More Genealogy Adventures

It has been a very busy and hectic few weeks. It feels like I have barely been home since I got back from my recent visit to the US.

First up was Back To Our Past in the RDS, Dublin. Back To Our Past is the annual genealogical expo and runs alongside the Over 50’s Show. There is also a dedicated strand of DNA lectures organised by Genetic Genealogy Ireland. This year the event took place over two days, on the 18th and 19th of October. I spent most of my time sitting in on the DNA lectures because I felt this was an area where I really need to improve my knowledge. Plus they had some fascinating speakers. It was particularly great to catch up with Mags Gaulden of Grandma’s Genes and listen to the work she has done with the Canadian Casualty Identification Program. I first met Mags at the 2019 Genealogy Show in Birmingham.

Mags Gaulden presenting on the Canadian Casualty Identification Program

One of the best reasons for attending Back To Our Past is having an opportunity to connect with fellow professionals. It seems to be one of the few times we’re able to get most of Ireland’s professional genealogists in one place. I was barely in the door before I bumped into two genealogist friends in the canteen. It certainly seemed like a busy event. I was introduced to a young up and coming genealogist from North Cork who along with some other young genealogists has started a new website, The Hidden Branch, which aims to interest more children and teenagers in genealogy.

 

 

One shout out I must give is to Christine Deakin of Irish Genealogy Solutions. Christine offers a fantastic and much needed service selling materials to help you preserve your paper records and also has some really nice genealogy stationary.

Christine Deakin of Irish Genealogy Solutions

A few days after Back To Our Past I was off to London in order to attend the inaugural RootsTech London. For those unfamiliar with it, RootsTech is the premier genealogy event. It’s been running for a decade in Salt Lake City and this is the first time they have held the event outside the United States. Since a few of my friends were speaking I was very keen to attend. It took place in the Excel Arena, in the London Docklands area. I only wish there had been flights from Cork to City of London Airport nearby. Instead I had to fly into Stanstead and take a taxi out to my hotel, which at least was convenient to the venue. I was very impressed when I arrived. Finding my way around was definitely made easier by the RootsTech app. This is a great idea for such a big event and helps keep track of what’s going on, especially if there are last minute changes to the schedule. You can also download the lecture handouts through the app. I was fortunate enough while I was there to hear some great talks from Joe Buggy, David E Rencher, Dr Penny Walters and Jim Ryan.The keynote on the first day was from historian Dan Snow on his own family history.

With Dr Penny Walters

Dan Snow with a very attentive audience just after his keynote

I also spent a lot of time walking the exhibition hall. While there I met Kirsty Gray of Family Wise LTD. Kirsty is the showrunner for The Genealogy Show. There was a nice chat with Helen Tovey, editor of Family Tree Magazine. I briefly got to meet with some fellow #Ancestryhour participants from Twitter. Nice to put faces to some familiar Twitter handles. Even though I didn’t hear them speak I also got to catch up with Dutch genealogist John Boener of Antecedentia and Nathan Dylan Goodwin, author of the Morton Ferrier genealogy mysteries. It was an amazing event and kudos to the organisers for putting together something on this scale.

I would have loved to stay longer but unfortunately I had something else planned for the weekend back in Cork. This involved a trip down to the scenic island of Cape Clear in West Cork for their annual storytelling workshop. I had learned about the workshop after I volunteered for the Cape Clear International Storytelling Festival. We were fortunate to have professional storyteller Claire Muireann Murphy leading us for the two and a half days. It might not have been explicitly linked to genealogy but anyone who does genealogical research will understand the need to be able to tell a good story with what you find. It’s also impossible to escape family history when on a relatively small island. A visit to the old graveyard near the pier displays a multitude of O’Driscoll and Cadigan burials. Chances are that if you have O’Driscoll ancestry you are connected to Cape Clear.

This weekend was the 2019 Virtual Genealogical Association conference. The beauty of a virtual conference is being able to watch it from almost anywhere. There was a great lineup over the three days and I learned a lot, even from the lectures that normally wouldn’t be of much use to me, such as German or Scottish records. I may never have a need to use these records but it never hurts to learn something outside of your own speciality.

