History

It’s not for nothing that in 2011 in his weekly column in The Irish Times, John Grenham – arguably Ireland’s most well-known modern day genealogist – described the Irish Genealogical Research Society (IGRS) as the “great granddaddy of all Irish family history societies“. The IGRS was established in 1936 in London to welcome all those interested in Irish genealogy. As such, it is the world’s first and oldest society dedicated to the pursuit of Irish genealogy.

The founding members were deeply concerned at the loss of much material of genealogical value and their priority was to collect copies of materials compiled prior to the destruction of the Public Record Office in Dublin (pictured right) in 1922. The core of our unique reference library was formed from the personal collection of both printed and manuscript materials which belonged to the Irish genealogist, Father Wallace Clare, the founder of the Society and its very first Fellow. Here’s what was recorded about the founding of the Society in the first edition of the Society’s annual journal, The Irish Genealogist:

From The Irish Genealogist, Vol 1. No 1. April 1937

The destruction in 1922 of the records deposited in the Public Record Office, Dublin, has rendered exceedingly difficult the task of tracing the descent of Irish Families. Since that lamentable event, great efforts have been made by those interested in Irish Genealogy to fill this hiatus by collecting copies and abstracts of Wills, Parochial Records, Chancery Proceedings and other documents known to have been made before the originals were destroyed. This work of reconstruction has already been, and is still being, carried out extensively by the Public Record Offices both at Dublin and at Belfast, the Society of Genealogists in London contributing also, among other interests, to the good cause.

The need has been felt, however, of a Society exclusively devoted to Irish Genealogy, formed with this special object in view, which would have a wide appeal to those of Irish descent throughout the world, who would thus be encouraged to contribute the results of their particular researches. As it was essential that a start should be made as soon as possible, whilst copies of original documents were still in existence, a meeting was, as we already know, held in the office of York Herald at College of Arms, London, on September the 15th, 1936, at which it was decided to found the Irish Genealogical Research Society.

Since these early days the Library has been greatly expanded by subsequent donations from members and there remains an active programme for the acquisition of manuscripts and printed works. The acquisition of data related to Irish births, marriages and deaths up to 1864 and the collecting of copies of wills, are still among our main objectives.

Similarly, the IGRS continues to host lectures. While the first such lecture was presented on 30 January 1937, the Society now hosts several lecture programmes each year in London and Dublin.

The Society continued to produce its well-respected journal, The Irish Genealogist, throughout the Second World War, even though war-time restrictions meant that hard copies were published a little behind schedule, and membership subscriptions were reduced for the duration of the hostilities.

The Ireland Branch was established in 1967, and was reorganised with an elected committee in 1986, at the request of members living in the Irish Republic and in Northern Ireland.

As guest of honour at the Society’s 75th anniversary reception on 31 March 2011, then President of Ireland, Mary McAleese observed that…

‘… the roll call of the early Council members reads like a catalogue of Ireland’s best Irish historians and genealogists, and we are so grateful for each and every one of them.’ (See video below)

In the last few decades, the IGRS has grown and prospered, in line with an upsurge of interest in family history research generally. In 2012, membership topped 700 individuals worldwide and by 2015 this had risen again, to just over 1,000. Just as in 1937, the Society continues to be run entirely by volunteers and has no paid staff, its administration and direction being managed by an elected Council assisted by other volunteer members.

As referred to above, in 2011 the IGRS celebrated its 75th anniversary. To mark this important occasion, the Society held a Reception at the National Library of Ireland, Dublin, at which the guest of honour was the President of Ireland, Mrs. Mary McAleese.  At this event President McAleese was presented with a decorated certificate (produced by the Genealogical Office, Dublin) recording her election to the Fellowship of the IGRS.

More about the 75th anniversary celebrations here or view the video below.


 * Photo of PROI courtesy of the National Archives of Ireland.

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