"Ireland's most active genealogical society"

History – Genealogical Society of Ireland

The following information has been drawn from the Society’s extensive administrative files, publications and reports submitted to various bodies in the furtherance of the Society’s objectives. Information on many of the issues and events covered has been sourced in the pages of the Society’s Journal, an index to which, covering the period 1992-2012, is available on the top menu of this Page. Likewise, many issues were also covered in the monthly newsletter ‘Ireland’s Genealogical Gazette’ which is also indexed from 2006 to 2011 and available on the top of this Page.

1990 Formation of the Society

The Society was founded as the Dún Laoghaire Genealogical Society on the 25th October 1990 by a group of neighbours in Dún Laoghaire, Co. Dublin. The Society grew quickly and just ten years into its existence, the members decided to change the name of the organisation from the Dún Laoghaire Genealogical Society to the Genealogical Society of Ireland. This new name more adequately reflected the activities, scope and membership of the organisation and indeed, it could be argued that the Society outgrew its ‘local identity’ within two to three years of its foundation in 1990.

(pictured left:  Denis, O Conor Don, President of the Society addressing the members at the first Annual General Meeting in October 1991 with co-founders, Frieda Carroll and Michael Merrigan)

What distinguished the Society from similar organisations in Ireland at the time were its progressive and innovative objectives and its determination to campaign on behalf of its members. The Society joined the [international] Federation of Family History Societies in 1991 to forge links with the international genealogical community. In Ireland the Society sought similar cooperation and indeed, in the summer 1992 edition of its Quarterly Journal, the Society proposed the establishment of an ‘All Ireland Federation of Family History Societies’.

1992 Proposals for a GRO Users Group

Whilst, the federation proposal was rejected by others, matters on the political front later brought the various genealogical organisations on the island of Ireland together—albeit in an ad-hoc grouping. The Irish government’s plans to relocate the General Register Office in Roscommon Town gave rise to the GRO Users’ Group in late 1992 to campaign for the retention of a Public Search Room in Dublin. The Society published the GRO Users’ Group proposals in a pamphlet in April 1993 and proactively supported the campaign.

(Pictured left:The cover of the GRO Users’ Group proposal on the future of the General Register Office in Dublin published by the Society in April 1993)

1993 Campaign re The 100-Year Rule

Also in 1993 the Society alone successfully campaigned to have the closure period for census returns reduced from 100 years to 70 years in the Statistics Bill, however, despite assurances from the Minister [Noel Dempsey, TD] in the Seanad, this was not included in the final text of the Bill when it later passed all stages in Dáil Éireann and therefore, the Statistics Act, 1993 became law on July 14th 1993 with the 100 year rule intact.

The reference to the above on page 4 of the ‘Briefing Document’ circulated in February 2011 by the Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations (CIGO) to politicians is completely without foundation as the 1993 Act was signed into law in July 1993 and CIGO was not established until July 1994.

In late 1993 and again in early 1994, the Minister promised to retain a GRO ‘research facility’ in Dublin. This apparent success by the GRO Users’ Group encouraged some of its members to seek to establish a more permanent structure for joint action on matters of mutual concern to Irish genealogical organisations.

The Society drafted a constitution for a new umbrella organisation for Irish genealogy and at a meeting held in Dún Laoghaire on July 9th 1994, the Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations (CIGO) was established.

(PIctured left:A copy of the CIGO Constitution adopted at its inaugural meeting held on July 9th 1994 in the Royal Marine Hotel, Dún Laoghaire)

However, two member organisations of the ad-hoc GRO Users’ Group (Irish Genealogical Research Society (Ireland Branch) and the Irish Family History Society) did not support the establishment of CIGO and refused to join at this meeting. [source: Minutes of the Meeting; also see Gorry, Paul, ‘The Future of Genealogy in Ireland’, ‘Irish Roots Magazine’ (No. 4. 1996) p. 15]

1994 Heritage Campaign

This Society encouraged CIGO in 1994 to campaign to have our genealogical heritage covered by the then Heritage Council Bill and this was eventually successfully included in the Heritage Act, 1995. Likewise in August 1994, the Society urged the newly established Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations (CIGO) to join in its campaign for the repeal of the 100 year rule in respect of census returns in the Statistics Act, 1993. [source: Minutes of the Meeting]
The full text of the Heritage Act, 1995, is available here.
During this period the Society’s publications and group projects grew, as did its Archive. The Open Meetings were increased to two per month in 1993—morning and evening – at which, members discussed the various genealogical services provided by the State and State Agencies. With the constant support and encouragement of our members, the governing body of the Society made strenuous efforts to promote a better understanding of the needs of genealogists in Ireland.