Rebuilding The Public Record Office

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Public Record Office of Ireland

On the 30 June 1922, the Public Records Office of Ireland was destroyed by fire. This was a part of the occupation of the adjacent Four Courts by members of the anti-Treaty IRA which sparked off the Irish Civil War. The loss of centuries of records destroyed in the fire is still keenly felt by those researching their Irish family history. Details of what was lost are summarised by Claire Santry. The records lost included the pre-1901 census records, Irish wills before 1922 and a large percentage of Church of Ireland registers. Since then Irish genealogists have learned to make the best of what records that do survive.

Fortunately, technology offers us the possibility of rebuilding the destroyed Public Records Office in digital form. Beyond 2022 is a new collaboration between Trinity College Dublin, the National Archives (Ireland), the National Archives (UK), the Public Record Office Northern Ireland and the Irish Manuscripts Commission. The project aims to create a digital reconstruction of the Public Record Office and it’s holdings. According to the project website:

“Ireland’s Virtual Record Treasury​ will serve both as essential platform for academic research and a public resource with global reach and impact”

Over the years, plenty of surviving sources have been digitised and made publicly available on various websites. But this project will go beyond simply making more sources available. It will also create a new augmented-reality interface. Those using the site will be able to explore a virtual reconstruction of the original building. There will also be a complete inventory of lost and surviving records from the 1922 fire. While it will never be possible to completely replace all that was lost, the project will look to other repositories for substitutions.

This is an ambitious project and I will be waiting with bated breath to experience the finished result

APG Professional Management Conference

I have been a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists for two years today, so it seemed fitting to mark the occasion by talking about my recent experience as a speaker and attendee at the APG Professional Management Conference in Washington DC and also go into a bit of detail about what the association is.

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The Association of Professional Genealogists is an independent organization whose principal purpose is to support professional genealogists in all phases of their work. This includes the amateur genealogist wishing to turn their knowledge and skill into a vocation, to the experienced professional seeking to exchange ideas with colleagues and to upgrade the profession as a whole. The association also seeks to protect the interest of those engaging in the services of the professional.

The APG represents over 2,700 genealogists, librarians, writers, editors, historians, instructors, booksellers, publishers and others involved in genealogy-related businesses. APG encourages genealogical excellence, ethical practice, mentoring and education. The organization also supports the preservation and accessibility of records useful to the fields of genealogy and history. It’s members represent all fifty states, Canada, and thirty other countries (including Ireland).

As someone still in the relatively early days of his career as a professional genealogist I have benefited greatly from membership of the APG. It’s not only through their public directory, which has sent numerous clients my way, but also through the resources they make available to members. This includes regular webinars, a quarterly newsletter, report writing samples and guidelines. The APG also has a code of ethics which it’s members are bound by.

One of the great resources made available by the APG is it’s annual Professional Management Conference. This year the PMC was held in Washington DC from September 29th to October 1st. I had submitted a proposal for a paper earlier in the year and to my surprise it was accepted. This is was my first time presenting a paper at such an esteemed gathering. I arrived into DC on the day before the gathering and made it to the hotel just in time for the introductory social gathering that evening. Despite only knowing most of those there through their reputations I was warmly welcomed. The ‘Speed Dating for Professional Genealogists’ event helped to break the ice. Everyone I met there was very friendly and hospitable.

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The conference was officially opened the next morning by the current APG President, Billie Stone Fogarty. Over the course of the three days we were treated to some fantastic speakers. Topics ranged from discussions on particular record sets to the use of DNA in genealogical research to more business focused areas, such as liability, marketing, podcasting, certification and accounting. There were also some inspiring poster presentations on the Saturday evening.

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My own paper on digital preservation and Irish genealogy was well received and it prompted some fantastic discussions afterwards. I was also lucky enough to get to know many of the big names in genealogy. People such as Annette Burke Lyttle, Kate Eackman, Leslie Lawson, Marianne Pierre-Louis, Katherine R. Wilson, Judy Russell (aka the Legal Genealogist) and J. Mark Lowe to name but a few.

A special mention should also go out to Meryl Schumacker, who was presented with the APG Young Professional Scholarship. The purpose of the scholarship is to recognize a student and/or young professional with a significant interest in genealogy and with a strong interest in developing a professional career in genealogy. It’s great to see young genealogists getting this sort of encouragement, given that there seem to be so few working in the profession.

