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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

The Royal Irish Academy acquired the Robert Lloyd Praeger (1865-1953) collection in 1952. Upon intake, the collection had been split into various trunks, which contained hundreds of items relating to the natural sciences—including papers, pamphlets, and photographs. The bulk of the photographs found in the collection are glass plate negatives and prints, many of which were produced by Irish photographer Robert John Welch (1859-1936). Praeger and Welch were avid collectors, and both were active in Ireland’s naturalist circles. Praeger himself had joined the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club (BNFC) at the young age of eleven, and later joined the Dublin Naturalists’ Field Club (DNFC) in 1893.

Fig.1 Portrait of Robert Lloyd Praeger, MRIA
photographed by A.R. Hogg (RIA Photo Series 20/Box 2)

Fig.2 Portrait of Robert John Welch, around 1890
(Irish Naturalists’ Journal, obituary notice for R.J. Welch, vi:6 Nov. 1936)

The field clubs attracted both amateurs and professionals who had an interest in the fields of botany, zoology, geology, and archaeology. As many of Praeger and Welch’s photographs make clear, members frequently attended expeditions throughout Ireland to study, observe and collect ‘specimens’. The specimens—as well as the photographs of them—would later be shared with others during meetings.

Fig.3 The way some Irish Naturalists studied nature,” Belfast and Dublin Naturalist Field Clubs taking tea at Slieve Glah, Cavan, July 1896.
R. L. Praeger is standing to the left of the table Photographed by Robert John Welch (RIA Photo Series 18/Box 7)

Alongside Welch, other well-known photographers from Ireland—including Alexander Robert Hogg (1870-1939) and William Alfred Green (1870-1958)—played an important role within these naturalist circles. The photographs made during expeditions reflect various areas of the natural sciences: expansive landscapes, colonies of seabirds, or fragments of corals and seaweed. Photographs of materials found across Ireland serve as proof of the discovery of new species of wildflowers, of molluscs and other curiosities. The images helped others understand the geology, flora and fauna of the island.

Fig.4 “On the Limestone Terraces of the Burren, Co. Clare” photographed by Robert John Welch.

History of the Lantern Slide

During field club meetings, a lanternist would project photographic images produced from expeditions onto a screen so members could observe the images in detail and discuss them. The photographs that were being projected were called lantern slides; projected through a magic (or optical) lantern.

Fig.5 Lantern slide projector at the Royal Irish Academy Library

The earliest known lantern shows can be traced back to approximately 1720, but it was between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when projection had become exceedingly popular in the field of entertainment. Lantern slides would later become integral for education and research. When used for entertainment, a lantern show would usually consist of an audience seated in complete darkness; a narrator guiding people through an engrossing story while a projectionist flipped the slides. When the lantern slide industry began to shift away from entertainment and towards education, slides were produced in large quantities by manufacturers across Europe and North America and were distributed globally.

Lantern slides were commonly used in the fields of natural history and sciences because they allowed for the sharing of images of specimens and scientific findings with large audiences. For example, a lecturer could share an image of a specimen which had been photographed microscopically: such as details of a tendril, the comb fragments of a beehive, or the intricate patterns found on the wings of a butterfly. They were also popularly used within the field of medicine.

Fig.6 & 7 Two handmade lantern slides. The image of the nest has been hand-painted. The image on the right has a skewed appearance,
which suggests this is a handmade (rather than a commercially produced) slide.

What is a Lantern Slide?

There are two standard sizes of lantern slides: 8.3 x 8.3 cm (European format) and 10.16 x 8.25 cm (American format). The image on the slide might have been produced by one of several historic photographic processes (such as collodion, albumen, or silver gelatin). The photographic image is covered with an identical sized piece of glass, which is held in place by four strips of gummed tape around the support. Another identifying feature of lantern slides is a decorative or rounded border framing the image, featuring a descriptive text which explains the content of the image.

In collections today, one is likely to find slides produced by any number of different commercial manufacturers. However, it is worth noting that many photographers chose to produce their own slides. These can usually be distinguished from commercially made slides by observing handwritten captions on their exterior; or hand-coloured sections of the images themselves.

