‘Majority’ Of Land Commission Records To Finally Be Transferred To National Archives

Priceless files to be transferred to the National Archives but digitisation ‘not a runner’.

Keeper of the records Conor Gallagher at the Land Commission Archive warehouse in Portlaoise Pic. Alf Harvey.

The Department of Agriculture in Ireland has announced plans to transfer the millions of historic documents and records of the Land Commission to the National Archives.

This decision comes after persistent calls from academics and researchers over the years for increased accessibility to these invaluable resources, which many believe to be a treasure trove which holds the keys to fully understanding modern Irish history.

​The Land Commission holds a pivotal place in Ireland’s history, having played a crucial role in the country’s land reform during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Established in 1881, the Commission was tasked with facilitating land redistribution, primarily from landlords to tenant farmers, in an effort to address the inequities and injustices inherent in Ireland’s land ownership system.

Most of 8-11 Million records are set to be transferred to the National Archive Pic. Alf Harvey

Despite its huge significance, access to the Land Commission’s archives has long been restricted by the Department of Agriculture, which assumed responsibility for the archive in the late 1990s.

The records, mainly documents and maps detailing the division of estates across the country, are currently stored in a warehouse located in the Clonminam Industrial Estate, Portlaoise.

For decades, the Department defended the restrictions by highlighting that the documents were still consulted for legal queries while also being fragile.

However, in the past, the Department also said files are not available to the general public as they contain “private, sensitive information”.

​This limited access has posed significant challenges for historians, researchers and genealogists seeking to explore Ireland’s land history and its impact on societal development.

However, speaking on RTÉ’s History Show, the Department’s Head of Legal Services, John Kinsella, said as the residual work of the Land Commission undertaken by the Department is “largely complete”, now is the right time to transfer all of the records that are over 30 years old to the National Archive.

He said this would encompass “by far and away the vast majority” of the estimated 8-11 million records.

The Land Commission warehouse in Portlaoise Pic. Alf Harvey

“We’re working with and engaging with the National Archives to implement a plan that will bring that about… any restrictions on access that currently are in place at the moment… are not going to continue indefinitely,” he said.

“They’re there primarily at the moment, I think, to safeguard the integrity of these records.

“What we have here is an entirely paper-based archive. They’re priceless records, which is why people like to get in and see them. If they’re lost or damaged, they’re ultimately irreplaceable.”

However, Kinsella also said that because of the vast scale of the archive, digitisation of the whole archive “is not really a runner”.

(Source – Irish Independent – Indo Farming – Ciaran Moran – 19/03/2024)

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