the mother tongue of its inhabitants began. Some believe it was his time spent in Cork that initially spurred his fondness while others opt for a more enticing explanation, suggesting that his interest was rather a matter of necessity. Over the course of his life, Vallancey married four times, bearing nine children from his first marriage alone, one daughter from his second marriage, and a further two children from his fourth and final marriage. As the number of mouths to feed grew, it is possible that Vallancey turned to transcription, research, and publication as a means of increasing his income.

The Royal Irish Academy Library is privileged to house not only a collection of Vallancey’s essays and his personal set of seven annotated volumes of Collectanea de Rebus Hibernicis, but an archival collection of manuscript notebooks accumulated throughout his illustrious career too. Today we will be taking a closer look at sub-series AO50/4, and the notebooks relating to Vallancey’s interest in the astronomy of the ancient Irish.

[Fig. 3 Illustration of the Ram, Aries Zodiac Sign (RIA A050/4/2)]
[Fig. 4 – Illustration of the Constellations of the Zodiac, Ursa the Bear (RIA A050/4/2)]

Notebooks on the Astronomy of the Ancient Irish

Scattered with illustrations of the zodiac and its constellations, Vallancey’s notebooks on the astronomy of the ancient Irish are a marvel to behold! However, there is more to them than just their charming drawings. Vallancey carried out extensive research on Irish words and phrases to build a greater understanding of how knowledge of astronomy developed in Ireland. Although much of what he proclaimed has since been discredited, the notebooks continue to exist as a remarkable resource on astronomy as Gaeilge. The first item in this series (AO50/4/1), a bound notebook, contains a print copy of Vallancey’s essay contribution, titled “The Oriental Emigration of the Hibernian Druids proved from their Knowledge in Astronomy, collected with that of the Indians and Chaldeans from Fragments of Irish MSS”, to The Oriental Collections, published by William Ouseley (1771-1842) in 1798. Interestingly, the title of the original essay has been crossed out of this copy, and replaced with the updated title “Astronomy of the Ancient Irish”. Paired with the countless handwritten annotations and loose inserts throughout this notebook it is possible Vallancey was hoping to republish his work with a more general focus on the ancient Irish, not just Hibernian Druids.

[Fig. 5 Revised title ‘Astronomy of the Ancient Irish’ (RIA A050/4/1)]
[Fig. 6 Illustration with handwritten notes crossed out (RIA A050/4/1)]

It is in the two following handwritten notebooks in this series (A050/4/2 and A050/4/3) that Vallancey truly flaunts his Irish language knowledge. First tackling the zodiac and lessen planets, then the cardinal points, each notebook is further divided under a variety of subheadings such as the twelve signs, comets, galaxy, via lactea, and Irish rainbows. Vallancey lists Irish words and phrases, including geamana, portain, seach-realt, aithrid, neidhe, and duile, pairing them with English definitions and explanations, for example, rudrach is described as the destroying eclipse, or the name of the destroying deity of the Brahmins. The main aim of these texts appears to be to establish connections between the knowledge of astronomy of the ancient Irish with those living in distant lands, much like the topic of his 1798 essay contribution to The Oriental Collections.

[Fig. 7 and 8 Irish Words for an Eclipse (RIA A050/4/3)]

The notebooks are also of interest to those researching the history of typography, showcasing the use of two forms of the letter ‘s’. Both a long ‘s’ with an ‘f’ like nub, and a rounded ‘s’ can be found on the same small portion of text, a combination that was soon to fall out of fashion in the mid to late 19th century!

[Fig. 9 – Different uses of the letter ‘s’ form (RIA A050/4/1)]
[Fig. 10 and 11 – Letter ‘s’ forms can be seen in the words ‘smallest’ and ‘ros’.]

Additional Irish Language Material

Further examples of Vallancey’s grá for Irish history and the language of the island can be found throughout his collection, particularly in his series of manuscript transcriptions of Brehon Laws (A050/5) and handwritten notebooks on the ancient history of Ireland (A050/3). The Charles Vallancey Papers (RIA A050) is open to public access upon request.

