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2 minutes to read Posted on Thursday June 30, 2022

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

portrait of Killian Downing

Killian Downing

Archivist , Dublin City University Library

Digitally recovering Ireland’s history: Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland connects millions of lost records

This week sees the launch of the innovative new digital archive, the Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland, which makes a rich array of historical documents available for research, education and enjoyment. Europeana Members Councillor and Dublin City University archivist Killian Downing tells us about how the Virtual Record Treasury was created and its significance.

A classical building enveloped in smoke
The Four Courts façade : view from Merchants' Quay showing extensive damage
UCD School of History and Archives

The newly launched Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland is a digital archive which combines historical investigation, archival discovery, conservation and technical innovation to re-imagine and recreate, through digital technologies, archives lost at the beginning of the Irish Civil War. For the first time in 100 years, researchers will be able to ‘step back in time’ to explore a virtual recreation of the Public Record Office of Ireland and its collections which were destroyed in a fire on 30 June 1922.

In June 1922, the Public Record Office of Ireland stored over seven centuries of Irish records dating back to the time of the Normans in Ireland. Hundreds of thousands of precious historical documents relating to all aspects of Irish life were lost, including invaluable census records dating from before the Irish Famine in the 1840s. 

The Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland has been developed by Beyond 2022, an international collaborative research project working to create a virtual reconstruction of the destroyed Public Record Office of Ireland. Beyond 2022 has been developed by historians in Trinity College Dublin and computer scientists in the Science Foundation Ireland ADAPT Centre, in partnership with five core partners: National Archives, Ireland, National Archives, UK, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, Irish Manuscripts Commission and the Library of Trinity College Dublin. 

Rich collections and digitally reconnected archives

The Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland now provides access to 50 million words of searchable text spanning seven centuries; 150,000+ database records; 6,000+ maps; and 2.7 million knowledge graph triples. It brings together a rich array of replacement and surrogate records digitally repatriated from archival collections around the world, within an immersive 3D reconstruction of the destroyed building. 

The items have been meticulously catalogued and shared by more than 70 international partners, with many millions of words and text from destroyed documents linked and re-assembled from copies, transcripts and other records scattered among international collections, including many existing Europeana aggregators. New partners are welcome to contribute to the project and support the recovery of lost knowledge, you can contact the Beyond 2022 team here.

Reflecting on the archive and project

Having previously worked in the National Archives of Ireland, I'm really in awe of the painstaking work, dedication, and vision of the Beyond 2022 team and partners who have worked together to launch the Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland. Digitally reconnecting archival sources is for me the epitome of digital transformation, and only made possible by the diligent work of archivists, librarians and conservators, who everyday preserve, catalogue and digitise collections, making our shared history accessible for everyone. The Beyond 2022 project is an exemplar in international cooperation and its immersive 3D repository is a model that Europeana and the cultural heritage sector should explore and develop.

Explore the archive

The Virtual Record Treasury is an open-access resource, freely available online to all those interested in Irish history around the world - explore it now.

The Beyond 2022 Research Programme is funded by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media under Project Ireland 2040, as part of the Decade of Centenaries 2012-2023.