Fig.8 & 9 A lantern slide with an image produced by R. J. Welch. The image is of Spiranthes romanzoffiana, or ‘Irish Lady’s Tresses’. The handwritten inscription suggests that the slide was handmade. Note the same image on the right,
which was produced with a flat-bed scanner and was processed as a photographic positive. The image shows the detail of the original photograph and gives us a sense of what it may have been like to observe this image while it was being projected.

The Praeger Collection & Issues in Collections

The Praeger collection held by the RIA Library contains glass plate negatives, photographic prints and several hundred lantern slides which are currently being transferred from original small wooden carrying cases to archival-grade boxes and enclosures. The slides have not yet been catalogued or digitised which means that there are many items from Praeger’s invaluable collection which have not yet been seen or been made accessible to staff and researchers.

Fig.10 An example of a set of Praeger’s lantern slides which were originally stored in a small wooden carrying case.

Since the original photographic image is covered in a piece of support glass which is tightly fastened with tape, it is common for people to believe that lantern slides are stable. They were, after all, made for the sake of being projected; for being handled by lecturers while they quickly flip through slides during presentations. Glass is also understood to be longer-lasting than paper, so other photographs found on glass supports are—like lantern slides—often not prioritised for preservation. Despite the stability (or inherent durability) of lantern slides, both their glass supports and the images on them are at risk of degradation.

Unfortunately, these important photographic resources remain inaccessible within many collecting institutions—which is currently the case with items from the Praeger Collection. Lantern slide collections are important to tend to as they are integral to understanding the history of photography and nature of photographic reproductions, and of the growing use of photography for commercial ventures. They are important historical and educational resources which tell us the stories of how knowledge was transmitted and shared. In the case of Praeger’s collection, the images offer us the opportunity to learn about the history of the natural sciences, and more generally – the history of Ireland.

Moving Forward

Over the next year the lantern slides will be rehoused, digitised, and catalogued in hopes of making images from Praeger’s collection more accessible. The process requires research, resources for housing materials, and quite a bit of patience, but the rewards will be gratifying. Please keep an eye on our website and social media channels (@Library_RIA on Twitter or @rialibrary on Instagram) for updates on this project.

By Rebecca Cairns, Library Assistant, Royal Irish Academy

The Royal Irish Academy Library has been a key supporter of the Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland (VRTI) since the research began to take shape, as Beyond 2022, in 2019. From the early support and guidance of former RIA Librarian Siobhán Fitzpatrick to the enthusiastic collaboration with the current Librarian, Barbara McCormack, it has been an exciting and productive partnership. The VRTI aims to make a virtual home for replacements and surrogates for the public records of Ireland destroyed in the explosion and fire at the Public Record Office of Ireland (PROI) in 1922.

Fig.1 People standing watching the Four Courts on fire, June 1922 (RIA C/24/5/A McWeeney Collection)

Given the vast range of such replacements at the RIA, the work program agreed between Beyond 2022 and the RIA settled on digitising major collections of the work of the former Irish Record Commission held at the RIA. The Irish Record Commission was established in 1810, under the direction of William Shaw Mason (MRIA), and charged with evaluating the state and extent of the public records of Ireland. The commissioners’ intention was to publish transcripts or calendars of the most historically significant parts of the collection as printed source material for scholars. Much of the commissioners’ work, including the recommendation to build a new public record office, was unrealised, but they created a detailed survey of the records and transcripts, and created calendars for much of the most important material.

For various reasons, only a very small proportion of what was a huge transcription project was ever published, but their manuscript copies survive, amounting to some 250,000 pages of handwritten text. Although the bulk of the Irish Record Commissioners’ output is preserved at the National Archives of Ireland, large parts of the original collections were dispersed to other repositories. Three key sets of Irish Records Commission manuscripts are at the RIA: their transcripts of early modern Kings letters, Charters and Grants to Irish towns and boroughs; the calendars of inquisitions post-mortem in the Ordnance Survey of Ireland collection and the Ferguson Collection of extracts from ancient records, remembrance rolls and charters.[1] So far, the town charters and inquisitions post-mortem have been digitised and are available to search and view in the VRTI.[2] This newly digitised resource was drawn from 38 manuscript volumes running to 4,700 pages. Every entry in the calendars has its own title and the handwritten text is fully searchable.

