Beyond 2022 project to digitally recreate building and contents of Public Record Office of Ireland - video and report


08 February 2018
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The contents and building of the Public Record of Office which were destroyed by fire in 1922 are to be digitally recreated to allow people to virtually walk through the building and explore its records.

The contents and building of the Public Record of Office which were destroyed by fire in 1922 are to be digitally recreated to allow people to virtually walk through the building and explore its records.

The ground-breaking project has been announced by Trinity College Dublin today and promises to transform how we understand Ireland's past, through millions of recovered historical and genealogical facts.

The devastating fire

When Dublin’s Four Courts went up in flames on June 30th, 1922, seven centuries of Ireland’s historical and genealogical records, stored in a magnificent six-storey Victorian archive building known as the Record Treasury, were lost. In one afternoon, hundreds of thousands of English government records concerning Ireland, dating back to the 13th century, were destroyed—seemingly forever.

As well as documenting the growth of the state in Ireland across many centuries the archive’s collections touched on almost every aspect of life in Ireland, including births, marriages and deaths, wills, maps, parish registers and town records from across the island. For generations, the loss of these precious historical documents has hampered the study of Ireland’s past, limiting our understanding of family, local and national history as well as Ireland's connected history with the wider world.

Re-connecting with the past

New technology, historical research and careful archival practice mean that these losses are not irrecoverable. Today historians and computer scientists at Trinity have unveiled plans to bring Ireland's Public Record Office back to life by creating a 3D virtual reality reconstruction of the destroyed building and refilling its shelves with fully-searchable surviving documents and copies of the lost records, which have been identified by the team in archives and libraries around the world.

The project will bring millions of lost historical and genealogical facts to a global audience and will allow historical research to reach back four centuries earlier than most currently available genealogical resources.

The project is a collaboration with Trinity’s four archival partners: The National Archives of Ireland, The National Archives (UK), The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland  and The Irish Manuscripts Commission. The project is funded by the Irish Research Council.

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Explore Beyond 2022

The completed project will be made available on the centenary of the Four Courts blaze in 2022. A project website was launched today, which demonstrates the scope of the project and technology involved. This includes an animation of the 3D model being developed which allows the public to experience the magnificent Victorian archive as it was on the eve of its destruction.

In December 2018, this website will be enhanced to make the full catalogue of the record treasury available to the public for the first time since 1922. At the launch event today, a virtual reality showcase was demonstrated, which allowed users have a fully immersive, three-dimensional experience of moving through the destroyed building, using VR headsets.

Watch the video

Through detailed historical detective work, the project team is working to recover the information contained in the destroyed archive by identifying and digitising surviving or substitute materials held by archives and libraries around the world. These materials include records that survived the blaze, records that were damaged but not completely destroyed, duplicates of original records now held in partner archives, as well as facsimile images, antiquarian transcripts and summaries of the records made before 1922.

 Ireland's Virtual Record Treasury will comprise:

  • A virtual reality reconstruction of the destroyed Public Record Office of Ireland. This will be built from original architectural plans and photographic evidence, and will capture the scale and dimensions of the spectacular six-storey Victorian archive with its iconic arcade of 30-ft tall windows, its expansive glass ceiling and intricate ornamental ironwork. Users will be able to enter the archive, browse its virtual shelves and link to substitute or surviving records held by archives and libraries around the world
  • A complete inventory of survival and loss of the 1922 fire, as well as digitisations of surviving originals and substitute sources. The entire archive will be fully searchable with its contents ranging from basic descriptions to fully restored records ranging in date from the thirteenth to the nineteenth centuries
  • ‘Gold Seams’ of evidence will offer full reconstructions of whole series of destroyed records based on particularly rich collections of substitute materials held in partner archives

Visit the project website.