While in Washington DC, I also had an opportunity to visit the US National Archives, the US Capitol, a few of the Smithsonian museums (including the new National Museum of African American History and Culture) and the Library of Congress.

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The US National Archives

The APG PMC proved to be one of the most inspiring events in my career as a professional genealogist and has given me plenty to think about regarding the direction of my career. In the short term I would hope it encourages me to go even further in the service I offer my clients.

Next years PMC will take place in Kansas City, MO from October 4th to October 6th. If you would like a taste of what the 2017 PMC had to offer, members can purchase recordings of twelve of the presentations here.

The next genealogy event for me here in Ireland will be at Back To Our Past next weekend in the RDS. You will find me at the Clans and Surnames stand over the weekend with my colleague Lorna Moloney. Come over and say hi to us if you can.

Maximising Your Family History Research

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View of Nenagh from the top of Nenagh Castle

I’m not long back from a great week of genealogy at the Clans and Surnames event held at the  Nenagh, Tipperary. The event was run by the esteemed Lorna Moloney of Merriman Research and involved a week of talks, outings to Portumna, Co. Galway and family history consultations from professional genealogists such as myself. I delivered a talk on the first day of the event titled “Maximizing Your Family History Research: Tracing Your Regional Ancestry”. This talk was delivered mostly off the cuff, without any detailed notes, and no PowerPoint presentation. However, I felt that it might be helpful to put together some of the main points from the talk for anyone who is interested. Some of what I’m about to say may seem obvious but all too often it is the obvious which can trip us up.

My first piece of advice for anyone researching their family history is to discover what they can from their own family before going online. How far back is the Irish connection? Which particular surnames connect you to Ireland? Write all this stuff down and keep it with you. That way if you get an opportunity to dive in your research you will know where to begin.

Don’t put all your trust in genealogy websites. This is not meant as an attack on these particular services, far from it. The various online databases have made a massive contribution to genealogical research and cut down on the amount of time it takes to do research. However, like Google or any other search engine, these websites exist to tell you what is there, not what isn’t. They won’t tell you that a particular record set has a specific gap for the area where your ancestors came from. Instead they will aim to provide you with the closest match. Any online transcription is also prone to errors. Some were transcribed by people who were unfamiliar with the idiosyncrasies of Irish spelling or came from a faded microfilm copy of the records, rather than from the original source. For these reasons it is important to double check and cross reference with other available sources. Hopefully no one database has exactly the same errors as every other. One mistake could have major consequences for your research and cost you years of work.

When searching for your Irish ancestors, familiarise yourself with the historical geography of Ireland. The different types of administrative division can seem confusing at first, especially trying to differentiate between civil and ecclesiastical parishes and wondering what a townland is. But it is impossible to avoid these terms and fortunately there are some excellent books and websites out there that help explain how these different divisions functioned.

Be mindful of distances. It’s easy to look at a modern map of Ireland and assume that your ancestors could have travelled throughout the county or traversed half the country in a single day. The reality is that most of our ancestors probably never travelled further than the neighbouring parish until the early 20th century. This is important to remember if you know your ancestors came from West Cork or Kerry, but you found someone with a similar name in Dublin a year later, and then have your ancestors back in the home parish immediately afterwards. It’s not impossible that this could be your family but ask yourself how would they have travelled such a distance in a time before paved roads, cars or public transport? The majority of Irish people at this time were farmers, who may have been lucky to own a horse and cart. The terrain in many parts of the country wasn’t easy to traverse and many rural roads were even worse than they are now.

There is no substitute for local knowledge. Not everything is online, or at least not with the big websites. Even when they add so many thousands of individual records regularly, they will never get everything. It is often assumed that anything that wasn’t lost in the 1922 Public Record Office fire, must be held in Dublin. That is far from the case. Ireland is fortunate to have an excellent network of county libraries and archives. While not all of them have an abundance of online resources, that doesn’t mean they should be discounted. Once you’ve narrowed the search for your ancestors to a particular area and feel you can’t go any further, why not check to see what is available locally. Perhaps land records, newspapers or street directories held by the local library or archive will provide you with the information you’ve been searching for. Local historical societies are also worth contacting. Perhaps someone transcribed a now lost record set. It can also be worth contacting the parish your ancestors came from directly. Perhaps some registers survive which weren’t included in the National Library microfilms or were simply missed when these records went online.