The true identity of the ‘Ordnance Survey Inquisitions’

The ‘Ordnance Survey Inquisitions’ (RIA OS EI), calendars of inquisitions post-mortem, are part of the Ordnance Survey of Ireland collection at the RIA. These inquisitions, some 25 bound volumes within a larger collection, arrived at the Academy in 1861, bearing the simple label ‘Presented to the Royal Irish Academy by authority of the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for War’. The ‘Ordnance Survey Inquisitions’ are drafts for calendars that were intended for eventual publication, prepared by the Irish Record Commission between years 1816-1819. Most of the drafts are unsigned, but those that are have all been signed by sub-commissioners of the Irish Record Commission, John Fowler, James Hardiman, Thomas Litton, Francis John Nash and Oliver Anselm Tibeado.

Fig.2 The bookplate of OS EI 32, a continuation of the
commonplace books of the calendar of inquisitions for county Galway.

An inquisition post-mortem was held following the death of a landowner. Under the feudal system, all land was ultimately owned by the monarch and all ‘landowners’ were in fact tenants of the crown, either directly or indirectly. A person who had a direct lease from the crown was known as a ‘tenant in chief’, and this lease was normally confirmed by letters patent to this effect. The tenant in chief could then sub-let as they pleased. Many leases were only for the life of the lessee, and when they died the lands were returned to, or ‘escheated’, back to the king. If there was an heir, a ‘livery of seisin’, or payment, had to take place before the heir could take up possession again. The inquisition post-mortem was a local inquiry, performed by an escheator appointed by the crown, to determine the facts of the landowner’s death, identify their heir(s) and to determine the extent and value of the escheated land. The inquisitions can therefore hold a treasure trove of information about lands, tenants and families.

Fig.3 OS EI 9, p. 6. Inquisition number 2 for County Clare,
taken at Ennis on 26 July 1578 by Edward White.

The completed inquisitions were normally returned to the Chancery, and a copy was also sent to the Exchequer. The collections of Irish inquisitions post-mortem, and inquisitions on attainder, commenced during the reign of Henry VIII and continued until the end of the reign of William III. They were kept in the Bermingham Tower, Dublin Castle.[3] An additional set of sixteenth-century inquisitions concerning the properties of dissolved monasteries were stored at the Chief Remembrancer’s Office.[4] Both collections were transferred to the PROI at the Four Courts in the late nineteenth century. In England the practice of taking an inquisition post-mortem was suspended under the Commonwealth of the 1650s, and abolished altogether by Charles II. However, the tradition continued in Ireland until the early eighteenth century where far more land was held directly by the crown as various land confiscation schemes were settled.

Two volumes of a calendar of the inquisitions, one each for the provinces of Ulster and Leinster, were published under the title Inquisitionum in Officio Rotulorum Cancellariae Hiberniae aservatarum Repertorium. A portion of an intended third volume for the province of Munster was prepared for print, but the project was incomplete when the Irish Record Commission was dissolved in 1830. Given the destructions of the original inquisitions in 1922, it is fortunate that the quality of the calendars is exceptionally high. The Irish Record Commissioners included far more detail than their counterparts in England, recording, for example, the ages of the heirs and the names of the jurors.[5] The original transcriptions and calendars made by the Irish Record Commissioners of the inquisitions for Ulster and Leinster are preserved in 31 bound volumes at the National Archives of Ireland.[6] The remainder, the unpublished calendars for Connacht and Munster, were believed to be lost but have, in fact, survived in the Ordnance Survey of Ireland collection at the RIA.

Fig.4 and 5 Irish Record Commission calendars recovered from the RIA Ordnance Survey Inquisitions for County Cork (Munster) and Galway (Connacht)

The Irish Record Commission manuscripts

The dissolution of the Irish Record Commissioners was a highly disorderly affair, with some work incomplete, some unpaid and recriminations all round. Sir William Betham, the Ulster King of Arms and one of the architects of this dissolution, found himself in possession of the keys to the Bermingham Tower record office in 1830 and the work of the IRC that remained in the building. Betham assumed onto himself the propriety of these transcripts and calendars, copying some and retaining others as his own genealogical business required. Sir Thomas Larcom took charge of the Ordnance Survey of Ireland in 1828. In addition to performing the first large scale survey of Ireland since the Down Survey of the 1650s he intended to produce a set of companion volumes to the maps, a series of county memoirs that were to be a definitive history of each county.

