Add to bookbag
Author: Ann McVeigh
Title: Public Record Office of Northern Ireland
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
June 1998

This work is protected by copyright and may be linked to without seeking permission. Permission must be received for subsequent distribution in print or electronically. Please contact for more information.

Source: Public Record Office of Northern Ireland
Ann McVeigh

vol. 1, no. 1, June 1998
Article Type: Site Review

Public Record Office of Northern Ireland

Ann McVeigh


More than just a record office ...

The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) is unique in that it is the only Public Record Office in the British Isles that is permitted by an Act of Parliament to acquire and preserve records belonging to private individuals, businesses and societies, as well as the usual government records.

This means that every aspect of life in Northern Ireland is covered, from arts and crafts to zoology. Among the millions of records held are the archives of Harland & Wolff, builders of the Titanic; the family papers of the first governor of Northern Ireland, the Duke of Abercorn, whose family papers stretch back to 1219; the papers of the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, diplomat extrordinaire; and, on the other side of the social scale, thousands of letters from Irish emigrants all over the world to their families and friends back home. Then there are the records of political parties, most of whom are represented, as are many of the community groups.

A list of all the categories of records held is available on our website. Also on-line is a list of information leaflets, advice on contacting PRONI staff members, directions for getting to PRONI as well as opening times and information on new acquisitions. A useful section is the 'Frequently Asked Questions' page which could save the average researcher a great deal of angst and time-wasting. The casual browser, the local historian, the genealogist and the academic researcher will all benefit from a visit to the PRONI web-site.

Introductions to major collections

To facilitate research, PRONI's website contains introductions to the major collections, most of which have been written by the Deputy Keeper of the Records, Dr A.P.W. Malcomson. Dr Malcomson's knowledge of the major collections in PRONI's keeping - and of their depositors - is second to none. Each introduction to a major collection (there are approximately 120 introductions so far) gives an overview of the problems associated with the archive, points out items of particular interest, and gives a history of the family to whom the records relate. These are a valuable starting point for anyone interested in the political, economic or social history of Ireland from c.1600 to the present day.

Exploring Northern Ireland

Developments already at an advanced prototype stage are a virtual tour of the public areas of PRONI's Balmoral Avenue (Belfast) premises, which allows remote viewers to become familiar with the layout of PRONI before they visit, and an interactive geographical index. By clicking on a section of the map, the reference numbers of documents relative to that area will be displayed. By exploring the maps visitors to the website can understand how one area relates to another - by looking at counties, parishes and then townlands - and they will be able to list relevant collections by place before broadening their search, if need be, to neighbouring areas.

Check out the Prominent People

New on-line is the PRONI 'Prominent Persons Index'. This emerged from what is probably the largest collection of personal names card indexes held in any archival institution in the British Isles. Containing approximately one quarter of a million personal name references, the card index includes all sections of society from lords to labourers. In this respect, PRONI has perhaps been too inclusive for its own good: while other institutes have ignored 'the lower orders', PRONI has included all and sundry in one vast alphabetical sequence. Meanwhile, the UK National Names Authority File project, in which PRONI will play its part, would like to include only those who could be described as 'the great and the good'. PRONI has, therefore, recently completed an operation that extracted from the quarter of a million cards all those relating to prominent people and entered the information into a database. A version of this 'Prominent Persons Index' database is now available through PRONI's web-site.

Exodus on the internet

PRONI, in conjunction with a popular daily newspaper, the Belfast Telegraph, launched an on-line exhibition on St Patrick's Day (17 March 1998). Called 'Exodus', the exhibition focuses on nineteenth-century Irish emigration to North America and Canada. There are photographs showing life in Ireland and in America; letters praising (and complaining of) the New World: advertisements and guides exhorting and cautioning would-be emigrants, and newspaper articles showing how diverse the experience of emigration could be. All the images uses are held by PRONI and the accompanying text, outlining the reasons behind the decision to emigrate, is written by Dr A McVeigh, a member of PRONI staff. The aim of this project is to give the general public access to images and information not normally available to them. By linking to a highly regarded local newspaper it is hoped that the site will attract more than academic interest.

The PRONI web-site is a vibrant, exciting and informative site. Intended to cover all aspects of learning, from the school-homework project to the highest level of academic research, from idle curiosity to in-depth local knowledge, the PRONI web-site intends to continue its quest to provide quality information in an easy-to-read package, to everyone - whatever their ability - who has an interest in the history and the people of Northern Ireland.

Interested in Irish History? . . .

. . . then visit the PRONI website: