Ancestor Searching Newsletter, Volume 3, # 9

The National Library of Ireland was established by the Dublin Science and Art Museum Act, 1877, which provided that the bulk of the collections in the possession of the Royal Dublin Society, should be vested in the then Department of Science and Art for the benefit of the public and of the Society, and for the purposes of the Act.

Opened in 1890 to house the collection of the Royal Dublin Society, this library contains a vast collection of books, manuscripts, records, photographs, maps and newspapers. If you’re lucky enough to go to Ireland and you want to trace your family tree, go to the Heraldic Museum in the Genealogical Office a few doors down from the National Library at Nos. 2 and 3 Kildare Street. The National Library of Ireland's holdings constitute the most comprehensive collection of Irish documentary material in the world and offer an invaluable representation of Ireland's history and heritage. The National Library collections comprise a number of formats including printed material, manuscripts (approximately one million items in its collections spanning nearly a thousand years), visual and digital material.

The library is a reference library and, as such, does not lend and any reading is done in the various reading rooms. It has a large quantity of Irish and Irish-related material which can be consulted without charge; again, this includes books, maps, manuscripts, music, newspapers, periodicals and photographs. Included in their collections is material issued by private as well as government publishers. Copying service is available to get photocopies, photographs, slides, or microfilm of most items in the collections. The Library also has an ongoing program of exhibitions. The National Library of Ireland is a cultural institution under the auspices of the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism. Its mission is to collect, preserve and make available books, manuscripts and illustrative material of Irish interest.

Users of the Library have a wide variety of interests. They can include those engaged in long-term research with a view to publishing a book or articles and those with a specific once-time need. The Library's Genealogy Service is designed to assist all of those who wish to research their family history in Ireland. For first time researchers the Genealogy Service is an ideal starting point, allowing them the opportunity to discuss their research with experienced genealogists and Library staff, ready access to important finding aids and useful information panels. More experienced family historians are also welcome to avail themselves of the Service as from time to time they may need assistance with on-going research. The Library does not offer a research service. It is possible to commission research and a list of researchers - private individuals and organizations - who have indicated a willingness to carry out family history research on a professional, fee-paying basis, and can be found on the National Library of Ireland's website Family History Research.

Roman Catholic Parish registers of most parishes up to 1880 are held on microfilm. A Parish Registers list is available as a PDF. Their collections also include Estate Records, Gaelic Manuscripts, and a guide to family history in the library. Excellent Catalogues of Photographs, and Prints and Drawings are available too, many items viewable online.

The Library's photographic collection is housed in the National Photographic Archive in Temple Bar, Dublin 2. Here, approximately 300,000 photographs are kept, both historical and contemporary, the vast majority of which were taken in Ireland. While most of the collections of historical, there are some contemporary collections. Subject matter ranges from topographical views to studio portraits and from political events to early tourist photographs.

The National Library has the largest newspaper collection in Ireland. The earliest newspaper in the National Library newspaper collection dates from 1660. Irish titles are the primary focus of the collection. The policy is to collect all newspapers published in Ireland and Northern Ireland, including free newspapers.

Of special interest to genealogists is the map collection. The Early Manuscript map group which includes a 12th-century map of Europe found in "Topographia Hiberniae" (the topography of Ireland); Estate and other 18th-century maps and, of course, Ordnance Survey Maps. These range from the 16th century to the 20th century. As a result of a project to place the maps in a new viewing format, the collection of Ordnance Survey maps are currently being withdrawn from public circulation.

The Chief Herald of Ireland (the State authority on heraldic matters) and National Photographic Archive are attached to the library. The library holds exhibitions and maintains an archive of Irish newspapers. It is also ISSN National Centre for Ireland.

A Readers Ticket is necessary to access all collections in the Library, with the exception of the Newspaper Section, which offers a one-day pass. Application for a Readers Ticket can be made at the Ticket Office, located in the main library. Identification and two passport-sized photographs are required. To order copies of library material, send details of the particular piece, along with contact details, to copy-orders [at] nli [dot] ie. An invoice will be sent within 10 working days. On receipt of payment, the chosen material(s) will be copied.

Genealogy Workshop

Fact: For anyone just beginning their research in Ireland, the National Library's downloadable file Family History - Getting Started  online brochure is an excellent starting point for available information on Ireland research.

Tip: Digital images of some of the collection's Gaelic manuscripts can be accessed online on the ISOS (Irish Script on Screen) site.