Fig.6 Portrait of Sir Thomas Aiskew Larcom (1801–79)
wearing his military uniform, by Sir Leslie Ward dated 1888.

As was the case with the Irish Record Commission’s publications, the Ordnance Survey Memoir of Ireland would also run aground; ultimately only one volume was published, for Templemore Parish in county Derry.[7] In order to have the resources to hand to research the county memoirs, Larcom approached Betham with a view to purchasing some manuscripts relevant to this research.[8] At this point, the Irish Record Commissioners’ manuscripts comprised a series of commonplace books, used for transcription and gathered together as each portion of the work was completed. Larcom had the loose commonplace books properly bound and these were, from the outside, indistinguishable from the remainder of the material gathered by Larcom, George Petrie and John O’Donovan for the Memoirs series.[9]

Fig.7 OS EI 88, p. 61. A rare example of a full list of local jurors assembled to assist the escheator in his inquisition.
The lands in question are in the Barony of Tinnahinch, County Laois, near Mountmellick.

The inquisitions thus became part of the ‘Ordnance Survey Topographical Collection’. In 1858 an antiquarian, the Reverend John O’Hanlon, prepared a summary list of the contents of each of the bound volumes but without realising their provenance as this information had been removed. By then, the Ordnance Survey was solely devoted to mapping and no longer in the business of publishing books. Also, Thomas Larcom had taken control of the records in the Bermingham Tower. He listed the Record Commissioners’ manuscripts in his custody in a report to the House of Commons in 1866.[10] This report embodied ‘all of the information I possess on the manuscripts in my charge’, and the murky early-career transactions of now Major General Sir Thomas Larcom were best forgotten. In light of the importance of the Ordnance Survey collections to historians, Larcom had already arranged for the entire library to be transferred to the Royal Irish Academy to make it more accessible.[11]

However, not all traces of the Irish Manuscripts Commissioners had been excised from the bound volumes. Occasional unnumbered sheets are bound in with the inquisitions that are tallies of the number of pages transcribed and initialled. These were the evidence recorded by the transcribers of the amount of work done and were used to calculate their pay. These initials tally with the individuals identified as having worked on the original project in the early nineteenth century, and with their respective offices.[12] John Fowler of the Rolls Office is prominent throughout the collection and was responsible for collation and the more general progress of the work.[13] Thomas Litton performed a similar role at the Chief Remembrancer’s Office.[14] Other Record Commissioners whose names appear on these tally sheets include John Conroy, Edward Groves, Francis Nash, Theobald O’Flaherty and Edward Tresham. Occasionally, the tally sheets are also dated, leaving no doubt as to their provenance. One, for example, was signed and dated January 1818 by Oliver Anselm Tibeaudo, a sub-commissioner at the Rolls Office when the work was at its most intense.

Fig.8 and 9 Tally page from OS EI 18, p.168 collated and indexed in OS EI 17 by John Fowler for Co. Cork

Machine transcription

The identification of this ‘lost’ treasure permits not only a re-assessment of the valuable work of the Irish Record Commissioners, but also the opportunity to complete a highly valuable project abandoned almost two centuries ago. At an early stage in the Beyond 2022 project, it became apparent that there was no point in amassing thousands of digital images unless the content was searchable. The collections are just too large to expect users to page through all of the pictures in the hope of finding the information they are looking for. At Beyond 2022, we began to experiment seriously with Transkribus.

Fig.10 screen grab from the Beyond 2022 project’s image processing account showing the
automatic transcription of a 17th century document from the Library Company of Philadelphia.

Transkribus is a machine learning platform that allows the computer to infer, from the ‘ground truth’ of pre-prepared perfect transcription, likely matches of words or letters, even if the computer has never seen that style of handwriting before. The ground truth is converted by the Transkribus algorithms into mathematical models based on the geometry of the letters and the shapes of the words. When the computer comes across a new letter in a new document, it compares all the words and letters in its memory and suggests the most likely match. The computer cannot ‘think’ as such, but it also cannot forget and this is where machine learning is such a powerful technology. The result is a truly remarkable resource with 4,700 pages of manuscripts from two of the RIA’s collections of Irish Record Commission calendars searchable for the first time. The handwriting models have also been applied to digital images of thousands of further pages from Irish Record Commission calendars drawn from archives around the world that will eventually enable the full reconstruction of this incredible resource.