1996 National Cultural Institutions Bill

In 1996 the next legislative challenge—National Cultural Institutions Bill—was a stunningly successful collaboration with Senator Paschal Mooney where this Society achieved twenty-eight amendments to the Bill dealing with the services provided by the National Library, including heraldry. A further three were secured during its passage through Dáil Éireann. The strategy adopted by the Society and fully supported by Senator Mooney involved taking a holistic approach to this important piece of legislation and therefore, our amendments covered areas throughout the Bill. This constructive approach was greatly appreciated by the then Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and now President of Ireland, Mr. Michael D. Higgins, who personally wrote to the Society after the enactment of this legislation in 1997 commending the Society’s very significant contribution to the Bill.

It is important to remember that the National Cultural Institutions Act, 1997, covered much more than the State’s delivery of heraldic services, upon which, the other genealogical organisations focused their attention. During the debate in Seanad Éireann certain press reports appeared that were highly critical of the Minister [Michael D. Higgins] with unfounded claims on his commitment to Ireland’s heritage, including heraldry. This sort of campaigning was not supported by this Society and, indeed it was roundly condemned by all sides in Seanad Éireann.

Whilst, this brief history of the Society cannot hope to cover all aspects of the development of the Society over the past twenty two years, it is hoped that it creates an appreciation and awareness amongst our current membership of the Society’s important contribution to the promotion of Irish genealogy and heraldry.

The full text of the National Cultural Institutions Act, 1997, is available here.

The Society rapidly became undoubtedly the most active genealogical organisation in Ireland having celebrated hosting its 100th Open Meeting on April 9th 1996 with guest speaker Tony McCarthy, Editor and founder of ’Irish Roots Magazine’. In the same year, ‘Irish Roots Magazine’ published a series of articles by various authors from home and overseas on the current state and future of Irish genealogy. These articles make for very interesting reading nowadays given the developments in Irish genealogy over the past sixteen years. This edition of ‘Irish Roots Magazine’ is available here.

The information provided by the authors of each of these following articles should help to clarify matters in respect of the date of the establishment of the various genealogical organisations and, of course, their involvement or otherwise in national campaigns. Interestingly, when these articles were published between three and four years after the enactment of the Statistics Act, 1993, [July 1993] the campaign for the release of 1926 census is not mentioned. The articles of particular interest include:

  • The Roots of Irish Genealogy’ Part V by Paul Gorry (No. 1. 1996, pp20-21)
  • The Future of Genealogy in Ireland’ by Tony McCarthy (No. 1. 1996, pp27-29)
  • ‘The Future of Genealogy in Ireland – An Open Letter to the Editor of Irish Roots’ by Robin McNee Findlay [IGRS] (No. 2. 1996, p 17)
  • ‘The Future of Genealogy in Ireland’ by Seán Murphy, MA (No. 2. 1996, p15)
  • ‘The Future of Genealogy in Ireland’ by Dr. Pat Donlon, Director of the National Library and Chief Herald of Ireland. (No. 3. 1996, pp15-17)
  • ‘The Future of Genealogy in Ireland’ by Paul Gorry (No. 4. 1996, pp13-15)
  • ‘Genealogy is it sustainable?’ by Brian Mitchell (No. 4. 1996, pp27-28)
  • ‘The Future of Genealogy in Ireland’ by Judith Eccles-Wight, A.G.. (No. 1. 1997, pp10-12)
  • Chairman of IGRS Responds’ by Robin McNee Findlay (No. 1. 1997, p12)
  • ‘The Future of Genealogy in Ireland’ by Perry C. McIntyre (No. 2. 1997, p22-23).

In May 1996 the Society organised a Members’ Internet Group and three years later, in September 1999, it hosted Ireland’s first genealogical conference dealing exclusively with computerisation and the development of the Internet.

To assist and encourage Members wishing to write a family history, Bill Hogg established a ‘Writers’ Group’ in July 1996 and from this worthy initiative many successful authors emerged. Earlier in February 1996 the Society’s proposal for the establishment of a County Heritage Forum came to fruition involving each of the heritage and arts organisations in Dún Laoghaire Rathdown.

In December 1996 the long-awaited Value for Money Report on the Irish Heritage Centres was published by the Comptroller & Auditor General’s office and its findings, whilst largely vindicating this Society’s position on the operation of the Heritage Centres, the report shocked the Irish genealogical community. The full report can be accessed here.

1997 – The Genie Gazette

In January 1997 the ‘Genie Gazette’ was born and remained the title of the Society’s newsletter until December 2005. In 1997 the Society published the report of the Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Heritage Forum ‘Towards a County Heritage Policy’ to wide acclaim.
(Pictured left: the cover of the Heritage Forum’s groundbreaking publication which was published by the Society in January 1997)
The concept of a ‘County Heritage Policy’ and of appointing ‘County Heritage Officers’ was later adopted by the Minister and rolled out across the country over the next ten years.

