Public Record Office of Northern Ireland
|Jurisdiction||Northern Ireland, Government of the United Kingdom|
|Headquarters||2 Titanic Boulevard, Titanic Quarter, Belfast, BT3 9HQ|
|Minister responsible||Carál Ní Chuilín|
|Key document||Public Records Act 1923|
The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI; Ulster-Scots: Apen Scrow Oaffis o Norlin Airlann; Irish: Oifig Taifead Poiblí Thuaisceart Éireann) is situated in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It is a division within the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL).
The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland is distinguished from other archival institutions in the United Kingdom by its unique combination of private and official records. The Record Office is not the Northern Ireland equivalent or imitation of any Great Britain or Republic of Ireland archival institution.
It combines the functions and responsibilities of a range of institutions: it is at the same time Public Record Office, Manuscripts Department of a National Library, County Record Office for the six counties of Northern Ireland, and holder of a large range of private records. This range of remit, embracing, among others, central and local government, the Churches and the private sector, is unique to Northern Ireland.
PRONI was established by the Public Records Act (Northern Ireland), 1923. The new body opened in March 1924 on the fourth floor of a former linen warehouse in central Belfast (at Murray Street). The immediate challenge was to identify and preserve surrogates of records lost in Dublin during the Four Courts fire on June 1922. The first Deputy Keeper, Dr David A. Chart was able to replace many of these records by approaching solicitors, business people, politicians, churches and the landed aristocracy.
The success of Chart's acquisition policy meant that PRONI needed more storage space. In April 1933, the office moved to a new central Belfast location, the first floor of the new Royal Courts of Justice in Chichester Street. However, it was not until 1965, that the Ministry of Finance would approve an actual new building. This new building, opened in 1972, at Balmoral Avenue was the first new record office to be built in the UK since the Public Record Office in London was erected in 1838.
Between 1924 and 1982 PRONI was part of the Ministry (later Department) of Finance. The functions were then transferred to the Department of the Environment (DOE), and in 1995, PRONI became an executive agency within the DOE. With the restoration of devolved government in 1999, PRONI became an agency within the new Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL). The department brought together for the first time overall responsibility for libraries, museums and archives. As part of the implementation of the Review of Public Administration, PRONI ceased to be an agency in 2006 and became a division within the core department.
Relocation to Titanic Quarter
In March 2011, PRONI reopened in new purpose built premises at 2 Titanic Boulevard, BT3 9HQ, in the Titanic Quarter of Belfast. The £29 million new Headquarters includes a larger public search room, a reading room that seats 78 users – most of which have access to power for laptops, a wifi cafe, a full suite of brand new microfilm readers; a self-service digital camera for digital copying, electronic information points, public art integrated into the fabric of the building; state of the art lecture theatre facilities and dedicated exhibition space. The opening exhibition, A Century of Change, Conflict and Transformation, 1911–2011, is currently on display. The exhibition uses PRONI archives that touch upon major events and explores themes such as governance, leisure, economy and society. At the core is a display on the Blitz experience in Northern Ireland, including a replica Anderson Shelter. The exhibition also notes changes in the type of media used to record information over the years and how the digital age may affect the way future generations access their 'history'.
The new record office is located just one mile from the city centre in the burgeoning Titanic Quarter. In addition to the huge Odyssey entertainment complex, local amenities include Titanic Belfast, the restoration of the Titanic and Olympic slipways, the restoration of the SS Nomadic – the tug boat which ferried passengers to the Titanic, Belfast Metropolitan College, a film studio, a hotel, the Northern Ireland Science Park and the Titanic Dock and Pump house. It is accessible via bus, rail, road and is approximately five minutes away from George Best Belfast City Airport.
PRONI is open 9:00–16:45 Monday to Wednesday and Friday, and 10:00–20:45 on Thursday. Those unable to visit and register onsite at PRONI can use the remote search and copy service, though there is a fee for this.
PRONI currently holds 54 kilometres of shelf-filled records. These records date largely from c.1600 to the present day but a few date as far back as the early 13th century with the oldest document held by PRONI being a bull of Pope Honorius the Third, dated 1219. Records range from public documents, such as those from government departments, to private records, such as letters or diaries.
The records at PRONI relate chiefly to the North of Ireland (present day Northern Ireland and the three border counties of Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan in the Republic of Ireland). PRONI has some records relating to other parts of the island of Ireland but they are limited.
The PRONI website supports a number of free online resources including the PRONI electronic catalogue; a searchable wills database which contains details of testamentary papers, 1858–1943; fully indexed Ulster Covenant of 1912; Northern Ireland street directories, 1819–1900; pre-1840 Freeholders Registers and Poll Books; and links to PRONI records on Flickr and to the Conflict Archive on the INternet (CAIN).
- Public Record Office of Northern Ireland
- The National Archives
- The National Archives of Ireland
- National Records of Scotland
- Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure