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13.06.2022

Rescuing the records and Rosamond Emily Stephen

RCB Library marks the 100th anniversary of the loss of the Public Record Office of Ireland

One hundred years ago on 30th June 1922 – as is all too well known by Irish archivists, historians and others alike – the biggest explosion ever witnessed in Dublin before or since occurred in the Treasury building of the Public Record Office of Ireland (PROI) within the Four Courts complex, taking with it much of the country’s records from the 13th to the 19th centuries.

Rosamond Emily Stephen (RCB Library picture collection).
Rosamond Emily Stephen (RCB Library picture collection).

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the loss of the PROI, the RCB Library has commissioned historian Dr Ian d’Alton to produce a commemorative piece entitled ‘Rosamond Stephen’s Civil War’, illustrated with extracts from her family archive.  Ms Stephen, the founding benefactor of the RCB Library who lived at 21 Upper Mount Street, Dublin, recorded the events of that fateful day in her personal ‘Record’.

The ‘Record’ is principally a typewritten set of copy letters (to both her sisters and her mother in England) and her own journal entries that cover the years from 1902 to 1923.  Rosamond claimed in 1922: “My experience of life is all reduced to writing, and future generations will enjoy ferreting it out.”  In analysing the 1922 entries, some 100 years later, Dr d’Alton describes it a “most valuable possession” – transferred by Ms Stephen herself to the RCB Library before her death in 1951.

2022 is also significant because it marks the 90th anniversary of the RCB Library, which opened at headquarters of the RCB in 1932 (located then at 51 St Stephen’s Green). Approximately 5,000 printed books donated by Ms Stephen formed the nucleus of the original Library collection.

Although initially conceived as a lending library of printed materials, the RCB Library soon took on important record–keeping functions too in response to the loss of the PROI, where over 500 collections of parish records were destroyed, along with all the medieval and early modern diocesan archives and many genealogical papers of vital interest to historians of Church of Ireland families.  However, the early response of the Church’s Ecclesiastical Records Committee (formed in 1925) helped to locate and identify copies of items that had been lost, as well as set about the task of carefully collecting other records that had not been transferred to the Four Courts.

Today many of these are now in the Library’s safe keeping – including 1,218 collections of parish records alone.  Speaking from the RCB Library, Librarian and Archivist Dr Susan Hood commended Dr Ian d’Alton for his enlightening presentation, illustrated with a variety of archival material from the Library’s collections, and accompanied by the online release of the Rosamond Stephen’s diary or ‘Record’ of 1922, which has been digitized for the first time. This important work will hopefully “rescue Rosamond from relative obscurity and ensure further focus on her insight through this tumultuous period”.

You can explore the full Archive here.

 

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