Monday, November 4, 2013

GRO Research Room: A very low priority: An Open Letter to Brian Hayes, T.D.

Dear Brian Hayes, T.D.,

How are you? I am writing to give you a little feedback about the location of the General Register Office (GRO) research room. Since the research room has been in the new location for a few weeks now, I'm including a few photographs, and a little information to help you out, along with my thoughts.

When you were rationalising the move of the GRO research room from the rented premises at the Irish Life Centre to a state owned building on Werburgh Street, you described the building as "at the rear of Dublin Castle". Since I've actually been to the place, I thought I would write to let you know that the building at 1 Werburgh Street which houses the new GRO research room is not at the rear of Dublin Castle.

At the rear of Dublin Castle is a beautiful garden and green space, complete with a labyrinth walk. It's quite lovely and welcoming. When I'm in Dublin I often take a walk around the labyrinth. The open airy space is quite conducive to helping one when there is a difficult decision to be made, or when one needs to give his head a shake about a poor choice he made. You might consider taking a labyrinthine walk. It's very beneficial.
The Labyrinth Walk and grounds to the rear of Dublin Castle.
You might even consider getting your driver to swing by the place on the way to the Dail. You could get out of your lovely car and take a walk from the labyrinth along the streets which take you to the new home of the GRO research room. 

The street I had to walk along in order to get to the new research room was neither lovely, nor welcoming, and although I was harassed by a group of ne'er-do-wells on my way to the building, at least I didn't get mugged.

Just over the road from the GRO Research Room. Look closely, you'll find it.
Click on the image to view a larger version.
It's good that you didn't choose to move the GRO research room elsewhere, such as into the under-utilized former Tourist Office on Suffolk Street. That might have made too much sense, and would have had us doubting whether or not you are a real politician. It's better that you made this backward move into a substandard building surrounded by prison-style fencing. It helps to remind some of us of our family members who were incarcerated during the Land War, the Irish War of Independence, and the Irish Civil War, without the need to once again stop by Kilmainham Gaol. Thanks. You've killed two birds with one stone. Such a time saving idea.

You mentioned that the new GRO research room location had undergone "extensive renovations". I guess I need to get a new dictionary to help me understand this new meaning of 'extensive', and maybe the meaning of 'renovations' too, or perhaps you could tell me, what do you mean by these terms?

It's just a short jaunt to the entrance down this lovely alleyway.
The entry gate: I love the spikes; perfect prison motif.
With respect to health and safety, I have a couple of questions, so please do read on.

Most of the windows at ground level are covered with metal caging, and with the exception of the one in the picture above, they are all opaque, so you cannot see outside — probably best given the dodgy area in which the building is located — but giving me some safety concerns with respect to the building itself. There is ONE single exit from this site for patrons using the reading room. Mr. Hayes, if there was a fire or any other sort of emergency, and that single exit were to become blocked for any reason, how would GRO patrons and staff escape from this building?

Also, there is a single toilet for the use of ALL patrons. There are enough tables in the room to seat about 40 researchers at a time, and throughout the day there are always many people who stop in to pick up birth, marriage and death information. Any person with even an ounce of sense would conclude that a single toilet for the use of more than 40 people is not just unhygienic, it is simply disgusting. Would you be satisfied if there was only one single toilet available for the use of the members of the Dail Éireann?

As to the exterior of the building, the ugly colours chosen are perfect — the sad grey facade and the teal to match the prison gates — because they remind us that maybe Ireland really isn't on the road to recovery after all. I especially like the old grey wall covered with graffiti, and the lovely lot next door to the building, and all the garbage moored up against the fencing. Was all of that part of the extensive renovations? Perhaps you can find a couple of heroin addicts and get them to hang out there. Doing so will make complete your apparent plan to bring a real gritty urban feel to the place. The tourists will love it.

By the way, leaving the GRO research room last week was a real treat too. In the pouring rain, I had to close my umbrella in order to make my way around a delivery van — pictured below — that was completely blocking the entry gate which leads to the building. Thanks for that narrow entry gate.
The delivery van which hampered my escape from the building.
The staff of the GRO research room are surprisingly upbeat, considering the prison-like nature of their new digs. Their work space is very cramped and there are no windows other than the very small ones at the top of the building. In terms of work ergonomics it does not strike me as a very conducive space, nor a particularly safe one. Some of the staff seem happy just to be employed, but even if there are some who are not content, who cares if employees are happy anyway? For that matter who cares about any Irish citizens who are very unhappy about the move? It's not as if they vote in elections.

