Monday, August 30, 2010

National Archives London

I spent three days in London last week. Among other things I spent a day and a half in the National Archives in Kew doing some research for my history book. I've most of the research done but needed to look at a few things. The British National Archives is a wonderful place on the banks of the Thames, the opposite of what you might expect an archive to be - spacious, airy, user friendly. Most of the searching and ordering is computerised and the use of digital cameras is encouraged. This is where the records of the administration of the United Kingdom and the Empire are stored.

I looked at the hand-written (a bit of a scribble actually) monthly reports on the state of Co Sligo by the RIC County Inspector for 1912 and 1913 as well as various files on incidents during the War of Independence in the county. I took digital photos of all the interesting material for study and analysis over the winter.

It's a thrill to get files with a red SECRET stamp on the cover. Some are also marked Not for Release until 2022 - obviously rules changed in the meantime. Nothing sensational in these though, fairly routine. What does strike you is the amount of bureaucracy involved in the administration.

A file on an incident such as a noisy torchlight parade of less than a hundred people in Gurteen, Co Sligo to celebrate Count Plunkett's election victory in North Roscommon in 1917 passes from office to office, from the local RIC Barracks to Sligo to Dublin and back collecting opinions and paperwork on whether the police should prosecute the leaders or not. Eventually someone decides that while the Gurteen paraders may have technically breached DORA - the Defence of the Realm Act they shouldn't be prosecuted.

The leader of the parade, Owen Tansy, died in the 'flu epidemic of the following year 1918.

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