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21 May 2022

200 year old public records salvaged from fire to be conserved in major project

200 year old public records salvaged from fire to be conserved in major project

Two hundred year old documents salvaged from a fire at the Public Records Office in 1922 will see the light of day once again as part of a conservation project. 

Records at the Four Courts base were destroyed on June 20 1922 at the start of the Civil War, with over 25,000 sheets of paper and parchments retrieved from the fire's aftermath. 

These records, which date from the fourteenth to the nineteenth centuries, are known as the ‘1922 Salved Records’ and are now held at the PRO's successor, the National Archives of Ireland (NAI). 

Dublin Port Company will collaborate with the State to recover information from the Four Courts Fire by funding the conservation of records concerning Dublin Port. 

Chief Executive of Dublin Port, Eamonn O'Reilly, called their rich archive "an important and actively used resource" to tell te story of the port.

He said, "We are delighted now to be able to add to the additional archive materials related to Dublin Port which the National Archives holds by supporting the conservation of records recovered after the burning of the Four Courts a century ago.” 

With generous support from the company, records are now being restored by the conservation team at NAI. 

The documents all show some evidence of damage from the heat of the flames, as well as damp and rain from exposure to the weather following the fire. However, despite the damage, conservation will mean that documents not seen for 100 years can soon be consulted again by historians and members of the public. 

The papers are historically significant both as survivors of the destruction of 1922, and as fresh evidence for the historical development of Dublin Port. 

These papers create an incredible snapshot of the bustling life of the busy port with hundreds of people from around the country, from ports in Killybegs, Strangford and Youghal coming to collect salaries, pensions and trade in goods. They contain details on salaries and compensations, and many names of inspectors and collectors of customs taxes. 

They also provide accounts about wine, bounties on beef and pork, allowances on silk, detail repayments of taxes on fish, ash, salt, and linen. For example, over 50 documents relating to the Bounty Payments for Fish in the summer of 1817 give a fascinating insight, as they include information on the ship, listing crew members and detailing the size and type of catch. 

Following conservation, the documents dating from 1817–1818 will be available for research and suitable for digitization. 

Speaking today (Wednesday May 11), Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin, called the partnership "an important and significant one". 

She said, "The process of saving the recovered records from the fire at the Public Record Office in June 1922 is a flagship project under the Government’s Decade of Centenaries Programme led by my Department's Commemorations Unit. 

"The care that staff in the Public Record Office demonstrated over 100 years ago in their mission to save as many records as possible is now being continued by a highly skilled and committed team of archivists and conservators working together to uncover and reveal a snapshot of what life looked like at Dublin Port in 1922.” 

Director of the National Archives, Orlaith McBride, said, "The conservation of these records represents a significant contribution to the State’s key legacy project from the Decade of Centenaries. The National Archives as successor institution to Public Record Office has held these records, salvaged from the fire in 1922, in its care for almost 100 years and has now begun the process of conservation.

"This support from Dublin Port is invaluable in terms of allowing us to progress this work.”

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