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How To Research Your Period House

Have you ever wanted to know more about your period property? Wondered who lived there? When it was built? Who designed it? The Irish Georgian Society, Ireland's Architectural Heritage Society often receives inquiries from owners of Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian homes keen to discover the answers to these questions.

Discovering the history of your period property can not only be rewarding in itself but if your house is listed on the Record of Protected Structures, this information can be useful when applying for planning permission. Similarly, being able to establish the history of your period property can enhance your submission if applying for grants from your local authority, or other bodies such as the Irish Georgian Society and the Heritage Council.

So when it comes to researching your period property where should an owner of a period property begin? Fortunately, Ireland has a number of excellent libraries and archives for those wishing to conduct research on their period properties. What is more the majority of these repositories are located in very fine building providing an excellent excuse to view some of the best of Ireland's architecture.

What follows is an identification of some key repositories and a brief guide to a number of the sources contained therein, which are most likely to iilluminate the history of your period home.


The Irish Architectural Archive

45 Merrion Square, Dublin 2
Ph. 01 6633040
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The Irish Architectural Archive retains the largest body of historic architectural records in Ireland, and with its team of highly informative and enthusiastic staff it is a must for any one researching their period property. Access is free and no appointment is necessary but remember it does close on Mondays! Members of staff are always on hand to assist in identifying which of the some 80,000 drawings, 300,000 photographs and 11,000 books and other printed matter may be of relevance to those researching the history of their property.

Some but by no mean all of the highlights of the Irish Architectural Archive include the Biographical Index, the Press Cuttings, the Photographic Box Files and the reference library. All of these sources are indexed and user friendly. You can sit comfortably in its reading room and photocopying facilities are available.

The Irish Architectural Archives' reference library contained numerous publications, many of them rare books now out of print. Four useful books for those conducting research on their period property are Mark Bence Jones' A Guide to Irish Country Houses, Maurice Craig's Classical Irish Houses of the Middle Size, McCready's Dublin Street Names; Dated and Explained and Douglas Bennett's Dublin's Famous People and Where They Lived.

However despite the wealth of sources available in the Irish Architectural Archive don't be surprised if you come away still ignorant of such basic facts as its date of construction, the identity of the builder and architect, or the names and occupations of the people who lived there in the past. It is quite probable that hitherto your house has not been the subject of historic research and therefore you may need to start investigating primary sources to uncover the answers to these questions.


The Trinity Glucksman Map Library

Trinity College Dublin, Dublin 2
Tel: 01 6082087
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Established in 1987 the Trinity Map Library was renamed the Trinity Glucksman Library last year when it moved to the newly built Ussher Library. It holds over half a million maps and is the largest collection of printed maps in Ireland. Although open to non-Trinity College students, members of the public are required to make an appointment in advance of their arrival, with the Map librarian, Paul Ferguson. Maps are one of the most important sources of information when researching your historic home. By comparing maps of different periods one can establish an approximate date for your building and often trace further modification made to your home and its grounds. The map library holds copies of all Ordnance Survey maps for Ireland, both historic and current. If it is inconvenient for you to visit the Trinity Glucksman Map Library, for a fee the library will conduct a search and post to your home all the O.S. maps on which your period property appears.


The Registry of Deeds

Henrietta Street, Dublin 1
Tel: 01 6707500 
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Another useful source of information on your historic property is the Registry of Deeds, housed in the King's Inns building, which can be entered through Henrietta Street. Here you have two avenues to explore in your search for information: (i) through the names of previous owners of the property as listed on your deeds, (ii) by researching the name of the townland and/or street address of the property.

No appointment is necessary to conduct a search in the Registry of Deed, however a modest daily fee is charged prior to conducting a search. Searching the Registry of Deeds is a unique experience and one not to be missed! The information, which for the most part is handwritten, is contained in large sack cloth bound ledgers - so have plenty of time, wear casual clothes and enjoy your trip back in time.


National Library of Ireland

Kildare Street, Dublin 2
Tel: 01 6030200
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The National Library of Ireland was established in 1877. With seven miles of shelves and 6 million books, manuscripts, prints and drawings, maps, photographs, newspapers and genealogical materials those researching their period property are provided with ample material. The library is free to all members of the public and no appointment is necessary. One very useful periodical, of which the National Library has a complete run, is the Dublin Builder, which started in 1859. It became the Irish Builder in the 1860s and from the 1950s was known as the Irish Builder and Engineer. This periodical in its various incarnations is an invaluable resource, particularly on account of the inclusion of handy lists of new and planned developments, naming their architects and builders.

The National Library also comprises a Photographic Archive and a Manuscript Department, both of which are located in different buildings to the main library. The Manuscript Library shares a building with the Heraldic Office and Museum and is located at 2-3 Kildare Street, in the old Kildare Street Club. The manuscripts library may be of particular interest if your property is located on one of the former landed estates, as the library holds the numerous estate papers.