By Dr David Brown, Senior Researcher|Archival Discovery Lead, VRTI


1. The town charters are located at 24 Q 7-18; the Ferguson extracts are part of the Haliday collection, 12 G 1-6; the volumes of inquisitions post mortem are RIA OS EI 9-11, 18-23, 31-4, 49, 50, 54, 62-4, 69-71, 74-7 and 88.

2. The town charters are available to browse in the Virtual Treasury of Ireland from here: The inquisitions can be browsed from here: In both cases, click on the ‘Next’ button on the far right of the screen opposite the item title, to open the first volume of the series.

3. Reports from the Commissioners of the Public Records of Ireland, II, (Dublin, 1812), p. 432.

4. Charles Cooper, An Account of the Most Important Public Records of Great Britain and the publications of the Record Commissioners…, I, (London, 1832), p. 341.

5. Charles Purton Cooper, An Account of the Most Important Public Records of Great Britain and the Publications of the Record Commissioners…, (London, 1832), p. 315.

6. National Archives of Ireland, RC5/1-31.

7. Thomas Colby, Ordnance Survey Memoir of County Londonderry, (Dublin, 1837). The prepared and abandoned text for much of Ulster was eventually published in 40 volumes by the Institute for Irish Studies at Queen’s University, Belfast, in the 1990s.

8. National Library of Ireland, Larcom MSs 7,553.

9. Rev. John O’Hanlon, ‘The Records of the Ordnance Survey of Ireland’, The Journal of the Kilkenny and South-East of Ireland Archaeological Society, 3 (1858), p. 97n.

10. Record Commission (Ireland), ‘RETURN “of all Manuscripts, Historical or Legal, edited and prepared, or partially prepared, for Publication by the Irish Record Commissioners, or any other Persons employed by the Government for that purpose”…’, (London, 1866).

11. Royal Irish Academy, OS EI 9-11, 18-23, 31-34, 38, 49, 50, 54, 62-64, 69-71, 75-77, 88.

12. For these individuals see Margaret Griffith, ‘The Irish Record Commission, 1810-30’, Irish Historical Studies, 7, No. 25 (March, 1950), pp 37-38.

13. RIA OS EI 19, p. 3.

14. RIA OS EI 9, p. 3.

As the year draws to a close and the most recent in a long line of Royal Irish Academy Library lecture series — ‘Sisters’, a celebration of sisterhood and specifically of the lives and achievements of families of sisters who made a difference [i] — comes to an end, it presents an opportunity to review the past 22 years of this outreach activity.

Fig.1 Sisters II lecture series poster (2022)

When the Academy Library embarked on a new venture in 2000 — the development of a lecture programme with the Linen Hall Library, Belfast [ii] — the move was seen as rather unusual — ‘Why would the Library organise lecture series?’, ‘at lunchtime?’. But the initiative proved successful, increasing the reach of both libraries by delivering parallel lectures in Dublin and Belfast on alternate weeks. It also led to a long term commitment by the Academy Library to this form of public-service offering.

Fig.2 Announcement for the inaugural series of lunchtime lectures (2000)

Hitherto, the Library had been a mecca for scholars from home and abroad, as well as local historians, archaeologists, third-level students and others who valued the ease with which they could access myriad resources in a central, but quiet space.

Fig.3 Royal Irish Academy Library reading room

However, there was a concern to make the collections more accessible by reaching beyond the regular reader cohort, increasing engagement with different sections of the public, exposing them to the various collections in innovative ways. From a healthy start the lecture series really took off, looked forward to by a regular and growing band of supporters thirsty for new knowledge. The concept of lifelong learning was being mainstreamed and many new retirees flocked to the diverse series on offer.