1997 – The Martello Tower

In March of 1997 the Society’s long-running campaign for a permanent home for its growing archive received a considerable boost with the allocation by Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council of the Martello Tower at Seapoint to the Society. Fund raising to restore the Tower started in earnest and would continue for the next six years before restoration work could begin on the Tower dating from 1804.

(Pictured here: A copy of the commemorative publication issued for the official opening of An Daonchartlann at the Martello Tower, Seapoint, Co. Dublin in September 2004)

At the 1997 AGM the members adopted the ’Principle of Public Ownership & Right of Access’ to our genealogical and heraldic heritage. Though this fundamental principle is now the ‘cornerstone’ of progressive public access policies of most archives and libraries in Ireland, it wasn’t immediately supported by others in the genealogical community at the time. Members at the 1997 AGM made acceptance of this principle a condition of the Society’s affiliation with any other heritage organisation. Indeed, it was the failure of the Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations (CIGO) to endorse the principle which precluded the Society from continuing its membership of CIGO in 1998. This ‘Principle’ is now recognised as the cornerstone of best practice by professionals in the field and by progressive repositories throughout Ireland.

In October 1997 the Heritage Council finally launched its study of Irish genealogy which had been advocated by this Society and secured during the debate on the 1997 Act. Whilst, the interim report was promising and contained many of this Society’s proposals, press reports soon disclosed that the Heritage Council had opted to propose a purpose built ‘pay-for-view’ genealogical centre where resources that had been ‘free-to-view’ in other repositories would be centralised and commercialised. This Society was totally opposed to these plans and when the final document was published in 2000, it was abundantly clear that it was seriously at variance with the objectives for the study laid down by the Minister.

The Society urged the Minister to reject this proposal and, in answer to a parliamentary question, the Minister very publicly dismissed the report in Dáil Éireann. The Heritage Council’s failure to adhere to its remit was a huge opportunity lost for Irish genealogy and undoubtedly it retarded its development over the past decade. The Society’s submission to this wide-ranging study was published in the Summer 1999 issue of the Journal of the Dún Laoghaire Genealogical Society pp78-88.

The Society also made a wide-ranging submission on many aspects of our heritage, including genealogy and heraldry, to the public consultation process on the National Heritage Plan launched by Minister Síle de Valera, TD, on September 10th 1998.

1999 – Conference…Genealogy and the Internet

In September 1999, the Society hosted Ireland’s first conference on ‘genealogy and the Internet’ – long before most Members even had access to computers.

Above we chronicled the period leading up almost to the dawn of the new millennium. Now we will concentrate on the important milestones of its development since then. It was clear to all that the name ‘Dún Laoghaire Genealogical Society’ had long been a misnomer when one considered the activities and public profile of the Society. Therefore, in 1999 the Members decided to change the name of the organisation to more accurately reflect its standing in Ireland and the name ‘Genealogical Society of Ireland’ was adopted.

In October 1999, the Society was the first to publicly refute the claims made by Peter Berresford-Ellis in his book ‘Erin’s Blood Royal – The Gaelic Dynasties of Ireland’ (London, 1999) regarding the Irish Gaelic chiefs. Already the ‘Bogus Chiefs’ scandal had rocked the ‘office’ of the Chief Herald of Ireland as the genealogical research into certain ‘chiefs’ undertaken by the professional genealogist and lecturer, Seán Murphy, MA, was published. The assertions on the status of the chiefs in our Republic and on the Irish constitution by Berresford-Ellis were completely unfounded. [see JDLGS Vol. 8 No. 3, 1999, pp125-132]

2000 – Proposal for the Provision of Public Access to the ‘Historic’ Records

In January 2000 the Society published an innovative proposal for the provision of public access to the ‘historic’ records of the General Register Office. This ‘Regional and North/South Proposal on the Records of the General Register Office, Dublin’ (see Vol. 1 No. 1 of the Journal of the Genealogical Society of Irelandpp51-56) sought to provide access to these records in repositories around the country. Unfortunately, this imaginative and very workable proposal was opposed by those supporting the ‘pay-for-view’ facility advocated by the Heritage Council.

In the Spring 2000 issue of the Journal of the Genealogical Society of Ireland (Vol. 1 No. 1), the Society published the first comprehensive examination of the application of One-Name Studies in the Irish context. This article was later featured in two issues of the magazine of the Guild of One-Name Studies in the UK.

The Society’s first President, Denis, O’Conor Don (elected 1991) died in July 2000 and the position was to remain vacant for five years. The Society had an Irish oak tree planted on Killiney Hill in his honour overlooking the late President’s beloved Dún Laoghaire. His name has been inscribed on the nearby memorial.

2000 – Change of Name

The Society’s name change was quickly followed by incorporation of the Society in 2000 and an application for a Grant of Arms from the Chief Herald of Ireland. The Arms were presented to the Society at a Civic Reception in the County Hall, Dún Laoghaire in 2001 by the Chief Herald, Brendan O’Donoghue.

(Pictured left: left – Chief Herald of Ireland, Mr. Brendan O’Donoghue, presenting the Letters Patent for the Society’s Arms to Cathaoirleach, Mr. Rory J. Stanley, FGSI, in July 2001)

Thus, the Society became the first genealogical organisation to receive a Grant of Arms from the Chief Herald of Ireland only to be followed five years later in 2006 by the Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland (APGI).

(Pictured right: ‘The Martello Towers of Dublin’ published by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and Fingal County Councils in July 2012 – available from Easons On-line – please click on image for details)

2004 – Move into The Martello Tower

In 2002 planning the restoration of the Martello Tower intensified with professionals offering their services for free, including architectural and structural engineer’s drawings. The planning application had several hurdles to overcome before work could start in earnest in 2003. Work was finally completed in time for the official opening in September 2004.

In 2003 and 2004 the Society campaigned vigorously for amendments to the Civil Registration Bill as it passed through the Houses of the Oireachtas and it was very pleased to support the positions advocated by others, including the Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland (APGI) and CIGO.

In October 2005 the Society celebrated its 15th anniversary with the inauguration of its second President, Tony McCarthy, MA, FGSI from Cork who was to hold the position for the next four years. Back in 2000 the Society set out its proposals for legislative reform of the delivery of Irish heraldic services, this was followed in 2002 by its ‘Heads of a Bill’ and finally by the Genealogy and Heraldry Bill, 2006.

2006 – Genealogy and Heraldry Bill

The publication of the Genealogy and Heraldry Bill, 2006, in May 2006 was greeted with utter dismay and hostility in some circles close to the ‘office’ of the Chief Herald of Ireland, others, which included many parliamentarians, understood that the Irish heraldic system had no proper legal status since 1943 and that only a legislative remedy to this embarrassing situation. Indeed, it had been clear for some time that the College of Arms in London had serious doubts about the status of Irish grants, a point denied by the Chief Herald of Ireland at the time.

Tony McCarthy, editor of ‘Irish Roots Magazine’ put the objectives of the Society’s Bill very succinctly in his editorial in Issue No. 58 – Second Quarter – 2006 – see here.

The full text of the Genealogy & Heraldry Bill, 2006, can be accessed here.

One proposal contained in the Bill urged the use of heraldry to award meritorious citizens and an OpEd piece on this issue was published in ‘The Irish Times’ on May 22nd 2006.

Some of the concerns raised by the Genealogy & Heraldry Bill, 2006 received a great deal of press coverage, amongst which were:

‘The Sunday Times’ – October 29th 2006 – ‘Irish coats of arms ‘have no legal basis’ by John Burns.

  • ‘Daily Mail’ – October 30th 2006 – ‘Garter King questions legal basis of Irish chief herald – Family coats of arms may be worthless’ by Niamh Herbert.
  • ‘Sunday Independent’ – November 19th 2006 ‘Lap-dancers may don President’s coat of arms, and it’s all Dev’s fault’ by John Drennan.

Sun. Indo. Her Nov. 2006-002This Bill represented a very significant milestone in the development of genealogical services in Ireland and indeed, following a two hour debate in December 2006 in Seanad Éireann, it was agreed to withdraw the Bill at the request of the Minister John O’Donoghue, TD, who promised to have the positions outlined in the Bill examined by the Board of the National Library of Ireland and especially, by its Chairman, Gerard Danaher, SC.

Following the withdrawal of the Bill, the Society published authoritative articles on the current legal status and source of heraldic authority of the ‘office’ of the Chief Herald of Ireland by Prof. Noel Cox, which seriously undermined the ‘official’ view and supported the Society’s position as advocated in the Bill. With such serious doubts now surrounding the legal status Irish heraldic services, the Board of the National Library suspended all of its heraldic services early in 2007.

For a list of Prof. Cox’s articles see the Index to the Journal on the top of the Journal Page.  The main article also appeared in the Dublin University Law Journal and on-line here.