For further information or access enquiries please contact

Since its inception in 2019, the Inks and Skins Project has benefited greatly from its core collaboration with the Royal Irish Academy Library. This collaboration was built on an earlier and still ongoing one between the Library and Irish Script on Screen (ISOS), which I co-founded in 1998 and directed until 2012. The collaboration with ISOS was, and continues to be, very fruitful; so too the present collaboration with Inks and Skins. Both projects are characterized by a shared sense of purpose and are informed by a collaborative spirit of enquiry.

[Fig. 1 – Inks and Skins Project members at work.]

Inks and Skins is funded by the Irish Research Council through an Advanced Laureate Award. The purpose is to investigate, using scientific methodologies combined with palaeography and codicology, the materiality of the vernacular Gaelic manuscript during the period 1000–1600 (the vellum period). The project focuses specifically on analysis of inks, pigments and parchment. In asking questions about the materials in these remarkable hand-made books, we hope to learn more about the working methods of the scribes and learned families of late-medieval Ireland.

The primary target of the project is the Book of Uí Mhaine (RIA MS D ii 1), a manuscript made for the Uí Cheallaigh (O’Kellys) of east Galway and south Roscommon towards the end of the 14th century. We have paid particular attention to the eight folios that comprise the 10th quire, as this is a section of the book that is complete in itself, where both scribe and patron are identified. It was written by Faelán Mac an Ghabhann na Scéal, of a distinguished north-Tipperary learned family, for Muircheartach Ó Ceallaigh, who was at the time Bishop of Clonfert, and who was elected Archbishop of Tuam in 1392. Faelán completes his work with a colophon in which he asks the Bishop not to lend the quire (caidirne) to his friend. This is a token of the esteem in which the scribe held his own work, which included not just writing and decorating the 16 pages, but also sourcing and carefully selecting the material that he wrote on them. That material comprises a mixture of traditional and biblical prose, verse and genealogies.

[Fig. 2 – Book of Ui Mhaine (RIA MS D ii 1) f.48r.] [Fig. 3 – Detail of the decorated initial on f.48r.]

On the opening page (f. 48r) of this quire Faelán signals the importance of his work with the largest and finest decorated initial in the whole manuscript, the initial A of ‘Adam’, with which – appropriately and deliberately – the opening text (‘Adam primus pater fuit’) begins. The mechanics of the writing of this page are instructive.

[Fig. 4 – Detail of where Faelán, the scribe, tested his pen on f.48r.]

Following ruling, and before either text or initial letter were attempted, Faelán tested his pen. He did this by inscribing a brief scribal prayer in the upper margin, outside of the text-grid. This prayer served the dual function of testing materials and invoking spiritual help for the project upon which he was about to embark. The invocation reads: ‘IN ainm dé. in tindscna so sís’ (‘In the name of God. this beginning below’).

The opening initial was then drawn in outline in ink, extending from the upper margin downwards for a length of 22 lines of the 58-line left-hand column. The text was then inserted, in the same ink, beginning with a single line of display-script, the writing accommodating itself to the outline of the opening initial at the points where it encroached on the text-space.

Following the writing of the text, colour was added to the opening initial and to the lesser initials and capitals throughout. Only two colours were used: red and yellow. These were first tested by creating a box around the pen-test/prayer at the top of the opening page: half the box is in red, half in yellow. Further pen-tests for ink and colour were made as the writing progressed.

The principal technology used to analyse the writing in the Book of Uí Mhaine comprised (a) Multi-Spectral Imaging, which provided 15 images, from ultra-violet to infra-red, of each of the surviving 314 pages, giving an important overview of the manuscript, and allowing for analytic procedures such as false colouring and principal component analysis; (b) X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) spectroscopy of the inks and pigments in order to identify the inorganic components of the materials; (c) Fiber Optic Reflectance spectroscopy (FORS) in order to identify the organic elements; (d) optical microscopy for close-up inspection and photography of ink and pigment patterns and degradation.

