IGRS 75th Anniversary in 2011

In celebation of the IGRS reaching the 75th anniversary of its foundation, on Thursday, 31 March 2011, the Society’s chairman, Steven Smyrl, met with the new Irish Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan TD, to present him with a portfolio of material gathered by the IGRS Ireland Branch relating to his family history. The documents, covering census returns, parish records, valuation lists and newspaper clippings traced his family in the Listowel area of Co. Kerry back to the early years of the nineteenth century. During the following press conference the Minister spoke about his plans to release data from the 1926 census, something long lobbied for by both the IGRS and the Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations.

Later that evening Fergus Gillespie, former Chief Herald of Ireland and President of the IGRS, played host at a reception held 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, the final paragraph of which noted:

“As President of Ireland Mrs. McAleese declared that ‘Building Bridges’ would be the chosen theme of her Presidency. Over the past fourteen years she and her husband, Martin McAleese, have successfully built bridges linking together many disparate communities across the island of Ireland, eloquently utilising innovative and meaningful forms of communication. Furthermore, she has recognised the vital importance of maintaining contact with the worldwide Irish family. She has reached out to those citizens forced by circumstance to make their homes away from Ireland, while also demonstrating the on-going commitment of the Irish people to the descendants of those who left Ireland generations ago, who nevertheless retain a longstanding affection and affinity with the land of their ancestors. President McAleese’s term of office has been a resounding success and one that her successors will ever aspire to emulate.”

In reply to the speech given by Mary McAleese, Mary Casteleyn, Vice-Chairman of the IGRS, delivered the following speech:

Madam President, Distinguished Guests, Colleagues and Friends…

We have been very honoured that President Mary McAleese has graciously helped us celebrate our 75th birthday today; we thank her so much for her interest and support. A debt of thanks is also due to the staff of the National Library and in particular Fiona Ross, The Director, who kindly agreed to host our party. We are extremely grateful for your hospitality. Mention must also be made of the notable leadership shown by the new IGRS President, Fergus Gillespie, and the new Chairman of the IGRS, Steven Smyrl. And The Ireland Branch members who have helped to make this evening a success, including Gaye Conroy (for the catering) and Hilary MacDonagh (for the publicity). A special vote of thanks also goes to Mr Billy Lutton, the heraldic artist attached to the Genealogical Office, for his outstanding work on the IGRS Fellowship certificate presented to President McAleese.


On June 28th 1963, President John F Kennedy, presented to the People of Ireland, one of the Flags of the Irish Brigade, the fighting 69th, who fought so bravely at Fredericksburg during the American Civil War. Likewise, the Benedictine Sisters of Kylemore Abbey, formerly for hundreds of years based at Ypres in Western Flanders, returned to Ireland the Flag of the Irish Brigade of the French Army, who had fought so valiantly at the battle of Ramilles in 1706. For us, these Flags represent the history of the family of millions of Irish people scattered throughout the globe. Delving into dusty archives worldwide does not perhaps have the same immediate and colourful effect as Battle Flags and Banners of our exiled soldiers……. But the results of what can be found in archives, can be equally as inspirational in recording the history of our people.


For 75 years our members have been burrowing away, long before genealogy ever became fashionable, in obscure papers and records throughout the world. A lot, of course, is held in England, but like our people, our members have never been constrained by boundaries, and they have also been busy at work in France, in Spain, in America, in Canada, in Australia, in South America, in the West Indies. This has all added up to a huge corpus of work and scholarship. This is kept in the library, and I would like to pay tribute the Members of Council in London, who week, after week, keep the library open, and keep the Society operating, all on a voluntary basis, over there.


More recently, a great debt of thanks must go to our colleagues in the National Library, the National Archives and the Irish Family History Foundation for the tremendous work they have done in making available, via the Internet, so many records that now make Irish Family History so accessible to so many people throughout the world. The IGRS too has been copying its records and some our most valuable material such as the Hussey Walsh Manuscripts has been made available in Dublin, and the work of that remarkable genealogist, Father Wallace Clare (a convert himself), on the Convert Rolls of Ireland, (And edited by the late Dr Ann Chamney), has been published by the Irish Manuscripts Commission. These genealogical gems might perhaps be regarded as our Battle Flags…….


It is tempting to think that not much remains to be done but this is definitely not the case. One of our members, Samuel Fannin, is currently working on the Irish in the Spanish Archives and has published much of his research in our Journal, The Irish Genealogist. Another member, Dr Bolanos Meade of John Hopkins University, has discovered 57 unexplored boxes devoted to the Meade family of Limerick and Dublin, dating from 1824-1850, in the library of the University of Guanajuato, in Mexico. I know myself that there are many 18th century deeds relating to the Irish merchants and Irish community in the Rotterdam Archives, in the Netherlands – mostly written in Old Dutch and only a few in English.


These examples are only the tip of a very large iceberg of Irish related material that is out there waiting to be discovered.


For us, it is a source of pride and privilege to undertake this research, and to return to Ireland, the history of some of its people. I love finding Irish people in unexpected places and particularly like to uncover the lives of exiled Irish women. Miss Eagar, of county Kerry, was for 6 years the Governess of the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Marie and Anastatia, the tragic daughters of Czar Nicholas ll, who were killed with their parents in 1918 at Ekaterinaburg. And the Ursuline nun, Mere Imelda, of the Ursuline convent of Herck-la-Ville in Eastern Flanders, formerly a Miss Scarffe of Dublin, who, about 100 hundred years ago, was entrusted to teach art to Princess Juliana of the Netherlands, later Queen Juliana of the Netherlands. Now, of course the Ursuline nun could not leave her convent in Flanders, so the little Protestant Princess, heiress to the Dutch House of Orange, was regularly brought across the Dutch border into Belgium, for her art lessons from the former Miss Scarffe of Dublin.


And lest you think it is all dry and tedious work, I give you a quote from one of our treasures – the Note book of Philip O’Brien of Ballyporeen, County Tipperary, a Catholic gentleman farmer, written in 1757, and full of draft deeds, wills, and farming accounts, a little piece of marginalia, probably written one day when he was bored………… “Short shoes and long corns to the enemies of Ireland”.


I think that says it all!


Madam President, thank you for the honour you have given us by attending our celebration. We now look forward to the future, and perhaps the next 75 years, with increased enthusiasm, and more inspired than ever to carry on our work. I think of the Battle Flags……… and I know we can do more.

Thank you………..

Delivered in the National Library of Ireland, Dublin, before President Mary McAleese on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Irish Genealogical Research Society.

See also a video of the anniversary celebration at the foot of the History page.

Back to History                                                                                          Page last updated 17 March 2013


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