Media coverage of the perilous legal status of Irish heraldic services continued throughout 2007 and included:
‘Irish Independent’ – October 15th 2007 – ‘Coat of arms awards suspended after legal challenge’ by Michael Brennan, Political Correspondent.
‘Irish Independent’ – October 20th 2007 ‘A Farewell to Arms? By Kim Bielenberg
‘Sunday Independent’ – October 21st 2007 ‘Red Hat’ for new cardinal could mean red faces for Government’ by John Drennan.
‘Irish Mail on Sunday’ – October 21st 2007 ‘It’s a genealogical meltdown … because Dev wouldn’t seek royal warrant – Arm-ageddon’ by Nicola Byrne.
‘The Irish Times’ – October 25th ‘New Heraldry law needed urgently, society claims’ by John Downes.
‘Dún Laoghaire Gazette’ – October 26th 2007 ‘Council plunged into ‘arms crisis’ by Niall Foley
‘The Phoenix’ – many articles throughout 2006 and 2007.
Parliamentary Questions were tabled in Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann throughout the year urging the government to either bring forward amending legislation to remedy the situation or to make a statement on the matter.

2007 Campaign for release of 1926 Census

As the first genealogical organisation to campaign for the release of the 1926 census, this campaign was intensified in 2007 with the production of legislative proposals for the amending of the Statistics Act, 1993 to give a ‘special heritage status’ to this census. The headline in the June 2008 issue of ‘Ireland’s Genealogical Gazette’ [published June 9th 2008] read ‘Special Heritage Status for the 1926 Census Returns? proposing that the Statistics Act, 1993 be amended accordingly. In mid June 2008, the Fianna Fáil Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú agreed to sponsor a Bill drafted by the Society to have the 1926 census released, however, other pressing issues on the economic front delayed the introduction of the Bill – see below.

The hugely respected magazine ‘History Ireland’ carried a piece on the Society’s campaign for the release of the 1926 census in its September/October issue (Vol. 16 No. 5) which received much acclaim and support. The full text of the article is available here

On June 26th 2008, CIGO decided to enter the campaign publicly with an On-Line Petition to An Taoiseach to “use the powers vested in his office under section 33 (3) of the Statistics Act 1993 to release the complete returns for the 1926 census”. Unfortunately, the Board of the Society was unable to recommend the CIGO Petition to its members as it was based on a fundamentally flawed and erroneous reading of Section 33 (3) of the 1993 Act as An Taoiseach had no such powers. Therefore, once again, the Society reiterated its legally sound position that only legislative change could facilitate the release of the 1926 Census.

With the deepening economic crisis hitting the country in 2008, the Minister Martin Cullen announced his plans to amalgamate the National Library, National Archives and the Irish Manuscripts Commission. Though this proposal lay dormant over the following year, concern was mounting amongst genealogists and other users of these repositories about this ‘back of envelope’ proposal. In April 2010, Dr. Peter Crooks of Trinity College Dublin organised a public meeting to address this important issue. Many speakers sought total rejection of this proposal and indeed, far from considering the economic realities in the country, openly advocated measures that would have needed a huge injection of capital by the government in a deepening recession. At this very well attended meeting, the Society suggested a workable solution of ‘legislative amalgamation’ whilst maintaining the separate institutions.

The Society’s suggestion did not receive much support at the meeting in Trinity College, however, others agreed that such a solution offered the opportunity to up-date both the National Archives Act, 1986 and the National Cultural Institutions Act, 1997, through the introduction of new legislation required for any amalgamation. Although, the Minister, Mary Hanafin, TD, accepted the Society’s proposal in June 2010, the concept of ‘legislative amalgamation’ without requiring a ‘physical amalgamation’ was not readily understood nor appreciated by many genealogists.

2010 – move to Carlisle Pier

In 2008 the Society moved its growing Archive to a temporary premises in the centre of Dún Laoghaire as a more suitable maritime heritage use was being sought by Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council for the Martello Tower at Seapoint. The move to its current location at the Carlisle Pier at Dún Laoghaire Harbour in 2010 provided an excellent location for the provision of its services to members and to the general public.  On Monday 8th November 2010 the Minister for Tourism, Culture & Sport, Ms. Mary Hanafin, TD, officially opened the new Headquarters and Archive of the Genealogical Society of Ireland at a ceremony held at the Harbour Lodge, Dún Laoghaire, Co. Dublin.

The ceremony also included a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the foundation of the Society in 1990. Members and friends of the Society were joined by the Cathaoirleach of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, Cllr. Lettie McCarthy; Mr. Seán Barrett, TD; Ms. Fiona Ross, Director of the National Library of Ireland; Mr. Seán Costello, Chairperson and Board of Directors of Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company; County Councillors and the President, Vice-Presidents and Board of the Society.

