How to look a gift-horse in the mouth

After the announcement final week of “Plans to digitise historic Land Commission records”, a couple of individuals contacted me asking if I used to be going to weblog about it. I resisted for an entire 48 hours.

First a little bit background. The Irish Land Fee was based in 1881, initially to determine honest rents after which to subsidise tenants to purchase out their holdings on the massive estates that made up most of rural Eire. Within the thirty-five years earlier than 1920, it oversaw the switch of greater than 13,500,000 acres. Within the Free State it was reconstituted in 1923 and went on to accumulate and distribute an extra 800,000 acres earlier than it ceased buying land in 1983. To provide some thought of the sheer scale of the work, it handled virtually 70% of your complete space of the island of Eire earlier than its ultimate dissolution in 1999. In Northern Eire the Fee ceased new operations in 1925 and was abolished as a part of the native authorities reforms of 1935.

In the midst of establishing title to the estates it was buying, the Fee collected a rare cornucopia of fabric – wills, marriage settlements, title deeds, leases, maps, pedigrees and extra, typically detailing households, their holdings and their tenants again to the seventeenth century. More detail here. And rant here.

In Northern Eire its data are all sensibly conserved, archived and publicly out there in PRONI.  See their information leaflet.

And within the South?  Nothing. Your complete assortment, now the property of the Dept of Agriculture, sits in a warehouse in Portlaoise underneath lock and key, tougher to get at than the vaults of Fort Knox.

If you happen to learn via the longer part of the announcement, you’re given the impression that the primary impediment to entry is the dearth of digitised variations of the 12 million data. Nonsense. The issue by no means was the dearth of digital copies (fantastic although they might be). The issue was and is the dearth of analysis entry of any description, bodily, religious, or digital.

I think what occurred is that the Dept of Agriculture custodians of the data discovered their very own analysis instruments disintegrating, so determined to get them digitised. As a part of the trade-off for funding they let the Minister have some good PR consideration by promising to place the discovering aids on-line. Maybe in addition they thought some motion on that entrance may deflect the stress to permit analysis entry. Boy, are they flawed on that one. If researchers can see exactly what it’s they’re not being allowed to get at, an amazing howl of pissed off need will come up throughout the land. Not less than I hope so.

However  in the event you pay attention rigorously to the video of the very respectable official in cost, he says (at round 1’10”) – “We’re hoping to create a searchable database, finally to have the ability to put it on-line”.  “Finally” being a technical civil-service time period for “By no means”.