Fig.4 A life of protest: Jonathan Swift exhibition and lecture series poster (2017)

Series were planned around selected themes, often focussing on important national centenaries or anniversaries, extending to literary characters! In 2004 for example, we celebrated the centenary of the fictitious Leopold Bloom’s renowned peregrinations in Dublin on 16 June 1904: a series on the city featured amongst other speakers, journalist Fintan O’Toole and Dublin architect and song collector, Frank Harte (1933-2005), who enthralled a packed house with his explanations and renditions of Dublin ballads.

Fig.5 Folio 218v from the Annals of the Four Masters (RIA MS C iii 3 folio)

Similarly, in 2007 the 400th anniversary of the Franciscan college at Louvain drew significant audiences to two series: ‘Ireland and Europe in the 17th century: poets, priests and patrons’ and ‘Irish scholarship at St Anthony’s College, Louvain’; these talks were complemented by an exhibition exploring the influence of the continental Franciscans on the development of Irish-language printing and their critical role for Irish historiography in the compilation of the annals of Ireland to 1616, known to every Irish person as ‘The Annals of the Four Masters’ (the Library’s manuscript set was displayed).

Fig.6 Discovering Thomas Moore lecture series and exhibition image (2019/2020)

Fig.7 Title page of Moore’s Irish Melodies (MR/17/B/29)

Lecture series provided not only opportunities to highlight the collections and to showcase current scholarship, but they also enabled collaborations with institutions throughout Ireland, including TU Dublin (then Dublin Institute of Technology) in 2008 and Queen’s University Belfast (2019) for series commemorating Bard of Ireland, Thomas Moore of the eponymous Moore’s Melodies. Moore’s personal library was donated to the Academy in 1855. Other major collections presented ready themes for exploration and collaboration, for example:

  • The important pamphlet collections — ‘From Cromwell to Cholera: a history of Ireland from the pamphlet collection of Charles Haliday’ (2012);
  • ‘Aon amharc ar Éirinn: Gaelic families and their manuscripts’ (2013);

Fig.8 (left) From Cromwell to cholera lecture series poster (2012)
Fig.9 (right) Aon amharc ar Éirinn lecture series poster (2013)

  • ‘Mapping city, town and country since 1824: the Ordnance Survey in Ireland’ (2014) — celebrating the Library’s major OS collections, organised in collaboration with the OS and the Irish Historic Towns Atlas, this was a hugely popular series;
  • Early Irish medical manuscripts — ‘Gaelic medical learning and its cultural afterlife’ (2015);
  • ‘1815;1915: Centenaries and bicentenaries: Celticists, lexicographers and antiquarian scholars’ (2015)

Fig.10 (left) Mapping city, town and country since 1824 lecture series poster (2014)
Fig.11 (right) 1815;1915: Centenaries and bicentenaries (2015)

Fig.12 Gaelic medical learning and its cultural afterlife lecture series poster (2015)

One event — the Battle of Clontarf — for which most of the Academy’s documentary evidence is to be found in mainly 18th and 19th-century accounts, resonated hugely with the public and was supported by the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Ireland — ‘1014’.

Fig.13 1014 lecture series poster (2014)

Over time, the scale and delivery of this outreach developed too and involved contributions from every Library staff member. Posters were professionally designed, [iii] some accompanying exhibitions also offered sponsored publications, and eventually most lectures were recorded as resources for the interest of virtual users. Above all, the lectures connected the Library with a broader public, enhancing the Academy’s offerings and supporting a public service ethos. Thanks to the support of many contributors over the years quality lectures have been freely delivered to lunchtime audiences.

Long may they continue!

By Siobhán Fitzpatrick

Listen back to lunchtime lectures and view the digital exhibitions!

[i] The lecture series, begun in 2019 and interrupted in 2020, was completed on 9 November 2022. Originally scheduled as a 5-lecture series, due to popular demand a second series was organized for 2020 but for obvious reasons this had to be curtailed, eventually recommencing this year. Nine families of sisters have been explored in the Academy’s Sisters: nine families of sisters who made a difference (Dublin, 2022), ISBN: 9781911479833

[ii] With the support of Dr John Gray, then Librarian of the Linen Hall Library, the late Dr John Killen (d. 2022) then his Deputy, approached the Academy Library re a collaboration. John Killen later served as Linen Hall Librarian 2008–15.

[iii] Mostly by Academy Publication Department’s designer Fidelma Slattery.