[Fig. 5 – Oak galls to make into iron gall-ink.][Fig. 6 – Vermillion pigment.][Fig. 7 – Orpiment pigment.]

Analysis of Faelán’s quire in the Book of Uí Mhaine showed an iron gall-ink in use throughout, as was the case with the entire manuscript. The pigments used in the colouring – exclusively red and yellow – are vermillion and orpiment respectively, two of the handful of staple pigments used in Gaelic manuscripts. Elsewhere in Uí Mhaine minium (red-lead) is also in evidence, but orpiment is unvarying for yellow. The binder was identified as egg-white.

To contextualize our study of the Book of Uí Mhaine, the project has analysed many other Gaelic manuscripts from the late-medieval period, as well as manuscripts from the early Church, municipal/administrative manuscripts, late-medieval monastic manuscripts, and English and Continental manuscripts of the same period. When complete, in combination with codicological and palaeographical details, the results should provide us with new insights into the workings of the Gaelic scribe/scholar, as well as with a panorama of scribal activity across different cultural situations. It is to be hoped that all of this will form a foundation for future research.

This year the Library collaborated with students on the MA Archives and Records Management providing them with access to archival collections. The students worked on four collections: Charles Vallancey Papers (A050), Falkiner C. Litton Papers (A051), Ouzel Galley Collection (A052) and Charles Haliday Papers (A053). The students wrote blog posts about the fascinating material they came across and this blog was written by Amy Mitchell.

‘Notes on the Origin and Early History of the Royal Zoological Society’ (RIA A051/3/3) is a seventeen-page typescript record documenting Caesar Litton Falkiner’s (1863-1908) research and findings about the early years of the Society.

This document was created in result of Falkiner conducting alternative research. Whilst Falkiner undertook an antiquarian investigation into the Phoenix Park, he was led to question how the Royal Zoological Society of Ireland (RZSI) found its home there. His aim was to find evidence that the RZSI was founded in 1830, as stated in their 1900 annual report. Apart from this date being affixed to the building near the zoological garden entrance, no evidence seemed to exist to verify this claim. Falkiner conducted research on the early years of the society to establish the zoological gardens claim and this research forms the basis of this record.

Fig. 1 – Caesar Litton Falkiner (1863-1908). Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Fig. 2 – Archway into Dublin Zoo. Image courtesy of William Murphy.

Not only does ‘Notes on the Origin and Early History of the Royal Zoological Society’ provide historical information about the early years of the RZSI and its first live and exotic inhabitants, but it also gives insight into recordkeeping practices in the early 19th century and provides context about how Falkiner carried out his investigative research.

Recordkeeping in the 19th century

Today, we know that the successful operation of organisations is dependent on the ability to create, keep and manage records and other kinds of information effectively. Academics argue that if recordkeeping systems are not robust its exposure to risk would be greatly enhanced.1 Falkiner’s notes clearly illustrate the failed recordkeeping practices of an Irish society in the 19th century.

In his research, Falkiner aimed to identify the reasons around the lack of recordkeeping during the Society’s early years and was thus provided access to the Society’s archives which were under the possession of the Honorary Secretary of the Society. During his visit to the archive, Falkiner found that the original records of the RZSI were extremely limited. The minutes of Council during the Society’s early years were confided to the custody of the officers, but these records were not transmitted with any regularity from one Honorary Secretary to another. In addition, published reports from 1833 onwards were not officially filed and there was no chronological reference to the Society’s official publications from this period. Any trace of a record’s existence was lost due to the lack of recordkeeping practice.

Fig. 3 – Daniel John Cunningham (1850-1909).Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Fig. 4 & 5 – The first and second page of Falkiner’s report (RIA A051/3/3 pp.1-2).

In his own words, Falkiner expressed that “the value of the old reports has become apparent only when they have ceased to be procurable”. At the time of Falkiner’s research, he believed that the failed recordkeeping practices by members of the RZSI led to a lack of foundation documents surviving. The most shocking revelation from Falkiner’s notes revealed that the survival of old reports relied on secretaries picking them out of old member’s waste baskets! Falkiner called this deplorable, but his investigation ultimately led to these lost records being handed into the custody of Dr Daniel John Cunningham (1850-1909), anatomist and Honorary Secretary of the RZSI.

