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Public Record Office of Northern Ireland turns 100

PRONI 100 Graphic

A treasure trove of documents spanning more than 800 years has been unveiled to mark the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland’s centenary.

The 100 key records have been carefully collated to showcase Northern Ireland’s “historical, social and cultural” history, said Department for Communities Permanent Secretary Colum Boyle at a celebration event today – exactly 100 years after the establishment of PRONI on 22 June 1923.

Selected records include:

  • The oldest document currently held by PRONI - a Papal Bull by Pope Honorious III dating back to 1219

  • A lonely-hearts letter written to the Mayor of Belfast in 1935 from a Seattle man seeking a “colleen” for “matrimony…..knowing full well that the very best of people in the world come from the North of Ireland”

  • Notebooks and letters related to accounts of the Battle of the Boyne and the Easter Rising

  • Glens of Antrim song written in Irish from 1810 and a copy of Danny Boy Manuscript (1870 – 1914)

  • Correspondence from Wolfe Tone (1798)

  • Copy of Amy Carmichael’s Bible (1906)

  • Court cases including that of Sarah McAllister from Cushendall who was accused in 1892 of murdering a four-year-old child and making other children sick with sweets and sugar coated with arsenic.

PRONI office

Department for Communities (DfC) Permanent Secretary Colum Boyle, comedian Tim McGarry, DfC Deputy Secretary Moira Doherty, PRONI Acting Director David Huddleston and former BBC journalist Stephen Walker surveying just some of the PRONI 100 documents which will be released over the coming months.

The unveiling of PRONI’s 100 treasures will continue as a rolling programme across social media channels during the year.

Speaking at the ‘Celebrating a Century’ event, Colum Boyle, said:

“It is all too easy to think of archives as dusty inaccessible records languishing on shelves in darkened storerooms, but the work of PRONI clearly demonstrates the relevance and impact of archives in our society.”

Among guest speakers were two well-known local personalities who have used the archives at PRONI as a source for radio, TV shows and books - comedian and writer Tim McGarry and former BBC NI political correspondent Stephen Walker.

Hole in the Wall Gang member Tim, told guests that PRONI “is an oasis of knowledge, a treasure trove of documents and a paradise for history nerds like me. History comes alive in PRONI because you can see, touch, feel and smell the original documents”.

Stephen, a former investigative reporter with BBC Spotlight and author, described PRONI as “an important place in the fabric of Northern Ireland and helps us understand how our lives have changed over the decades”.

‘Celebrating a Century’ was the flagship event of PRONI’s centenary and a key part of PRONI’s efforts to promote an enhanced awareness of its role and the treasures it holds to a wider audience, including underrepresented groups. Other recent events held as part of PRONI’s centenary, which runs until March 2024, included a reflective event on the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and an American Declaration of Independence exhibition which runs until 24 July.

PRONI, which now holds more than three million documents, was established on 22nd June 1923 with the passing of the Public Records Act (NI) 1923 and opened its doors to the public on 3rd March 1924.

Other documents showcased at the ‘Celebrating a Century’ event included an early plan of Belfast (1790); an unbound copy of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920; Harland and Wolff minutes from the early-1910s referencing the sinking of the Titanic; General Nugent’s account of the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and correspondence between James Craig and Éamon de Valera dating back to 1920-21.

PRONI100 treasures will be made available via Facebook and Instagram at @publicrecordofficeni and Twitter @PRONI_DFC


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