Reconstructing the Past
“ORDER, without delay, diligently to take an inquisition by twelve free and law-worthy men of county of Dublin, by the counsel of the mayor and citizens of Dublin, concerning where water can be best and most conveniently taken from its course and conducted to the Kings’s city of Dublin, for the improvement of the city and at the cost of the citizens, who have mainprized to pay the amount. The sheriff is also to inquire by jury whether any damage can arise by thus taking and bringing the water. He is to return the inquisition to the Justiciar under his seal and those of the jurors. Any who oppose are to be suppressed by force and to be attached to appear before the Justiciar at the next assizes; those who resist are to be arrested and held until further order”. Sent by Maurice, Son of Gerald, Justiciar of Ireland to the sheriff of Dublin 29. April 1244. © CIRCLE 2012
Anyone used to the generous and large medieval archives of chancery records preserved for instance in London might snicker at the preciousness of this text. However, in June 1922 the record treasury of the Public Record Office of Ireland went up into flames. Hither and dither flew sparks and bits of fragments of a very large part of the National History of Ireland. Much was lost, but the most important part simply consisted of the official records of letters received and sent from the Irish government. Rolls after rolls of chancery records were seemingly gone forever. To make matters worse, this was not the first time Irish Chancery Rolls had gone op in flames or been reduced to fodder for mice. But the tragedy in 1922 seemed to be more or less total.
However, in 1977 funding was found to instigate the huge reconstruction of the archive, which now has found its culmination in the creation of an electronic archive, which recently has been made available for historians whether professionals or lay.
Circle is the name of the site. It represents the culmination of nearly 40 years of hard work locating, registering, transcribing and translating more than 20.000 Irish Chancery letters painstakingly located in archival repositories –public as well as private. Added to this has been an unparalleled collection of digital images of surviving medieval chancery letters and rare printed volumes.