Falkiner and the archives

Falkiner’s notes on the early years of the RZSI also provided a glimpse into the research practices of scholars at the turn of the 20th century. Falkiner attempted to find copies of lost reports by accessing the Haliday Pamphlet Collection at the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) Library and the Irish pamphlets collection at the National Library of Ireland. This reveals that primary research undertaken in archives have not altered in the past 120 years with these collections remaining available for users today.

Fig. 6 RIA Library reading room. Fig. 7 – Researchers in the National Library of Ireland. Image courtesy of National Library of Ireland.

Falkiner noted that there were still many gaps in these collections and even if all reports were obtainable, it threw little light on how the society was founded. There are clear gaps in the documentation available, an issue that persists today. This is a realistic observation and supports the view that records are often more valuable in providing context of the record’s creation rather than the content it contains. A record cannot always tell the full story. Falkiner concluded his research by noting that he could only use the collections available to him and it is on this basis, that his report was presented to the Council.

The Royal Zoological Society of Ireland

This record would be of great interest to anybody seeking historical knowledge about the Royal Zoological Society of Ireland, or as it is known today, the Zoological Society of Ireland (ZSI), who operate Dublin Zoo. Without Falkiner’s determination to investigate the Society’s early years, these lost reports may have never been retrieved from old Society members.

Falkiner’s findings are remarkable and provide an abundance of knowledge about the early years of the RZSI. The first report of the society in 1832 revealed the sources of the society’s collection were provided by King William IV, the London Zoological Society (ZSL), and from friends and members of the Royal Dublin Society (RDS). The report listed the zoological garden’s live and exotic inhabitants which included reptiles, birds, mammals, aquatic animals, and crustaceans.

Fig. 8 & 9 – A listing of the live and exotic collections in the zoological gardens at the time of Falkiner’s report.
(RIA A051/3/3 pp.8-9).

Falkiner’s findings also highlighted the extent of the ground occupied by the zoological gardens in 1832, noting that the ground was insufficient to provide necessary paddocks for larger animals. The report further discussed recommendations for acquiring more natural water sources and described plans for erecting buildings. A report dated the following year ending in May 1833 contained evidence of progress made, such as the construction of an ostrich and emu house.

Fig. 10
– Gatehouse of the Zoological Gardens, Phoenix Park. Image courtesy of Dublin Zoo.
Fig. 11 – Visitors at the camel house, late 1800s. Image courtesy of Dublin Zoo.
Fig. 12 – Roberts House was built in 1902 to house the Gardens lions. Image courtesy of Dublin Zoo.

A later report, dated 1838, noted that an attempt to move the zoological collection to the grounds of Monkstown Castle was made, but this transfer of location was not entertained. The results of Falkiner’s research will be of interest to anybody interested in studying the RZSI or the modern development of Phoenix Park.

This record represents only a small portion of what the RIA Library’s ‘Letters and Papers of C. Litton Falkiner’ collection can offer to researchers. Falkiner became a member of the Royal Irish Academy in 1896, providing him with the opportunity to further pursue his study of Irish history and literature. Falkiner’s research is extensive, and this collection comprises of his research notes and related correspondence. Topics of interest range widely from 17th century poets to Anglo-Irish politics to the modernisation of Dublin’s street names. The extent of his research and meticulous note taking can be seen in this collection and proves that we should continue to remember Falkiner as one of the most brilliant Irish historians of his time.


