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Out of the Box

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By Mitzi D’Alton

Dublin’s Culture Connects : The National Neighbourhood’s newest project has just begun. ‘Out of the Box’ is in partnership with The National Archives of Ireland.

The project seeks to link individuals from across Dublin city with their National Archives to support them on a research journey. From Great Uncles who fought in 1916, to the history of a local pub and its inhabitants, Out of the Box is facilitating participants in researching a particular person, their own family history, the history of their home, their street or a particular building significant to them. They will also be encouraged to bring contemporary records into their research to build a social and historical picture of themselves, their family and their community.

I began looking for budding ‘researchers’ by drawing on the connections established within the five other National Neighbourhood Projects. This has been very fruitful, so many people from all walks of life are intrigued and excited about delving into their past.

When Tom produced a trolley full of grey boxes and opened the first one to reveal a big brass bound Minute Book from Eamonn De Valera’s first government, history really came alive.

The first group of these budding researchers visited the team in The National Archives this week for a talk and a tour on the holdings of the Archives, that is to say the different kinds of documents and artifacts kept in Bishop Street. Tom Quinlan, the Keeper of the Archives and Louise Kennedy, archivist, took us through myriad resources available for the public to use free of charge, including National Census records, Parish records, last Wills & Testaments, Penal Records, Government Meeting Minutes Books, and more.

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When Tom produced a trolley full of grey boxes and opened the first one to reveal a big brass bound Minute Book from Eamonn De Valera’s first government, history really came alive. We got to see up close a little black Minute Book from the days of the secret Dáil, pre-Free State, where the matters of the day were being discussed, including plans to purchase an artwork for the Hugh Lane Gallery Collection on behalf of the albeit non-official State.

Newspaper clippings and correspondence regarding the disapproval of images of bare legged women featuring in daily newspapers, along with the last Wills & Testaments of some normal everyday Dubliners represented the wealth of documents held in the National Archives and the seemingly endless possibilities for research.

We also paid a visit to the Conservation Room and were talked through one of the many processes employed by Zoe Reid, Head of Conservation, in restoring and caring for old documents. At the time we dropped in, she was working on a poster from 1916 that had been taken down from a wall and brought with it bits of plaster and glue adhering, which she was in the delicate process of cleaning and removing the debris.

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The next step in the project will involve one-on-one meetings for our ‘researchers’ with an Archivist to make a plan to help them reach their research objectives. The men and women who joined me in the Archives that afternoon left with a feeling of excitement and a relish to get stuck into their research journeys.

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