Tuesday 17 September 2019

Delving into the archives

Librarian Catherine Keane and archivist Karen de Lacey talk about the treasure that is the Fingal Local Studies and Archives which has a new home

Karen De Lacey and Catherine Keane invite you to take a look at Fingal’s rich archives
Karen De Lacey and Catherine Keane invite you to take a look at Fingal’s rich archives

Fingal Local Studies and Archives, sitting on North Street, Swords opens a wealth of historical resources to the general public, and through its extensive archives and painstakingly preserved material, offers but a glimpse of what life was like in Fingal in our distant past.

The service is open to academics, historians and members of the public who wish to delve into Fingal's rich history, view old photographs, peruse decades old newspapers or even trace their family tree.

First set up on Dublin's Parnell Square in 1994, and just recently moved to North Street from another location in Swords, the service is an invaluable resource for those wishing to learn about the history of the county.

The service is managed by Local Studies Librarian Catherine Keane, and by Archivist Karen De Lacey, who both take pride in preserving an important record of the history of Fingal.

Speaking last week to The Fingal Independent, Catherine and Karen spoke of how Fingal Local Studies and Archives came to be, and some of the important services it offers.

Catherine says: 'From what I can remember, it was a lifelong ambition of the county librarian at the time.

'A lot of our researchers used to go into Pearse Street library to the Dublin City archives when they were looking for information, and although they were filling a gap, he kind of felt that there was quite an amount of history in North County Dublin, and that it warranted having a service of its own.

'It's mainly a book collection that I look after, so history books to do with Fingal would be my first port of call, and then anything to do with North County Dublin in general, then Dublin and Ireland if it's important to what happened.

'I would also be responsible for a selection of important periodicals that are available here for people to use.'

Catherine added: 'As far as I'm aware, we're the only place with a full collection of The Fingal Independent since we started collecting it in 1994.

'We have a few editions prior to that because I think it used to be a section within the Drogheda Independent, then because Fingal began to grow so much it became a separate paper in its own right, I think around 1986.

'We have a couple from 1986 up to 1992, but we have a full collection from the beginning of 1994 right up to present day.

'We have a few other things, we have the Freeman's Journal over a period of twelve years from 1912 to 1922, so it's during the time of the Rising and then the Civil War and everything. That's available online, but people do like to come in and go through it themselves, the hard copy version of it.'

Karen points out that Fingal Local Studies and Archives' records date as far back as the Grand Jury, a form of local government which was in operation from the seventeenth century (if not earlier) to the end of the nineteenth century. Records for these bodies go as far back as 1818-1919.

The archives also contain records from the Boards of Guardians, which would have been in charge of workhouses of the time within specific districts, or 'poor law unions.' Records for these, which include records for Balrothery, North Dublin and South Dublin all date from the nineteenth century.

One of the key resources Fingal Local Studies and Archives provides, however, is for members of the public wishing to trace their family history, as Catherine says: 'When they come here, you can have two types, one who it's their very first step and they don't even know where to start, and then other people who have traced so far and they've come to a brick wall and they want to know what's available for them to look at.

'Sometimes when they come to us when they've hit a brick wall, there's nothing we can do about it either, because particularly with family history, there's so many gaps in Irish family history that can't be filled.

'Sometimes you just have to leave it where you are, and maybe a number of years later you're looking for something completely different and you find a piece of information, a little nugget that will start you off again.

'Years ago, it was a much more difficult thing doing a family history search, because everything was in paper form, but so much of it now has been digitised and is online, you could do a lot of searching yourself from your home.

'Or, you can come in and we provide access to 'Find My Past' and also to another database, 'Ancestry', and both of them are very good starting points because they're an amalgamation of loads of written records which have been digitised and put up online by different organisations.'

Karen points out that one of Fingal County Council's own resources, 'Buried In Fingal', is particularly useful for tracing family history in the Fingal area.

Set up in 2012, this website contains digitised records of all the burial books for Fingal's burial grounds, with some records going back as far as the nineteenth century.

These records show for example, who bought a particular burial plot and who is buried on the plot, so that the website can be very useful when tracing a family tree.

Originally based in Clonmel House on Foster Way in Swords, Fingal Local Studies and Archives moved to the new North Street location last February, opening to the public last April.

With moving a total of 1,700 boxes of books during the course of the relocation, Catherine and Karen are still in the process of having the service fully up-and-running, though they're determined this will happen very shortly.

The service will form part of the new Swords Cultural Quarter, a major new central public and civic space set against the backdrop of Swords Castle, and along with a new library, public theatre and art exhibition space, promises to be an important amenity for the area.

On the importance of the service Fingal Local Studies and Archives provides, Karen says: 'I think when you've done local history, and I've done a good bit of local history myself, it changes your relationship with the area in a way the more you find out.

'When I did local history and family history it changed my perspective of the city and the town, and you just kind of feel more at home there, you can understand it better and I suppose it gives you a different perspective on it as well.

'From an archival point of view, keeping records from the council, it's a democratic function so that people have records that record what the local authority did and decisions that were made, so it's an accountability thing as well .

'Our remit is basically to collect and preserve records from the Fingal area, so we're actively collecting and looking for records, and that includes both publications as well as archival collections, so we'd be interested if organisations or communities or families have papers they'd like to deposit that relate to the Fingal area, that's something we'd be interested in collecting.'

The archive is obviously a fantastic educational resource and there are plans to reach out to local schools and get them involved i thumbing the pages of the region's rich history and heritage.

Catherine explained: 'We intend in aiming a service at history students for the Leaving Cert, because if any of them want to do a local history project as their topic for their Leaving Cert then we'd be here to help them with the information. Then as well, one of the elements of Transition Year is a study of your local history, so we're going to try to liaise with the secondary schools and see if there's any way that we can help them and provide them with information.'

Fingal Local Studies and Archives officially re-launches its service on Thursday August 22 at 6.30pm in its new premises at 46 North Street Swords. Local history writer Gerard Ronan also launches two of his new local history books at the launch - 'The Round Tours of Fingal', and a book based on the life of William Kelly from Portrane. All local history groups, heritage groups, local councillors and of course members of the public are welcome.

Fingal Independent