  • “Archives of the Zoological Society of Ireland” Irish Archives Resource, Last modified 2023.
  • Brown, Caroline. Archives and Recordkeeping: Theory into Practice, edited by Brown, Caroline. London: Facet Publishing, 2014.
  • “Dublin Zoo a Summary History” Dublin Zoo, Last modified 2023.
  • ‘Letters and Papers of C. Litton Falkiner’ RIA MS AO51. The Royal Irish Academy Library, Dublin, Ireland.
  • ‘Our History” National Library of Ireland, Last modified 2023.
  • 1 Brown, Caroline. Archives and Recordkeeping: Theory into Practice, edited by Brown, Caroline. London: Facet Publishing, 2014. 4.

This year the Library collaborated with students on the MA Archives and Records Management providing them with access to archival collections. The students worked on four collections: Charles Vallancey Papers (A050), Falkiner C. Litton Papers (A051), Ouzel Galley Collection (A052) and Charles Haliday Papers (A053). The students wrote blog posts about the fascinating material they came across and the first blog to feature in this series was written by Ben Callan.

As part of our ‘Recordkeeping in Practice’ module in UCD’s MA in Archives and Records Management, the class was given the chance to work on some of the Royal Irish Academy Library’s collections. Our group worked on the Charles Haliday Papers (RIA A053).

Charles Haliday, born c. 1789 in Dublin, was a historian and collector of books and antiquities. He was elected to be a member of the Royal Irish Academy in 1841 and was Vice-Chairman of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce. He is perhaps best remembered for his vast Irish pamphlet collection held by the RIA, which numbers around 35,000, the earliest dating to 1578.

Fig. 1 Portrait of Charles Haliday, 1789-1866 Fig. 2 Sir Edward Baker Littlehales, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland 1798-1801
and Under-Secretary at the Military Department, Dublin 1801-1819.

The papers we received, although highly interesting, gave the impression that they were scooped at random into a box from a shelf in Haliday’s office (perhaps indicative of Haliday’s collecting style), with material varying in language from Latin, French, Irish and English, and topics ranging from shipping, landed estates, genealogy, and Gaelic culture. Trying to understand any definite links between the various different categories and why they were in the same box, we soon discovered, was a hopeless endeavour. One series, however, had a definite shape to it. A series of correspondence, relating almost entirely to Yeomanry Corps in Ireland in the early nineteenth century, mostly addressed to Sir Edward Baker Littlehales. From 1801-1819, Littlehales was one of two permanent under-secretaries in the Chief Secretary’s Office which since 1777 had been divided into two departments, the civil and the military.[1] Littlehales was responsible for the military department and throughout the correspondence is often addressed by the impressive title ‘Secretary at War’.

Fig. 3 William Stuart, Archbishop of Armagh, 1755-1822. Fig 4 George III ‘Spade’ guinea, 1795.

One letter in particular caught my eye for the insight it provided into the political and economic situation in Ireland in the early nineteenth century. It is a copy of a letter addressed not to Littlehales, but the Lord Lieutenant at the time, Philip Yorke, 3rd Earl of Hardwicke. Dated 24 October 1803, it was sent by the head of the Established Church in Ireland William Stuart, Archbishop of Armagh. The topic of the letter centres on a serious issue facing Ireland at this time: one of currency. Stuart fundamentally disagrees with Hardwicke’s view that the linen trade and rent payments should be conducted with paper money. He reports to the Lord Lieutenant:

‘The linen traders were to meet at Armagh for the purpose of entering into an agreement to pay for linen in bank notes only, and to allow no discount. As the shopkeepers in the North of Ireland will not receive a Bank Note without discount the unhappy weaver must, by this arrangement, suffer a considerable loss’.

The ‘discount’ Stuart refers to is a result of the premium placed on coinage due to its rarity relative to paper money. Testimony given in the Bullion Committee Report of 1810 explains the peculiar situation:

‘In that part of Ireland in which guineas still circulate, two prices are put on every article offered for sale; and it is common to buy at the coin price, and pay in paper, when the buyer pays in addition what is called the discount, which however is the premium of guineas’.[2]

Paper money had already been circulating in Ireland in one form or another since the 17th century. Its use became more widespread in the late 18th and early 19th centuries due to restrictions placed on the economy by the English government and the constant outflow of investment funds to Britain by way of absentee landlords. As a result, there was an almost constant shortage of silver coinage in Ireland during this period, leading various merchants, businesses and private banks to issue ‘small notes’ (notes with a value of less than £5, issued in denominations of pence, shillings, guineas and pounds).