The choice of this site makes it very clear that the Irish Government views the GRO research room as a very low priority.

In the future, it is likely I will be returning to the GRO research room simply because of my work as a historian, and I will deal with things as I find them. Clearly the Irish government is not interested in bringing the GRO research room into the 21st century. The promised research terminals are not in place, and I doubt online access will come into play anytime soon. Perhaps next time you need to save money, before you consider moving a facility such as the GRO research room, you might look at areas in which the savings would be of a more significant nature. For example, you might consider TD pension reform. Just a thought.

Have a nice day.

Click on images to view larger versions.


  1. Hi Jennifer, You might be interested to know that as a TD, I have highlighted these same concerns perviously to Minister Jimmy Deenihan...I attach here a press release I issued nationally at the time of the announcement..

    Historical Records Deserve Better Than Backstreet Hovel

    Independent TD Catherine Murphy today wrote to Ministers Jimmy Deenihan and Leo Varadkar to express her utter dismay and extreme disappointment at the news that the General Register’s Office is to be moved to a ‘new’ temporary location – the old labour exchange building on Werburgh Street in Dublin 8.

    This move represents yet another move in a series of moves since the GRO was moved from Lombard Street in 2007 to the Irish Life Mall and now onto this new and wholly unsuitable location. Deputy Murphy is adamant that the lack of respect given to our historical records means that we are ignoring the myriad of opportunities for the Irish Diaspora to explore their Irish roots and as a result we are losing out on the tourism and subsequent economic opportunities this presents.

    “Given the digital age we are in, we should not only be seeking to centralise all our records in a first class facility in the city centre but we should be aiming to digitize the entire collection and have everything searchable online – a move that has been embraced in Northern Ireland. By the end of this year, our Northern neighbours will have their entire GRO catalogue online in addition to a new purpose built facility in the Titanic Quarter of Belfast. We should be trying to emulate this example; instead we are pedalling backwards and pushing our records further out of reach”

    “There have been some improvements in the field, including the recent upgrades to, however these measures do not go far enough and as someone who has extensively researched her family tree, I fully understand the hindrances the current system creates and I also recognise the opportunities it can open to us. Vast swathes of the Irish Diaspora are eager to find their link to the island of Ireland and my experience shows me that once people make a connection to a place, most will return to it again and again. It would be downright negligent of us to squander such an opportunity; instead we should be doing everything in our power to attract the diaspora here by making the system as accessible, both physically and online, as possible.”

    “To push an office such as the GRO, which is a key census substitute and is, as such, a vital tool in anybody’s genealogical research, into a dingy backstreet building, replete with barbed wire, broken fences and graffiti, is simply scraping the barrel and attempting to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.”

    I am in the process of trying to pursue a course through the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht, to highlight the myriad of benefits to be reaped by proper investment in our historical documents and the creation of a 'one stop shop' both physically & digitally to assist in Genealogical endevaours for the disapora across the globe. If you are interested in getting involved, or even just chatting about some areas of interest then please do get in touch. or 6183591

    1. Thank you Catherine Murphy for your comment and attached press release. I will be in touch.


  2. Hello Breener,

    You will note I have not published your comment, only because it contains a link to a spam site, but I do want to respond to it.

    First off, I am aware of the previous incarnations of this building. I am an Irish citizen, and most of my family members still live in Dublin, and most of them do not live in the so called 'better areas'.

    If you will reread this post, you will discover that at NO TIME do I make any reference to persons living in the area. I was harassed by 4 individuals (3 men and a woman) at the top of Werburgh Street where it intersects with Castle Street, when I stopped to take out my camera before proceeding down the hill. I have no idea who these people were or where they live. At no time in this post do I make any reference to 'the locals', as you have called them.

    The sole purpose of this post is to focus on the fact that this building is wholly unsuitable for the preservation and dissemination of historical records of birth, marriage and death. You are entitled to consider this matter unimportant, but I happen to believe it matters. I apologize to you for having in any way offended you with my comments about the site on which this building is located.



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Cheers, Jennifer

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