Records lost during Irish Civil War set to be resurrected using VR technology

Records lost during Irish Civil War set to be resurrected using VR technology

A TREASURE trove of historical Irish documents dating back centuries is set to be resurrected as part of a project utilising virtual reality technology.

In 1922, during the Irish Civil War, a fire at Dublin’s Four Courts incinerated a vast archive of belonging to the Public Record Office of Ireland.

Those documents will be recaptured as part a new technology-based project led by Dublin's Trinity College, in partnership with the National Archives of Ireland, the National Archives UK and the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland.

Beyond 2022: Ireland's Virtual Record Treasury, the new virtual reality experience will see over 200 volumes of transcripts undergo enhanced digitisation.

The experience will serve to re-imagine and re-create, through virtual reality, a long-lost national treasure and its archival collections.

Director of Beyond 2022, Dr Peter Crooks said: “The Four Courts blaze of 1922 was a national tragedy, but thankfully all is not lost.

"Beyond 2022 combines virtual reality and big data to recover from the losses of 1922 to a greater extent than ever previously imagined. The scale of copies and duplicates we have identified in other archives is astounding. We are already working with over 35 libraries and archives in Ireland, the UK and USA. And this is only the beginning.”

The project is being supported by the Irish Government, through a capital grant funding allocation of €2.5 million from the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, under Project Ireland 2040.

The first phase of the research project funded by the Irish Research Council was led by historian, Dr. Crooks, and computer scientist, the late Dr Séamus Lawless of ADAPT, the SFI-funded Research Centre.

They identified over 200 volumes of transcripts suitable for enhanced digitisation, now scattered between archives in the United States, the United Kingdom and archives on the island of Ireland.  These handwritten records contain more than 25 million words from documents destroyed in 1922.

The project will now look to create a Virtual Record Treasury and reunite for the first time in a century, thousands of stories of life, law, land and loss in Ireland’s history.

The next phase will then come in the form of a fully immersive, three-dimensional, virtual reality model of the digitally reconstructed Public Record Office of Ireland, which will be launched in June 2022 to mark the centenary of the fire.

This model will be used as an interactive tool for engagement and research, whereby visitors will be able to browse the virtual shelves and link to substitute or salvaged records held by archives and libraries around the world.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar hailed the plans for restoring “a significant missing chapter in our history”.

"This all-island and international collaborative initiative offers a permanent, meaningful and imaginative legacy beyond the conclusion of the Decade of Centenaries.  It restores a significant missing chapter in our history, which was believed to be irretrievably lost, with the recreation of seven centuries of historical, genealogical and administrative records to enable a new understanding of Ireland’s shared past.

"Beyond 2022 will enable the scholars of tomorrow to rewrite the story of the peoples of our islands."

Mr Varadkar added the project would help recreate "seven centuries of historical, genealogical and administrative records to enable a new understanding of Ireland's shared past".

The new experience is set to open in June 2022.