Fig. 5-6 Letter from Archbishop of Armagh to Lord Lieutenant regarding bank notes, 24 October 1803, pp 1-2 (RIA AO53/1/1/3/3)

Paper money became far more widespread after the passing of the Bank Restriction Act 1797, which suspended the discounting to face value of paper money to fuel England’s need for gold to finance its wars on the continent. This led to the depreciation of paper money due to the unrestricted issuing of notes by banks no longer needing to back them with gold, leading to an unfavourable exchange rate between Ireland and England and further draining Ireland’s coinage. Testimony from a House of Commons Select Committee on the ‘State of Ireland as to Circulating Paper, Specie and Current Coin’ explains:

‘The state of the exchange naturally caused the silver currency of Ireland, so long as it was degraded only in the same degree with the currency of England, to transfer itself to this country, where it would pass for the same sum as English silver money’.[3]

The problem became so bad that silver and gold coinage went almost entirely out of circulation, replaced by small notes, except in the north of the country. The Archbishop writes:

‘Should the views of the linen traders be accomplished, the North will be as bare of cash as the South of Ireland and in a week no gold will be seen’.

Fig. 7-8 Letter from Archbishop of Armagh to Lord Lieutenant regarding bank notes, 24 October 1803, pp.3-4 (RIA AO53/1/1/3/3)

The north of the country had managed to keep coinage in circulation mainly because relatively few private banks had been established there. The Archbishop expounds on this apparent abundance of cash in the north when discussing the payment of rent in paper money, which he claims landholders will not accept due to its ‘manifestly detrimental’ nature:

‘The payment of rent in cash has long universally pervaded in this country, has hitherto been attended with little inconvenience to the tenants, and so far from draining the North of specie, it has contributed to prevent the exportation of gold, for, while in the South not a guinea is to be seen, in this part of Ireland they are more abundant than in England’.

Stuart frames his argument as a means of avoiding disturbances that would ‘increase our embarrassments’ ‘at this awful moment’. Written just three months after the 1803 Rebellion, the Archbishop’s use of Robert Emmet’s failed insurrection in his argument underscores the shockwaves the event sent through Dublin Castle and the London establishment. The language highlights the growing realisation in the wake of the rising that, rather than finally solving the ‘Irish Question’, the 1800 Act of Union would deepen many of the issues associated with the governance of the island.[4]

Fig. 9 Depiction of the execution of Robert Emmet, 1803.

Stuart’s framing of the argument in this manner perhaps hides another motive for his rejection of paper money in the north of Ireland, as testimony contributed to the 1810 Bullion Committee reveals:

‘The quantity of gold in the north of Ireland has been much over- rated. I have known the agents of absentee proprietors supply a shop-keeper with a few guineas to sell to the tenants at a premium, on the day that their rents are payable, which on the rents being paid, were again given to the shop-keeper to resell; and this operation to the profit of the agents and the shop-keeper, and to the delusion of the public, has been repeated with the same guineas several times in one day. I have not heard of this trick anywhere but in the north, where it is supposed guineas circulate, and the agents pretend that their employers insist on being paid their rents in gold’.[5]

Stuart plays down any loss to him being paid with paper money for his extensive rental incomes as ‘inconsiderable’, but it is possible that he is preying on the Dublin Administration’s paranoia of further insurrection to profit on the premiums being paid on Irish coinage.

This fascinating letter and others like it, offering a glimpse into this tumultuous period for the English administration in Ireland in the early nineteenth century, is available for consultation in the Royal Irish Academy Library reading room.


Gilbart, James William, History of Banking in Ireland (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green & Longman, 1836), 35.

House of Commons Select Committee Report, ‘State of Ireland as to Circulating Paper, Specie and Current Coin, and Exchange between Ireland and Great Britain,’ 1804, p. 16.

