Located on the north bank of the River Liffey, Dublin's Four Courts building opened in 1802 and originally held the four courts of Chancery, King's Bench, Exchequer and Common Pleas.
By the early 20th century, the four courts had been replaced but the name retained, and the west wing of the building was being used as the Public Records Office (PRO). The PRO housed many genealogical treasures including Irish census returns, originals wills dating to the 16th century, and more than 1,000 Church of Ireland parish registers filled with baptism, marriage and burial records.
Sadly, nearly all were lost during the Irish Civil War on 30 June 1922 when, after a two-day bombardment, an explosion and fire ravaged the building.
As well as destroying many irreplaceable genealogical records in the Public Records Office, the interior of the Four Courts was seriously damaged and the central dome collapsed.
The buildings have since been restored and the Four Courts sits on the River Liffey as one of the architectural gems of Dublin.
You will hear and read much about this fire at the PRO in the course of your genealogy research.
Too often, it is mentioned alongside a claim that 'ALL' Ireland's records were lost and, as a result, 'tracing your Irish ancestors is an impossibility'. (I wish I had a Euro for every time I've encountered this tale – I’d be exceedingly rich!) It simply isn't true.
Of course it was a catastrophic event. There is no denying that. But while the loss of so many valuable records certainly makes Irish family history challenging, the term 'impossible' is completely misleading. Some important records were nowhere near the flames.
Here's a quick run-through of the main record collections used by Irish genealogy researchers that either survived the fire or were nowhere near the flames .....
..... I could go on!
If you've read through the above, you'll know that a big chunk of early Irish genealogical records was lost in the 1922 fire at the Public Records Office. You'll also know that plenty of family history records survive, and most people – most – can bridge the lost 19th-century censuses to discover at least something about their ancestors in Ireland if they have a reasonable idea of where they lived.
Those hit hardest by the destruction of the PRO are those researchers descended from Church of Ireland families (never more than 25% of the island's population) and those whose ancestors were wealthy enough to make wills (again, a relatively small proportion).
I can't promise that Irish family history outside of these groups is easy peasy. Never mind 'THE 1922 FIRE THAT BURNED ALL THE RECORDS', there are even more record collections that don't survive in their entirety for completely different reasons! But depending on where (in time, as much as in place) your research starts, you have a fair chance of uncovering some part of your Irish heritage.