(Pictured here: from left – Gerry Dunne, CEO, Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company; Pádraic Ingoldsby, FGSI, Cathaoirleach, GSI; Minister Many Hanafin, TD; Cllr. Lettie McCarthy, Cathaoirleach, Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council; Rory Stanley, FGSI, Society President; Seán Costello, Chairman, Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company and Marie McCarthy, Dún Laoghaire, at the reception in Harbour Lodge, Dún Laoghaire.)

This was a very special day for the Society as it celebrated two important milestones in the history and development of Ireland’s most active genealogical organisation. Ever since the foundation of the Society in October 1990 one of its main objectives was the establishment of a genealogical archive in Dún Laoghaire for items collected or donated by the Members and friends of the Society.

A number of premises held the archival collections over the years, including the Martello Tower at Seapoint. Pádraic Ingoldsby, Cathaoirleach of the Society explained how the Society acquired the new premises “last year, thanks to Gerry Dunne, Chief Executive of the Harbour Company and, of course, through the good offices of Cllr. Victor Boyhan, the Harbour Company decided to offer of the premises at the Carlisle Pier in May 2010 to the Society.

Fully refurbished the Society began its operations at the new premises in July 2010. It’s a superb location with ease of access and ample parking right in the heart of what could become the ‘heritage precinct’ of the Town and Harbour of Dún Laoghaire”. The Society’s Cathaoirleach, Pádraic Ingoldsby, noted that the Carlisle Pier in Dún Laoghaire was dubbed the ‘Pier of Tears’ in recognition of the possibly millions of emigrants that left our shores from this pier since 1859. He concluded by sincerely thanking and commending the Harbour Company for its decision to enhance the heritage potential of this area by allocating the premises to the Society. He then invited the Minister to officially open the Society’s new archive which is called ‘An Daonchartlann’ (Irish: People’s Archive).

(Pictured left: GSI Vice President, Stuart Rosenblatt, PC, FGSI, with one of his seventeen volumes on the archival heritage of the Irish Jewish community in the Society’s Archives & Research Centre at the Carlisle Pier, Dún Laoghaire.)

The Minister then unveiled the commemorative plaque saying “I want to congratulate all involved in getting us to this proud day for genealogy in Ireland. Helping people tracing their ancestors and the wider study of genealogy is a great service in the community. The opening of the new headquarters at the Carlisle Pier provides an opportunity now to promote this area as the ‘heritage precinct of Dún Laoghaire’ encompassing the Maritime Museum, new County Library & Cultural Centre, the Society’s Archive, the Pavilion Theatre and the Harbour itself. The tourism potential of such a precinct could be enormous and adds to the vibrant cultural and historical attractions in the area.”

(Pictured left: the cover of the 2010 issue of the Journal of the Genealogical Society of Ireland showing the entrance to the Society’s Archives & Research Centre – An Daonchartlann – at the Carlisle Pier, Dún Laoghaire)

The Minister also presented a Special 20th Anniversary Award of a Fellowship of the Genealogical Society of Ireland to Mr. John Grenham in recognition of his outstanding contribution to genealogical research. Finally, Mr. Seán Costello, Chairperson of the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company, thanked the Genealogical Society for co-hosting the event and wished the GSI Archives every success at the Carlisle Pier, Dún Laoghaire Harbour. This was certainly a great day for Irish genealogy – we have a public office for family history enquiries and, of course, a rather unique archive for research purposes.

2010 – Further campaign for release of 1926 census

In 2010, Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú (Fianna Fáil) published the Society’s Statistics (Heritage Amendment) Bill, 2010, which sought to amend the Statistics Act, 1993 to allow for the designation of a special heritage status to be applied to the 1926 Census and thus permitting its early release to the public. Following the General Election in 2011, Senator Ó Murchú restored this Bill to the Order Paper of Seanad Éireann as the Statistics (Heritage Amendment) Bill, 2011.

The full text of the Statistics (Heritage Amendment) Bill, 2011, can be accessed here.

In the run up to the General Election in 2011, the Society’s enviable and highly respected record of campaigning on various legislative matters concerning genealogy, heraldry and general heritage matters was further endorsed by the inclusion of the following points in the Programme for Government.

  • We will promote genealogical tourism by updating the National Cultural Institutions Act in relation to the Genealogical office to put it on a proper statutory footing, modernise its operations and to enable publication of the 1926 census to stimulate genealogy tourism.
  • We will also explore philanthropic opportunities for the development of a national archives and genealogy quarter, providing easy access to archives and tapping into an area of cultural tourism which is of huge interest to the vast Irish Diaspora.

The full text of the Programme for Government can be accessed here.

2011 – Support of University of Sarajevo

In February 2011 the Society decided to support the very important initiative taken by students at the University of Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina to restock the university’s library following the loss of its entire collection of books in the fire that destroyed the National and University Library in Sarajevo in August 1992.