‘Letter from Archbishop of Armagh to Lord Lieutenant regarding bank notes’, 24 October 1803, AO53/1/1/3/3, Royal Irish Academy.

Murtagh, Tim, “Edward Cooke and the Records of the Irish Chief Secretary’s Office,” Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland, 2022,

Whelan, Kevin, ‘Robert Emmet: between history and memory,’ History Ireland, 2003,

[1] Tim Murtagh, “Edward Cooke and the Records of the Irish Chief Secretary’s Office,” Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland, 2022,

[2] James William Gilbart, History of Banking in Ireland (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green & Longman, 1836), 35.

[3] House of Commons Select Committee Report, ‘State of Ireland as to Circulating Paper, Specie and Current Coin, and Exchange between Ireland and Great Britain,’ 1804, p. 16.

[4] Kevin Whelan, ‘Robert Emmet: between history and memory,’ History Ireland, 2003,

[5] James William Gilbart, History of Banking in Ireland (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green & Longman, 1836), 35.

Irish History Online (IHO) is a free to use bibliographic records database that lists works on Irish history published since the 1930s, with selected material published in earlier decades, up to the present day. It currently contains over 113,000 bibliographic records. It is hosted and managed by the Royal Academy Library and is compiled, edited and regularly updated by a team of voluntary editors and compilers.

Fig.1 Newly acquired publications to the Library.

The IHO includes descriptive bibliographic information on books and pamphlets, articles from journals published in Ireland or internationally, and chapters from books of essays, including Festschriften and conference proceedings. The information needed to create an IHO record is gathered from several sources by our compilers. While working onsite in the Royal Irish Academy Library, compilers have access to the Academy’s extensive library holdings. They also have access to all newly acquired publications and up to date journals subscribed to by the Library. Another greatly appreciated source for record details comes from the Legal Deposit departments at Trinity College Library and the National Library of Ireland. Both institutions supply the IHO with monthly lists of new acquisitions relating to Ireland. The team works through these lengthy lists adding the relevant bibliographical information to the IHO database.

Fig.2 Some of the many periodicals and journals the Library subscribes to.

The catalogue is not an exhaustive list of every known publication relating to Irish history. However, we are continuously striving to include as much accurate and relevant bibliographical information as we can, and we do this in the following ways. To help keep this process consistent and concise, we have created relevant online forms to enable authors, academics, historians and researchers to submit their own bibliographic information. There are four forms: Article in Book ; Article in Journal ; Publication Title: and Foreword, Preface Etc.

Fig.3 Start of the online form to submit an Article in Book to the IHO database.

Or if the list of various publications is quite substantial, the bibliographical information can be emailed to and the team will input this information into the database. As well as our volunteers, the IHO is delighted to take part in the SPUR – Summer Programme for Undergraduate Research funded by Maynooth University. This programme allows an undergraduate student to gain valuable, paid research experience in the Royal Irish Academy for 6 weeks over the summer break. The student will be based in the Library on Dawson Street for the duration of the programme.

Fig.4 Current number of IHO records stands at over 113,000!

At present, the IHO database is linked to the RIA Library management system. The Library will be upgrading their system this year to an open source cloud-based system, called Koha. Currently volunteers have to travel into the Library to access the IHO database, thereby restricting who can volunteer to those individuals with free time during the working week. With Koha, this will enable new and existing volunteers to input bibliographical information into the IHO database remotely.

Fig.5 IHO volunteers hard at work onsite inputting bibliographical information.

The new system will also allow the Library to ingest large amounts of bibliographic data that publishers provide to the IHO in a quicker and more efficient way. This will greatly increase the records within the IHO, making it a more robust online resource. However, before Koha is up and running, there needs to be work carried out on the existing IHO database records to make sure they are compliant to recognised international bibliographic standards and therefore easier for migration into the new system. It will be a lot of work to undertake in the coming months — but one that will hugely benefit users of the Irish History Online database in the long term.

So, watch this space!

By Meadhbh Murphy, Deputy Librarian