That being said, there is a lot of valuable information contained in the National Library of Ireland and the National Archives. Only a fraction of their collections are online and they contain a lot of other records which may not seem relevant to your family history at first glance. But they might provide you with some useful context for understanding how your ancestors lived.

DNA can be helpful for getting around brick walls, but it is best used in conjunction with the paper records. It can also create more confusion if all your research tells you that your ancestors came from one part of Ireland but your DNA is matching strongly to another area. This is why double checking your research is important.

The most important lesson is persistence. Genealogy is a marathon, not a sprint. Even professionals run into occasional brick walls. As frustrating as it is, don’t lose hope. There is always a possibility of a new record set appearing which provides you with that elusive clue or maybe just stepping back for a bit to recharge will bestow a sudden flash of inspiration. Perhaps fresh eyes might spot something you overlooked. Some ancestors may always be out of reach, but you can still try to understand the history of the period they lived in. No matter what obstacles you encounter, remain positive.

 

Genealogical Appreciation

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Traveller Caravan in Cork Public Museum

Last Friday afternoon I attended a fantastic lecture on Irish Traveller genealogy and culture at the Royal Irish Academy on Dawson Street in Dublin. This was the first of the 2017 expert workshops organised by the Irish Family History Centre.

The lecture was prompted by recent DNA findings from a new study carried out by scientists in the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland and the University of Edinburgh. You can read a bit more about that here. However, instead of simply concentrating on the genetic side of things, the lecture allowed for a member of the Traveller community, Michael McDonagh, to talk about Traveller identity.

Those outside of Ireland might have only the vaguest sense of who Irish Travellers are. Coming up with a definition that doesn’t sound condescending or discrimination can be difficult. Sometimes they are referred to as Gypsies or Tinkers, along with many other derogatory terms. Perhaps the simplest definition is to say that Travellers are a minority group within Irish society  who maintain their own separate identity. There have been many rumours and misconceptions as to where they originated from. Some believed they were an entirely separate race from the Irish, more closely related to Roma Gypsies. Another widely held theory was that they were the descendants of those forced off their land during the Great Famine. This last belief was to be responsible for much of the prejudice faced by Travellers and a lot of the harm done to their culture through a misguided belief that they should be reintegrated into mainstream Irish society. While the motives for this may have been benign, the lack of proper understanding of their culture caused a lot of long term damage. The talk from Michael was a fascinating insight into this culture. I would have loved to stay on afterwords to talk with him and ask some questions but unfortunately I had to rush for a train back to Cork.

What the DNA evidence has shown is that Travellers are not related to the Roma and are indeed Irish. What it also suggests is that they split from mainstream Irish society roughly around the mid 1600s. The authors of the study are cautious in trying to identify any specific historical event which might have led to the split, which seems sensible. Further testing might alter those conclusions and push the split even further back. The full paper of the study is available to read for free here. Hopefully this will lead to a better appreciation of Irish Travellers and their place within Irish society as a distinct group.

The lecture and the study also got me thinking of two articles I had read in recent months concerning the Tenement Museum in New York. The first article reported on a rise of anti-immigrant comments from visitors to the museum and how staff were attempting to deal with this. Then a few weeks ago, Annie Pollard, their Senior Vice President for Progams and Education, wrote this article on the immigrant experience in the past compared to the present immigrant experience.

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One of the restored apartments inside the NY Tenement Museum (Image courtesy http://tenement.org/)

What all of this got me thinking about was the role that genealogy can play in conversations relating to discrimination and prejudice. It’s worth remembering that the waves of Irish and other immigrant groups arriving in the US in the 19th century weren’t always met with open arms. Some of the rhetoric directed against them is reminiscent of what has been heard in more recent times. Can genealogy help lessen some of this hostility?

Perhaps it is human nature that we will always be suspicious of those who speak a different language, have different cultural traditions or simply don’t look like us. Genealogy certainly isn’t a magic bullet for defeating prejudice but at the very least maybe it can help us appreciate some of the commonalities we share with other groups.

