The National Library of Ireland collection
Roman Catholic parish registers have always been in the custody of the parish. Sometimes stored in cupboards or even under the bed in the parochial house, the registers are, and were, in constant danger of being damaged or destroyed. Registers were also misplaced, lost or removed from the parish.
In order to preserve a resource that documented the Roman Catholic population of Ireland from the mid-18th century, Dr Edward MacLysaght, Chief Herald of Ireland, approached the Bishop of Limerick offering the National Library of Ireland’s services to help preserve these records.
The Catholic hierarchy agreed to his proposal and from the early 1950s almost the entire surviving collection of Roman Catholic parish registers was microfilmed by the NLI. The agreed cut- off for microfilming was 1880, 16 years after the start of civil registration in Ireland.
Microfilm copies of Roman Catholic parish registers have since been available to researchers visiting the NLI to search for their ancestors. These images have now been digitised and made available online.
However, since filming these records, additional registers have come to light, such as an early register for the parish of Blessington, which was found in a secondhand bookshop in Dublin and returned to the parish. This register is missing from the NLI’s collection, but has been indexed by the Wicklow Heritage Centre and published online at rootsireland.ie.
The NLI has the largest collection of Roman Catholic parish registers, but there are fragments and early registers that have been discovered since the microfilming project concluded, many of which have now been indexed by local heritage centres. This demonstrates that there is no ‘one-stop shop’ for Roman Catholic parish registers in Ireland.
The Reading Room at the National Library of Ireland in Dublin