An archive of more than three centuries of Irish history is available online for the first time, and it offers a rare glimpse into how the internet became the dominant form of communication in the island’s past.
The new digital library was created by the National Library of Ireland (NLI) and will be opened to the public on Sunday.
“The first public access to the NLI’s collection of historical documents was in 2011 and the NLEI is delighted to bring the NLES archive to our people’s fingertips,” NLI Director-General Frances Fitzgerald said.
“There’s never been a more accessible, comprehensive, and comprehensive collection of archival material in Ireland.”
A large number of archivists and historians were involved in the project, including a team of Irish students who were tasked with digitising the material.
“We have been overwhelmed by the amount of interest that has been generated in the collection,” said NLEL archivist Peter O’Brien.
“This archive is a testament to the generosity of the people of the islands who, together, have made history happen.”
The archive includes the writings of about 300 archivarians and historians.
“There are some very interesting and important documents in here,” NLEO chief archivist Anne O’Connell said.
The collection was initially created to archive documents relating to the Irish Potato Famine and to provide an accurate picture of the Irish community in the early 19th century.
It includes papers relating to a survey of Irish people and their attitudes towards the potato crisis, a collection of letters from an Irish community leader, and documents related to the establishment of the National School for Irish Language (NLSL).
The collection is also the only one of its kind in Ireland.
“It’s not a collection that exists in any other country, it’s something that’s unique and it’s a very, very important part of our heritage,” Ms O’Connor said.
“It is something that we’ll never forget.
It’s a treasure trove.”
Ms O’Connor said it was important that the archive had been digitised to allow for the preservation of a significant portion of Ireland’s history, “and we’re really excited to see what will be in there”.
“It is the story of how the Irish potato famine impacted our country, how we came to the brink of starvation and the devastating consequences that it had on our people,” she said.
She added: “The NLES Library has a lot of historical significance and a lot to do with the legacy of that famine, but it’s also a place for us to talk about some of the things that we can learn from it and how we can move forward.”
The collection will be open to the general public on Saturday, with a number of exhibitions and events scheduled across the country.
“We are looking forward to making this available to the wider public in a way that is as accessible as possible,” Ms Fitzgerald said, adding the Nles archive would not be available for sale or shared.
“What we are doing is bringing the history of the potato famine and its impact on the people in the country, and I think we have a great opportunity to share that with the wider world.”NLEL’s collection is expected to be in use for many years to come, but the NLSL will continue to hold a number special events and events in the coming months to celebrate its centenary.