When learning about ancestors who migrated from Ireland, we suggest gaining a better perspective of them by looking at where they’re from, and what it was like at the time they lived there.
Thankfully for family historians pride of place is a key theme in Irish life. The study of local history is thriving and is a very useful tool in the genealogists’ armoury. The Federation of Local History Societies lists almost two hundred societies on its website: www.localhistory.ie
If you know the county of origin for your ancestor, then it may be worthwhile finding out where the County Library is located and, if the county has an archive, where that might be. Always check what access there might be before travelling to these collections and what steps you need to take to meet their requirements, such as proof of identity etc. Some counties have the luxury of an active county archivist, others, sadly, do not.
Another good place to begin to learn more about our ancestors’ neighbourhood is the local bookshop. Unfortunately these are under threat with the advent of online shopping, but a few still persist. The local bookstore provides us with a curated collection of its owners, based on their skills and passion.
Almost always, the pride Irish people take in their locality is reflected in the local history section of these bookshelves. In most towns I visit, I make a beeline for the bookstore and am almost rewarded.
For me, a trip to Sligo is not complete without a visit to the wonderful Liber bookshop:
Of course you can avail of their online service, which might be pretty useful prior to any planned trips to Ireland.
The Bookcentre, with branches in Kilkenny, Waterford, Wexford and Naas (basically, covering much of the province of Leinster and the south east) makes a point on their website of how they supply locally published books:
Charlie Byrne’s in Galway is an institution. Located in the heart of Galway City, they stock over 100,000 new, bargain and secondhand books on subjects ranging from literary fiction.
The Winding Stair, right by the Ha’penny Bridge in Dublin, specialises in art and children’s books.
I don’t confine my wandering to the local history shelves. I am always intrigued by the choice of magazine titles a store may carry. Naturally, in a rural area, we expect to see publications of interests to the agricultural sector, but often a large section on say, music, or art, will be evidence of the interest the shops’ patrons have in their cultural heritage. Often old fashioned titles such as Ireland’s Own have their place on the shelves, reflecting a love of nostalgia for a rural way of life – gone, but not forgotten.
And should I have pangs of conscience on leaving with lots of purchases, I console myself with the words of the author and one time Archbishop of Dublin, George Otto Simms who says that pride of place is a legitimate indulgence.
By Carmel Gilbride