Irish Newspapers began to be published from the late 17th century, however, for the purposes of using them as a genealogical research tool, it is not until the mid 18th century that Irish newspapers start to become useful. By the 1750s Irish newspapers were published more widely around the country and began to carry information of genealogical value. From the 1750s until the mid 19th century, newspapers can bridge the gap left by the destruction of or lack of parish registers and testamentary records. By the mid 19th century, sufficient other sources survive that make newspaper research less necessary, however, right up to the present day, information recorded in newspapers can still add to the story of a particular ancestor as more and more of the population appear in Irish newspapers.
Who is Recorded in Early Irish Newspapers
Irish Newspapers as a genealogical source are limited because of who was recorded in the press. Early Irish newspapers from the mid 18th century until the late 19th century usually only published announcements for certain classes. The gentry, the professional classes, the clergy, merchant families, wealthy farmers and some traders appear in the Irish press. From the late 18th century, as the penal laws were relaxed, the Catholic middle and merchant class began to have announcements published in newspapers and should not be excluded from your research on the basis of their religion. However, the large majority of the Irish population, small tenant farmers and the urban poor, are usually absent from this source, with the exception of those who were prosecuted for crimes. Local papers reported on the local gentry, doctors, solicitors, merchants, traders and wealthy farmers of the town in which the paper was published. The inhabitants of neighbouring towns are often included, but perhaps not to the extent of those in the town in which the paper was published.
Announcements were often copied from one paper to the next. Provincial announcements could be reprinted in the Dublin press and announcements from the US, the UK or Dublin were reproduced in the provincial press. The difficulty of determining where and when an announcement might appear is what makes Irish newspaper research a time consuming and sometimes frustrating genealogical tool, until the arrival of digitisation.
The advent of the digitisation of Irish newspapers has greatly altered the way that they are used as a research tool, however, it is important to bear in mind that what is currently available online represents a drop in the ocean of what actually survives. It is well worth familiarising yourself with the newspapers that survive for the area and period that you are interested in before you start looking online. The paper that is relevant to your research might not yet be online.
Where to Find Irish Newspapers
There is no one comprehensive catalogue of all of the newspaper archives that survive in Ireland. The most useful publication is NEWSPLAN, published in 1992 and 1998 for the preservation of Irish Newspaper Archives which provides the most comprehensive listing of surviving Irish newspapers in Ireland. It is worth consulting NEWSPLAN first, in order to identify newspapers that might be suitable for your research and to determine the periods for which they survive and their location.
The largest collection of newspapers in Ireland can be found in the National Library of Ireland, where most of their collection is now available on microfilm. The National Library of Ireland has published its newspaper catalogue online and it is possible to search for newspapers by name, county or town of publication. The catalogue will tell you the extent of the paper that survives and where you can access copies, either on microfilm or hard copy.
Most local and regional libraries hold an archive of Irish newspapers that pertain to their particular area.
Since 1826, the British Library was obliged to hold a copy of all Irish publications and from that date its collection of Irish newspapers is largely complete. It also has an extensive, but not complete, collection of newspapers published prior to 1826. The British Library Newspaper Archive is slowly digitising its collection, including Irish newspapers, but the majority are not yet available online.
In the next post I will be looking at newspaper collections that are available online, where to find them and how to get the best results using their search engines.