(Pictured left: the historic Vijecnica building in Sarajevo in flames in August 1992. The building held the collections of the National and University Library in Sarajevo. Please see the Society’s appeal for the Books4Vijecnica initiative on the panel to the left.)

Given Ireland’s own experience of the destruction of our own Public Records Office in June 1922 at the start of our Civil War, we naturally empathise and wish to support our fellow Europeans in Bosnia as they lost over two million volumes, many priceless and rare manuscripts, in the destruction of the Vijecnica building in Sarajevo following the shelling by Bosnian Serbs during the Bosnian Civil War.

A detailed draft programme of action was drawn up by the Bosnian students and the Society and it is being considered at European level following support received from MEPs and, of course, from our own parliamentarians here.

The success in having the release of the 1926 census included in the Programme for Government was greatly overshadowed by the unnecessary and unwise suggestion by CIGO that the census should be released with the redaction of all information on persons born within the past hundred years. This ill-conceived proposal was met with absolute incredulity by our Members and indeed, according to some sources the ‘redaction proposal’ caused consternation amongst officials and almost derailed the whole campaign. Some former supporters of the ‘redaction proposal’ publicly admit that it was a ‘red herring’ and damaging to the campaign. Reports that the Minister supported this ‘redaction proposal’ are unfounded, however, until the Minister’s own amendments to the Statistics Act, 1993 are published we will not know if such unnecessary and costly impediments to full access to the 1926 have been fully abandoned.

In September 2011, the new Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan, TD, organised a day-long seminar in the National Library of Ireland, at which, many organisations and individuals, including this Society, gave presentations. The Society’s presentation was firmly based on the ‘Principle of Public Ownership and Right of Access’ to heritage and, upon such, we argued for a coordinated national policy and development framework for genealogical services in Ireland. The Society took the opportunity, once again, to reiterate its position on the 1926 census and on the services provided by the Heritage Centres throughout the country.

To view the slideshow of the Society’s presentation to the NLI seminar click here.

The latest legislative campaign undertaken by the Society concerns the restoration of the Privacy Bill to the Order Paper of Seanad Éireann – for further information see the May 2012 issue of ‘Ireland’s Genealogical Gazette’ here.

All through the years, the Society has encouraged the tabling of Parliamentary Questions in Dáil Éireann; raising matters on the Order of Business in Seanad Éireann; advocating amendments to Bills in both Houses; made numerous submissions to State agencies, government departments and local government; formulated and published detailed proposals on many issues and shall continue to do so in the interests of its members and genealogy and heraldry in general.

2013 - GSI Submission to Oireachtas Joint Committee

On Tuesday, 10th December 2013 The Genealogical Society of Ireland presented its 40-page submission to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht.  The Society was represented by Michael Merrigan, Tom Conlon, and Aidan Feerick.  Other organisations represented at this session were APGI, and some local genealogy/heritage centres.  John Grenham also addressed the committee in his capacity as author and commentator on matters genealogical.  Other interested parties were scheduled for hearing in the same week.

Each of the parties made an opening address, and there then followed a questioning the committee members.  We came away with a feeling that the committee members well understood the points made.  We eagerly await the report of that committee Read the Society’s submission


The Genealogical Society of Ireland has a long history of monitoring legislative matters and initiating campaigns for legislative change.  At the 1997 AGM the members adopted the ’Principle of Public Ownership & Right of Access’ to our genealogical and heraldic heritage. This ‘Principle’ is now recognised as the cornerstone of best practice by professionals in the field and by progressive repositories throughout Ireland.Some details of previous campaigns can be found in our history page here.

The board of Genealogical Society of Ireland adopted the following resolution on Sept 5th 2013:-

  • That, the Board, in accordance with the‘Principle of Public Ownership and Right of Access’ to our genealogical heritage (adopted 1997), endorses the following position in respect of the Freedom of Information Bill, 2013.
  • (1) That the current status of the records of the General Register Office as public records should be reaffirmed in the legislation.
  • (2) That, in order to facilitate genealogical, biographical and other research, that the records held by the General Register Office over seventy years of age be defined as ‘historic records’ and be made freely available to the public.
  • (3) That, in order to prevent the fraudulent use of certificates relating to events within the past seventy years, that all certificates obtained for bona fide genealogical or other research purposes be over stamped with the words‘For Research Purposes Only‘.
  • (4) That, the‘Principle of Public Ownership and Right of Access‘ to our genealogical hertage be included in the text of the legislation as a guiding principle for government or state agency policies in relation to such records….

Two current campaigns stand out and may need the support of our members, together with national and European legislators.

