Archives in Crisis

Contributed by Peter Crooks

In 1922 the bulk of the nation’s documentary heritage was destroyed in the cataclysm at the Four Courts. What will be the state of Irish archives in 2022, on the centenary of the Four Courts blaze? This is the stark question posed by Archives in Crisis’, a symposium that takes place this Saturday in the Robert Emmet Lecture Theatre, Arts Building, Trinity College Dublin (10 April 2010 @ 3 pm). The meeting opens with three short papers representing different viewpoints on the current crisis. Catriona Crowe (chairperson of the archivist’s branch of IMPACT) will outline the straitened circumstances under which Irish archivists currently operate. Eunan O’Halpin (Bank of Ireland Professor of Contemporary Irish History at TCD) will offer the scholar’s perspective on the crisis, while Fintan O’Toole will address the cultural significance of archives for Irish society at large. The symposium is intended to facilitate public debate, and the majority of the session will be taken up by an open forum moderated by Diarmaid Ferriter (Professor of Modern Irish History at UCD), during which the audience will be invited to pose questions, respond to the speakers and make their own views known. (chairperson of the archivist’s branch of IMPACT) will outline the straitened circumstances under which Irish archivists currently operate.

The immediate context for the ‘Archives in Crisis’ symposium is the present government’s proposal to merge the National Archives of Ireland into the National Library. But this proposed merger is, in fact, merely a symptom of a wilful neglect of archives that has deep roots in Irish political culture. The purpose of the meeting is threefold. The first is diagnostic: the meeting will lay bare the full extent of the current crisis facing archives in Ireland. The second is programmatic: by bringing together professionals and members of the general public, the meeting will generate ideas for the proper direction of archival policy in Ireland. The third function of the meeting will be advocacy. Since 2007, the government has ignored its obligations under statute and has not appointed a chairman of the National Archives Advisory Council, with the result that the NAAC has not convened since the merger was announced in 2008 and has not been able to argue for the needs of the archives. Consequently, at the end of the symposium, it will be proposed that an independent ‘Action on Archives’ committee should be formed, which will seek to further the issue with appropriate bodies.

Freedom of access to public records is a core value in any properly-functioning democratic society. Archival policy is (to coin a phrase) too serious a matter to be left to the politicians. This symposium is a first step in facilitating public engagement on this crucial issue. Please come along on Saturday and join the debate.

Admission is free. No booking is required. For further information, please contact Anyone who cannot attend the symposium but would like to give their ideas or be included in the ‘Action on Archives’ e-mailing list should contact Peter Crooks at this email address.

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4 Responses to “Archives in Crisis”

  1. Frank Says:

    Wonderful list of speakers. Sorry I can’t attend for work reasons. Anyone visiting this blog who is unfamiliar with archival research won’t appreciate the wonderful variety of information available to the intrepid scholar at the National Archives and National Library. Every effort must be made to maintain and enhance the quality of service provided by these and other archival institutions. Digitisation of archival material will hopefully be discussed in some detail as together with the need for more staff to catalogue both newly acquired and older print items, we also need to think of ways of attracting signficant funding for more online projects which will serve to better assist us in our research.

  2. dfallon Says:

    In the last few nights I’ve been exploring the UK archives, at

    You simple fill a “shopping cart” with the items, and at the ‘check out’ (all items are free) enter your email address. Then, the archive material is emailed to you in PDF format instantly.


  3. John Johnston Says:

    I hope the Irish archives don’t suffer the fate those of Cologne have suffered and get swallowed by dodgy building works.

    Jesting aside, the symposium ought to raise people’s awareness of what is happening and why the government’s proposals fly in the face of logic. The precedent, I suppose, is the merger of the Office of Arms with the National Library in the 1940s but the functions of the former overlapped with those of the latter.

    Whether that is true of the Library and the Archives is another question, but whichever answer one comes up with the problem will be one of funding the solution and the State doesn’t have the money for that.

  4. Archives in crisis: the response « Pue's Occurrences Says:

    […] by Professor Diarmaid Ferriter, historian of UCD, he thanked everyone for attending and Peter Crooks for organising the event and bringing everyone together. The first speaker was Catriona Crowe, […]

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