Free Irish newspaper archives
The best free-to-access newspaper resources online and offline
What the two options have in common is that there is rarely an index, so you need to have a fairly precise date and, in most cases, geographical area, because searching these old papers page by page, whether on microfilm or hard copy,or in pages of newspaper snippet can be very time-consuming.
On the plus side, browsing old newspapers can be very distracting and enjoyable as you come across all manner of stories, adverts, obituaries and comment. Not only can these pass on a flavour of the times through which our ancestors lived, they can often be amusing and, of course, simply educational.
The British Library holds the single largest collection of Irish newspapers and other periodicals. This collection is more or less complete since 1826 but the Library also has an extensive archive of earlier publications. (The British Newspaper Archive is the online, pay-to-view arm of the Library. See 'Irish newspaper archives (Pay to view)' in the Related Pages box top right.)
The British Library's newspaper collection is about to be relocated. This will involve transitional arrangements. See right hand column 'Latest News'.
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The NEWSPLAN project started around 30 years ago with the aim of preserving fragile UK and Irish historical newspapers while still making their content available via microfilm.
The searchable NEWSPLAN database lists all papers published on the island, and specifies in which archives (UK and IE) they can be found. As such, it has become a useful bibliographic resource for family historians and other researchers.
► NEWSPLAN database (opens in new window)
Newspapers are made available to researchers on microfilm; only if there is no microfilm is access given to hard copy.
Local libraries and archives: Most local libraries in Ireland, or their county local studies departments, will have a collection of newspapers available for viewing in either hard copy or on microfilm. The time spans will vary, but may be surprisingly extensive.
Although the National Library should, by law, receive a copy of all publications produced in Ireland, some historical copies didn't make the journey to Dublin and are still held locally. It is, therefore, always worth checking with the local librarian/archivist.
Dublin City Library & Archive also has an extensive holding of publications that include many of Ireland's one-time national titles as well as regional titles. You can download the pdf list here. Most of the collection can be viewed on microfilm at the Pearse Street, Dublin premises.
PRONI no longer takes recently published materials on deposit but it still holds a significant collection of 19th-century titles, mostly on microfilm, that can be viewed in its offices in the Titanic Quarter of Belfast. The full list of its microfilm holding can be downloaded here as a pdf or search for specific titles in the Newsplan database (see link in the box above).
Universities and county libraries and archives: Most county repositories and universities have old Irish newspaper archives for their area. Galway county library, is fairly typical in having quite an extensive list. The majority won't have any online access so you'll need to visit the institutions in person. Mostly these papers are made available on microfilm but you may find you can view the hard copy, too.
Irish Newspaper Archives and the Irish Times Archive – Ireland's two main pay-to-view online newspaper collections – are available for free searching in many of the island's libraries.London, Dublin, Belfast Gazettes: While these publications are not newspapers in the way that the Irish Times and the Independent are newspapers, they fall into the category by virtue of their origins as the official 'news' outlet for the Government since the late 17th century. The London Gazette and the Belfast Gazette are both freely available online and are easy to search.
The London Gazette should not be overlooked as a potential source of Irish family history; it holds a lot of information about Irish men and women in its announcements of civil service examination successes and appointment listings, insolvencies, probate, legalised name changes, military honours etc.
The archives of the Dublin Gazette, which was replaced by Iris Oifigiúil in 1922, are available on microfilm (18th century) or hard copy at the National Library, but are not online.
An Index to the Belfast Newsletter was put together by John C Greene and it is available for free searching on the University of Louisiana website. The 300,000 items on the database spans 1737–1800, but there are gaps, most notably in the period to 1750, when only about one-quarter of the pages published have survived.
Northern Ireland Extracts: Eddie's Extracts is the (hard) work of genealogist Eddie Connolly. The free to search database holds births, marriages and death reports from the Belfast Newsletter, the Banner of Ulster, The Witness, Belfast Weekly News, the Northern Whig and many more regional titles, as well as court and inquest reports, subscriptions lists and many other items of general historic and social interest. The earliest transcriptions date from 1825 so if your ancestors came from the northern counties, you really must check this site out.
Nick Reddan's Newspaper Extracts (here) carries a mixed bag of curios, as well as birth, marriage and death announcements and other news stories. They have been transcribed from various Irish newspapers from 1720 to 1865 and are sorted by family name. It had 14,863 entries (at April 2012), it's worth dipping into for the chance of discovering some genealogical details or simply to enjoy some of the weird and wonderful tales Nick's uncovered. .
Ireland Old News: This free online database holds newspaper transcriptions from most Irish counties (only Carlow. Laois, Longford, Westmeath and Wexford are not represented). The years and extent of coverage varies considerably.
Boston Pilot From October 1831 to October 1921, the Boston Pilot newspaper printed a 'Missing Friends' column in which people could place notices or 'advertisements' for lost friends and relatives who had emigrated from Ireland. This online database of 40,622 entries can be searched for free, and can often provide family historians with a crucial nugget of information about townlands of origin or the names of siblings or parents.
County and University libraries and archives: At a local level, most Irish newspaper archives use microfilm, so personal visits are required. As far as I'm aware, only Waterford County Archive has started a digitisation project; it consists of 140,000 pages, as of July 2013 (details).
See my personal selection of the very best free online databases for Irish genealogy research. Click image.
Latest news on the British Library's Newspaper Collection
At the time of writing (July 2013), the British Library newspaper collection is housed in the Newspaper Library at Colindale in north London, England.
This facilty is to close on 8 November 2013, when the entire collection will be relocated to a hi-tech purpose built storage facility in Boston Spa, West Yorkshire.
For four months, the newspaper and periodicals collection will then be unavailable, other than those papers digitised and online via the British Newspaper Archive (BNA). Free access to BNA will be provided, free of charge, to visitors at the new dedicated Reading Room at the British Library's main St Pancras site during this transition period.
From February 2014, a staggered programme of microfilm/digital availability will begin rolling out at St Pancras, and full migration should be completed by Autumn 2014. If a researcher then wants a copy of a newspaper that isn't held on microfilm or digitally, an original hard copy can be ordered from Boston Spa with 48 hours notice.
Online records are a great option, but they're not always free to use.
See my personal selection of the best pay-to-view/subscription sites before parting with any money! Click image.