Campaign for release of the 1926 Census

  • In the Dáil Thursday May 9th 2013  a Bill calling for the release of the 1926 census was presented to Dail Eireann on Thursday May 9th 2013 by Sean O Fearghail, TD, of Fianna Fail, the main opposition party in the Irish Parliament. The Bill seeks to remove the 1926 Census of Ireland from the 100 year closure rule of the Statistics Act, 1993, however, this rule did not apply to the census taken in 1901 and 1911 which were released to the public in the early 1960s. The phenomenal worldwide success and popularity of the 1901 and 1911 census returns, which are freely available online, could be matched many times over should the government support the Statistics (1926 Census) Bill, 2013 which was published on-line on Monday May 13th 2013.The 1926 Census was the first taken after independence in 1922 and the period between the 1911 census and the 1926 census was, without doubt, the most turbulent period of modern Irish history. During that fifteen year period we the 1913 Lockout, the First World War, the Easter Rising of 1916, the General Election of 1918, the meeting of the first Dail in 1919 and the Declaration of Independence, the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, the Irish Civil War 1922-23 and, of course, huge emigration and economic difficulties.Irish historians and genealogists are becoming increasingly frustrated that promises in the ‘Programme for Government‘ in respect of the release of the 1926 Census have not materialised and that many parliamentary questions seeking to ascertain the progress, if any, on this promise have met with little more than bland ‘holding replies’. Clearly the resources for the study of this most important period in modern Irish history are incomplete without the 1926 census which stands like a huge monumental bookend with the 1911 census being the other. 2013 is the year of Ireland’s biggest-ever national campaign to bring people home by promoting an interest amongst the Irish diaspora in their ancestral links.

    The Statistics (1926 Census) Bill, 2013, is the fourth bill drafted by Genealogical Society of Ireland to go before the Oireachtas since 2006 seeking the release of the 1926 census. The GSI was the first genealogical organisation in Ireland to campaign for its release and indeed, in 1993 the Society alone successfully campaigned to have the closure period for census returns reduced from 100 years to 70 years in the Statistics Bill, however, despite assurances from the then Minister [Noel Dempsey, TD] in the Seanad, this was not included in the final text of the Bill when it later passed all stages in Dail Eireann. Therefore, the Statistics Act, 1993 became law on July 14th 1993 with the 100 year rule intact.

    The Society kept up the campaign since 1993 with PQs, four Bills and lobbying. The Society urges the government to accept and adopt Deputy O Fearghail’s Bill as it is merely a technical amendment to 1993 Act and only refers to the 1926 Census and not later census returns. The release of the 1926 census would be a hugely significant gesture during the year of The Gathering Ireland and, more importantly, it would provide an essential legacy for this year long event that has enormous potential for the promotion of an awareness, appreciation and knowledge of Ireland and our shared genealogical heritage.

    In the Senate Wednesday October 16th

    The same bill, as drafted by the Genealogical Society of Ireland and sponsored by Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú seeking a ‘technical amendment’ to the Statistics Act, 1993, was introduced in the Senate and was supported by Senators from all sides of Seanad Éireann (Irish Senate), but was defeated on a vote.  Senators supporting the government voted to defeat the bill

    1926 CENSUS – playback of the debate in Seanad Éireann on the Statistics (Heritage Amendment) Bill, 2011 on Weds. October 16th 2013. The section commenced at 16.30hrs Playback of the debate Move your cursor on the Media Player up to 05:52:17 on the above link for the start of this debate. Click here for the Transcript

    Campaign regarding the Freedom of Information Bill 2013

    The Genealogical Society of Ireland has identified a danger that The Freedom of Information Bill 2013, if adopted in its present form could limit access for genealogists to birth, marriage, and death records, unless they could prove a direct familial relationship with the subject of that record.  The effect of the Bill could be that these records become designated as private rather than public information.

    One of the issues is that in genealogy we regularly do searches of registers to find the record of a particular person, looking at a number of records in the process and rejecting them.  Such searches could not be permitted in a register of private records.

    The Freedom of Information Bill 2013 completed its second reading in the Dáil on Oct 2-3 and has been sent to the Select Sub-committee on Public Expenditure and Reform.  The Minister of State, Brian Hayes has promised that “Points were made about genealogy etc., and we will have an opportunity to debate those in greater detail at the next stage”.

It is impossible to recount the many, many issues upon which this Society has campaigned since its foundation in 1990 and therefore, this brief account is intended as an information piece for our Members and an aide to those researching heritage matters in Ireland. For the sake of brevity many issues have not been covered here, however, information on these areas may be gleaned from the Indexes to either the Journal or the Gazette provided on the top of the Home Page.

Michael Merrigan, MA, FGSI
General Secretary
Genealogical Society of Ireland.

May 2012