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Pics: Medieval documents damaged in 1922 Four Courts bombardment restored

It has taken a team of researchers 40 years to reconstruct the documents, which trace back to the time following Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland. Have a look…

Original Irish chancery letter 1398
Original Irish chancery letter 1398
Image: © National Archives of Ireland, Pembroke Deeds no. 58

THOUSAND OF DOCUMENTS which were almost destroyed during the 1922 bombardment of the Four Courts have been reconstructed by historians at Trinity College Dublin.

The Four Courts was home to the Public Record Office, which was destroyed when it was bombed in the conflict between pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty forces at the start of the Irish Civil War.

It was previously thought that the entire medieval archive had been destroyed, but 40 years’ work by a team of researchers at TCD has led to the reconstruction of more than 20,000 government documents produced by the medieval chancery of Ireland. They’re now available online.

The chancery was the secretariat of the government of Ireland and was responsible for issuing letters in the king’s name.

Professor of Medieval History at TCD Seán Duffy said that this is the “largest collection of new records to do with medieval Ireland to be made available in a generation”.

Pics: Medieval documents damaged in 1922 Four Courts bombardment restored
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  • The Four Courts Bombardment (1922)

    The Four Courts under bombardment from the National Army, June 1922. ©RTE Stills Library
  • Interior of the Public Record Office before 1922

    When the building exploded on 30 June 1922 the upper portions of the building were utterly destroyed, along with nearly all the priceless records held within. The official report on the 1922 disaster states that: ‘The fire left little but tangled iron work, blocks of masonry, mason rubbish and the charred fragments and ashes of what had once been Public Records.’ © National Archives of Ireland.
  • Original Irish Chancery Letter (1398)

    Irish chancery letters dated 23 May 1398 granting a licence to William FitzWilliam to grant Margaret Topp an annual rent. A fragment of the wax impression of the great seal of Ireland is attached to the letters by a parchment tongue. The seal shows King Richard II (1377-1399) enthroned.
  • Great Seal of Ireland from the reign of Richard II (1377-99)

    This is a rare surviving example of the wax impression or cast of the great seal of Ireland, which was used by the kings of England to authenticate Irish chancery letters written in their name.
  • Facsimile of the back an Irish chancery roll roll, Edward II (1308–9)

    This is a unique image because it shows what the medieval Irish chancery rolls looked like before they were destroyed. The jagged edge at the top of the image is where one membrane of sheepskin (parchment) was stitched to the next and rolled up to create a chancery roll. The original is in Latin. In translation it reads: “Memorandum that all the rolls of the Irish chancery with writs, inquisitions, bills and all memoranda touching the said chancery from the time of master Thomas Cantok, formerly chancellor of Ireland [appointed chancellor on 28 October 1291], up to the twenty-eighth year of the reign of Edward I [1299–1300] were burned by accident in the abbey of St Mary near Dublin in the great fire in that abbey, except two rolls of the twenty-eighth year, one of writs patent and the other of writs close.”
  • Latin calendar of 1828

    This image shows the first page of a rare volume printed in 1828 which gave a summary description in Latin of the contents of the Irish chancery rolls. The book is printed in ‘record type’, which reproduces in print the abbreviations that appear the original manuscripts. This makes it very difficult to use for anyone without specialist training. Until the publication of CIRCLE this was the only source available to the general public for the information contained in the medieval Irish chancery rolls.

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Emer McLysaght

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