Why is Griffith’s important for Irish genealogy?

The focus of the Valuation was taxation, not family or demographic information, and any genealogical or local historical information it supplies is purely incidental. So why is it of such importance for Irish research?

The simple reason is the destruction of The Public Record Office of Ireland in 1922. The Office had been part of the Four Courts complex for more than five decades when, on April 13th 1922, forces opposed to the Treaty with Britain occupied the entire compound. The occupation aimed to be a direct challenge to the authority of the Provisional Government by paralysing the centre of legal administration for the entire island. It continued for more than two months as both sides struggled to avoid direct confrontation.

The time was put to good use by the occupying forces in organising their logistics. In particular, for their munitions dump they chose the most heavily built and therefore the safest part of the complex, the strong room of the Public Record Office.

On June 28th, under intense pressure from the British government, the Provisional Government began an assault. After two days of shelling, a number of huge explosions destroyed the Public Record Office. Fires started as a result of the shelling had ignited the stored munitions and the destructive force of the blasts had been magnified by confinement within the reinforced walls of the strong room. A giant mushroom cloud rose over the city. Everything in the strong room was destroyed.

The returns from 1861, 1871, 1881, and 1891 had already been destroyed by official order, so the biggest loss was the 19th-century census returns of 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851. If these had survived, Griffith’s would be a footnote in most research; as things stand it is the only comprehensive, or near- comprehensive, account of where people lived in mid-nineteenth century Ireland. It covers over a million dwellings, and nearly 20 million acres, recording around 80% of the population. Because the Valuation was published (and has long been out of copyright) it is by far the most widely available record used for Irish research.

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