The National Photographic Archive houses the photographic collections of the National Library of Ireland and is located in Meeting House Square, Temple Bar, Dublin 2. (ph: 6030200) It has a very strong collection of early topographical photographs. Especially of relevance to those researching their historic home is the Lawrence Collection and the Valentine Collection. The Lawrence Collection consists of 40,000 glass plate negatives from 1870 to 1914; while the Valentine Collection comprises 3,000 negatives from the period 1900-1960. The topographical images in the Valentine were generated for the postcard trade, particularly in the years from 1929 until the 1950s. The Lawrence Collection is arranged alphabetically by place and the Valentine collection is indexed by county. Consequently discovering whether they contain an early image of your house is not as daunting a task as one might imagine.


National Archive of Ireland

Bishop Street, Dublin 7
Tel: 01 4072300
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The National Archives was formed in 1988, when the Public Record Office (founded 1867, formerly at the Four Courts) and the State Paper Office (founded 1702, formerly at Dublin Castle) were merged to create a single institution. Located in Bishop Street, Dublin 8 the National Archives of Ireland contains many documents that may help illuminate the history of your period property, especially with regard to your home's past inhabitants.

Particularly of note are the census records. Sadly although a census of the Irish population was taken every 10 years from 1821 until 1911, no complete set of census returns survive for the period before 1901. All the census reports from 1821 up until 1861 were destroyed in the Four Courts bombardment of 1922, while the census reports for 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891 were destroyed by the government of the day for reasons of confidentiality.

The 1901 and 1911 census of Ireland is the earliest complete census records to survive for all Ireland, with manuscript returns for each household in all thirty-two counties. The returns are arranged by townland or, in urban areas, by street. The returns for each townland or street were completed by the head of each household, giving the names of all people in that household on census night and their age, occupation, religion and country of birth.

If your period property is located in Dublin City, you'll be fortunate in having access to information from the 1851 Dublin City Census, as Dr. D.A. Chart of the Public Record Office abstracted a comprehensive list of the names and addresses of heads of the household for Dublin City in advance of their destruction.

The National Archives holds two other useful sources that may yield information on your period property, namely the Tithe Applotment books and the Primary Valuation (also known as Griffith's Valuation).

The Tithe Applotment books were compiled between 1823 and 1837 in order to determine the amount that occupiers of agricultural holdings should pay in tithes to the Church of Ireland. There are manuscript books for almost every parish on the island, giving the names of occupiers, the amount of land held, and the sums to be paid in tithes.

The Primary Valuation/Griffith's Valuation was conducted between 1847 and 1864 and provides a printed valuation book for each barony or poor law union, showing the names of occupiers of land and buildings, the names of persons from whom these were leased and the amount and value of the property held. (You can also view the Primary Valuation and subsequent valuation records with their accompanying maps at the Valuation Office, Irish Life Centre, Lower Abbey Street, Dublin 1 (phone: 01 8171000 / www.valoff.ie)


Dublin City Library and Archive

138-144 Pearse Street, Dublin 2 
Tel: 01 6744800
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Another excellent repository is the Dublin City Library and Archive. Located in the former Gilbert Library, Pearse Street, this fine Mount Charles sandstone building was recently refurbished and opened to the public in 2003. Today it holds the re-branded Dublin City Library and Archive, previously known as the Dublin Corporation Gilbert Library and the Dublin Corporation Archives, respectively.
If your period property is located in Dublin, then the Dublin City Archive will be particularly relevant. Some highlights of the collection include the papers of the Wide Street Commission, 1757-1849 and the townships/urban district councils records for Rathmines and Rathgar, 1847-1930, Pembroke, 1863-1930 and Howth, 1918-40.

Another excellent source located in the Dublin City Archive is the Thom's Street Directories, which are all conveniently on open access. The Thom's took over the publication of the Post Office Directory in 1844. By consulting the Thom's Street Directories you will be able to see the names of the occupiers over the years. You may also be able to deduce the approximate date of your period property by the year of its initial inclusion in Thom's. It also give the rates values for houses, which often indicates an approximate size of a building. The rates were not only determined by a house's size but also condition. This means you will frequently find the comments 'derelict' or 'refurbished' entered for a building, allowing an understanding of your period property's condition over the years.


Royal Irish Academy 

19 Dawson Street, Dublin 2
Tel: 01 6762570
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Founded in 1785 with the aim of 'promoting the study of science, polite literature and antiquities' the Royal Irish Academy is located in a splendid mid 18th century detached townhouse. The Library of the Royal Irish Academy holds a unique collection of manuscripts, pamphlets and books dating from the late 6th century to the present day. If you are fortunate enough to reside in one of Dublin's Georgian townhouses then The Georgian Society Records, published in 1909 may be worth consulting. In addition to the Georgian Society Records, the Royal Irish Academy also holds a complete run of the Irish Georgian Society Quarterly Bulletins (1958- 1997) and the Irish Georgian Society's Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies journal (1998- to date), both of which contain articles on Irish architecture and architects.