GENEALOGY OF THE RISING

100 years today on the morning of what was then Easter Monday 1916, a group of armed insurrectionists seized a number of buildings around Dublin. These insurrectionists were members of the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizens Army and Cumann na mBan. This included the General Post Office on Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street). Soon after two unfamiliar flags were raised above the GPO and a proclamation read out which declared that Ireland was now a Republic. For most of the following week Dublin would be engulfed by the Rising.

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GPO Dublin

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GPO 1916 (Photo: National Library of Ireland)

 

 

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Original Copy of the 1916 Proclamation (Picture: National Library of Ireland)

This insurrection was the 1916 Rising and it would become the defining moment in the struggle for Irish Independence. By the time the Rising came to an end, 485 people had lost their lives. The majority of these were civilians who had been caught up in the crossfire, including 28 children. 107 Crown forces were killed, including Irish soldiers serving in the British army. 17 policemen lost their lives during Easter Week, only four of them in Dublin.  Of the Rebels, 58 were killed. 16 men were executed for their role in the Rising, including Thomas Kent in Cork and Sir Roger Casement in London.

Much has been written about the events of that week and even a century on there is still plenty of debate about whether the Rebels were justified in their actions and how they should be remembered. A recent Remembrance Wall unveiled in Glasnevin Cemetery on April 3rd caused plenty of controversy because it listed the names of all those who died, including Rebels, Civilians and Crown forces. The names are displayed chronologically.

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Glasnevin Necrology Wall (Picture: UTV.ie)

In some respects we are also still attempting to untangle myth from fact when it comes down to who was involved and what actions they took. Fortunately much work has been done in the last few years, particularly by genealogists. Multiple new record sources have been made freely available online.

One of the best sources to consult is the Bureau of Military History. They have uploaded copies of witness statements taken from those involved in 1916. They also have press cuttings from the period. If you are looking to confirm whether a particular family member was involved in the events of 1916 then it is worth consulting the pensions collection in the Irish Military Archives. The information contained on both these websites can be extremely helpful in determining whether a family member did indeed see action during the period and where they were involved.

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Extract from sworn statement made by Oscar Traynor TD, former Officer Commanding Dublin Brigade IRA, before the Advisory Committee, Military Service Pensions Act, in support of Mathew Stafford’s application for a military service pension under 1934 act

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Undated letter from Eugene Gilbride verifying Linda Kearns MacWhinney’s position as an officer with Sligo Brigade IRA at the time of her arrest on 20 November 1920

The National Library of Ireland and the National Archives have also uploaded much of their collections connected to 1916. Of particular note are the Property Losses (Ireland) Committee 1916 compensation files in the National Archives. These files contain compensation claims from those whose homes or businesses were destroyed during the Rising. They can be extremely valuable if you had family living in Dublin at the time who weren’t directly involved in the fighting but still suffered as a result.

One of the best websites that has come online in recent years is the Letters of 1916 project. This is the first public humanities project in Ireland. It’s goal is to create a crowd-sourced digital collection of letters written around the time of the Easter Rising (1 November 1915 – 31 October 1916). This isn’t limited to Dublin or the Rising, but includes letters from all around the country and on a number of topics. Members of the public are invited to contribute through uploading their own letters from the period and also to assist with transcribing the letters.

Not to be outdone, Ancestry.co.uk and Findmypast.ie have both made their own contributions.

Ancestry have released Courts Martial Files and Intelligence Profiles connected to the period. They also have access to the Military Service Pension Index and the National Army Census of 1922.

Findmypast.ie have made available their Easter Rising & Ireland under Martial Law, 1916-1921 collection. The 75,000 records include reports and military intelligence detailing the events of Easter week 1916. These records are free to search until April 27th.

This is only a brief listing and there are many other great resources out there. The National Library is currently involved in compiling an archive of many of the websites which were set up to honour 1916.

Regardless of how we view the Rising and those who participated, we can at the very least find out a lot more information on what was actually happening during the period.

Update: I just realised that I neglected to include this fantastic podcast by my friend Lorna Moloney for the Genealogy Radio Show on Radió Corca Baiscinn. It offers a genealogical introduction into the lives of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation.

 

Visit to the Representative Church Body Library

Representative Church Body Library

Last week I made my first visit out to the Representative Church Body Library, the Church of Ireland archives. Based in Churchtown, Co. Dublin (near Dundrum) the RCBL is the repository for many of the surviving Church of Ireland parish registers and other records. It was founded in 1931 and has been at it’s present location near the Church of Ireland theological institute since 1969.

It is impossible to overstate just how valuable the collections in the library are. A law passed in 1875 declared that marriage registers dated pre-1845, and baptismal and burial records pre-1871 were public records and should be deposited in the Public Record Office of Ireland in Dublin. Some parishes opposed this decision and there was a further Act passed in 1876 which allowed records to remain in local custody, provided there was provision made for their safe keeping in the form of a fire-proof safe. This typically meant the larger churches that could afford such a measure. By 1922, the records of 1,006 Church of Ireland parishes had been deposited in the Public Record Office, while a further 637 parishes kept their records in local custody. When the Public Record Office was destoryed by fire during the Irish civil war in 1922, all but four sets of registers were completely destroyed. Those in local custody which survived comprise roughly a third of the records.

But given that the Church of Ireland was never the majority faith in Ireland, with most Irish people remaining Roman Catholic, why should you need to be aware of their records? Up until 1869 the Church of Ireland was the Established Church. This meant that it was the official state church. Many of the Civil Parishes (as opposed to the more modern Roman Catholic Parishes) correspond with the Church of Ireland parishes who inherited the medieval parish system. Before the creation of county councils, most local civic services (even the fire brigade) were administered by the Church of Ireland. This is also where the phrase ‘parish pump politics’ comes from, referring to the old fire pump kept by the local Anglican churches. Tithes were paid by the populace, regardless of denomination, for the administration of these services. By the early 19th century this was a cause of much resentment among the non Church of Ireland populace but that’s a story for another time. Because these churches were so central their records may contain references to events in the local parish, which is important for understanding the social context in which our ancestors lived. Since record keeping in Catholic churches before the 1800s was so patchy there might be no other surviving church records for that area.

It is also quite feasible that your ancestors had Church of Ireland ancestry. When consulting the parish register for Holy Trinity, Cork (now the Triskel Christchurch) for the early 1800s I was surprised at the amount of typical Irish surnames in the register. We tend to assume that Irish society of this period was fixed. That it was only the descendants of British settlers who were members of the Church of Ireland, with no mixing between them and the ‘poor’ Irish Catholics. However this is an overly simplistic view of Irish history. Both groups lived side by side and membership of the Church of Ireland did not necessarily imply wealth and position. Inter marriage did occur between Catholics and Protestants, as did conversion (sometimes on more than one occasion). There were also quite a number of other small Protestant dissenter denominations that your ancestors might have been part of. We should always be careful not to make too many assumptions when examining the past. Our ancestors were real people with complicated and sometimes baffling lives. This especially applies to the issue of faith and belief.

For the purposes of this visit I was consulting the Parish register for Holy Trinity along with the Vestry Minute Books. The early part of the Parish register was very well laid out with details on baptisms, burials, marriages and churchings. However by the 1820s it was evident that a new Parish clerk had taken over the record keeping, and it became much more difficult to read. The Vestry Minute Books detailed the day to day running of the church. While these may not contain as much genealogical information, they are still very informative for learning what was happening behind the scenes of the church. The names of prominent parishioners occur often, along with details on changes made to the fabric of the church, including the commissioning of memorials and stained glass windows.

If visiting the RCBL it is advisable to allow yourself plenty of time, like with any archive visit. Churchtown is accessible by the no. 14 bus from D’olier St and the Luas Green Line from St Stephens Green. When you enter you will be advised to leave your belongings in one of the lockers provided. This includes anything electronic such as laptops, phones and cameras. The archivists are very strict about the photography of records. The only things you are allowed bring with you is pencil and paper. When you go upstairs to the office you are provided with a handy list of available records, which is especially helpful on a first visit. Once you fill out the request form you are directed to the reading room where the materials are brought to you. If visiting for the whole day be aware the library closes for lunch from 1-2pm. Being out in the suburbs there isn’t a huge amount of places to eat nearby, aside from a local Spar. Bringing a packed lunch is advisable.

More details on the RCBL and it’s collections can be found here: http://library.ireland.anglican.org/index.php?id=42