Researching at The National Library of Ireland


Entrance to the National Library - Kildare Street

Located on Kildare Street in the heart of Dublin, the National Library is a treasure. If you are facing the Dáil Éireann (the Assembly of Ireland similar to our House of Representatives), the National Library is to your left and the National Museum is to your right. It is a research library and does not lend any of its material. It’s also a closed stack library so you don’t just wander around to see what looks interesting. Preparation for your visit makes all the difference!

To research at the National Library, the first thing you need to do is to obtain a Readers Ticket. There is now an online registration form that you can complete. Make sure you read the Rules for Readers document. Once you have completed your application, a library staff member will contact you with your ticket number. This will allow you to order material, but you will not be able to obtain the books/documents until you complete the process onsite at the Library. You will need to present yourself to the Readers Ticket Office (open Monday-Friday from 10:30 - 12:30 along with a photographic ID (passport or driver’s license will do). Once you have your Readers Ticket you can pick up any material you have ordered. For those needing to renew, bring your expired Readers Ticket to the Office. (Each time I've renewed, they've cut the picture from my previous Ticket...I think this one dates from the 1990s!😀) If it expired after 2017 but more than 12 months ago, you will need to provide a photo ID as well. If your Ticket expired before 2017, you will need to apply for a new one.

A great place to start your search is at JohnGrenham.com or his book Tracing Your Irish Ancestors. On the website's home page, click on Sitemap and select the Civil Parish Map, then the County and the Parish. Now look in the upper right corner to review the resources available that might help answer your research question. John will usually have the call number for items in the National Library although I would suggest you double check the listing in the catalog to make sure the number hasn’t changed. If you have his book, read the chapter on the county.

Resources for Rossinver Parish, County Leitrim at JohnGrenham.com

At the National Library site there are two places to check and the links are on the home page.

Home Page for the National Library of Ireland

The first database is the Main Catalogue. As I mentioned above, you don’t wander around browsing the shelves at the Library…you need to do your browsing in the catalog. Des McCabe, an archivist at PRONI told my group, that the biggest problem for people trying to research their ancestors in an archive is that they don’t know what they are looking for and that's OK. Where most people are used to putting a name in a search engine, finding a manuscript document that names your ancestor requires an understanding of the time and place as well as those with whom your ancestor might have interacted. The more you can identify prior to your trip, the more effective you will be when you arrive.

National Library Main Catalogue - Browse

You can search or browse the Library Catalogue. Click on Help for additional information. The Main Catalogue allows you to Browse by the type of document, a subject or a place. You can also limit by a timeframe. Here you can select the type of material such as book, photo or manuscript. Search for books on the location where your ancestor lived to get background information on the history of the locality. You can check WorldCat to see if there is a copy near you in a US library that you can access directly or through Inter-Library Loan. Some of the books published in Ireland are not accessible from the US, so focus on those during your visit. These will be delivered to you in the Main Reading Room at the Library. Manuscripts are delivered to the Manuscript Reading Room which is down the block on the corner of Kildare and Nassau Streets. You can order material up to 5 days in advance. If there are restrictions on the material or if it is off-site, it will be noted. If possible, you want material waiting for you, not the other way around, but don’t go crazy. In most cases material can be delivered within a few hours. If you have applied for your Readers Ticket, you can order material, but you won’t be able to pick it up until you receive your ticket.


The second database is Sources. If you’ve been researching for a while, or have been to the Family History Library, you’ve probably seen the Manuscript Sources for the History of Irish Civilisation or what is frequently referred to as the Hayes Manuscripts. This series is difficult to find here in the US. Other than the Family History Library it is mostly at Universities. In 1941, Richard Hayes who was the Director of the Library launched a project that ran for over 30 years to identify manuscript sources in 30 countries. Published in 1965, with a supplement in 1979 it amounts to 23 volumes. The National Library has a project to digitize this resource and you’ll notice the site says Beta. It is an ongoing project.

Sources Database at the National Library

Let’s begin by talking about searching…either Sources or the Catalogue. Unless your ancestor was famous (or infamous) or a member of the gentry or landed class, you probably won’t find them by searching for their name. It’s always a possibility especially if you're searching in a specific database such as newspapers. More likely, you are going to want to search by location (what was happening in the place when and where your ancestor lived), or by the name of their landlord (are they named in leases or rental agreements, or if they were a tradesperson, in the accounting records for the Estate). Were they involved in an historical event in that place (such as the Irish Rebellion of 1798 or the formation of the Land League). I almost always begin my search by location.


So beginning with the Sources database, l’m going to type in “Johnston” as my broad search criteria. This isn’t to find my direct ancestor, but the landlord in the area where they lived, who was also Johnston. Now I begin filtering my results on the right to see if any of the documents are of interest. I can filter by family name (sometimes you might have a reference to Lord Leitrim so it’s important to know his family name…in this case Clements), type of material, i.e., book or manuscript, subject, dates, or places. Just a reminder, many landlords held property in multiple counties…for example, St. George R. Johnston held property not only in Leitrim, but also in Galway so begin with a wide search, then filter to narrow it down. When you find an entry of interest…

click on the title to get more detail.

When I click to expand the listing, I also find the information I need to order the document

Although these records are late, my family was in this area until the 1930s. This document is located at the National Library and the call number is Ms 25.052.

As I mentioned above, the manuscript resources were collected from multiple countries and archives, so the Sources database includes information from many places. You should check it no matter where you are researching in Ireland. The majority of the entries will be at Irish repositories. Since the original work was done in the 1940s-1960s, you’ll find entries listing the Dublin Public Records Office (now the National Archives) and the Belfast Public Records Office (now PRONI). Other listings might be for County Archives. In some cases you’ll find listings for Records Offices in the UK as that may have been the seat of a landlord and the family papers are located there. You’ll also find listings for articles in Journals with the information necessary to order to correct volume. Local Historical or Genealogical publications might have published church records, for example.


So before you leave for your Irish research trip, spend some time with the Catalogue and the Sources database at the National Library.


One last thing...The National Library has a Genealogy Advisory Service located on the Mezzanine level. Staffed by genealogists, it contains a collection of general genealogy resource books, as well as computers with access to a number of databases, including Findmypast, Ancestry, IrishAncestors, American Ancestors, Irish News Archive, Irish Times Newspaper Archive and the Dictionary of Irish Biography. These are all available for free and the use of this facility does not require a Readers Ticket. If you're only in Dublin for a few hours, and don't plan to do extensive research you can stop in.

Genealogy Advisory Service at the National Library


Happy Hunting!


Are you interested in researching in Dublin or Belfast this year? Space is availabe on the Irish Research Trips in both May and October. Information can be found here. If you have questions, you can email me.









National Library Reading Room

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