On 4 January 2017 the Office of Public Works Heritage Service at Kilmainham Gaol launched their new Kilmainham Gaol Autograph Books website. This online resource allows people to browse high quality facsimile images taken from 13 of the books which have a particular strong connection with the 1916 era. Viewers can leaf through the pages individually and read directly from the signatures, mementoes and dedications recorded there to gain an insight into the lives and experiences of these remarkable people. The personal histories of approximately 480 individuals are explored with links to other sources such as the Bureau of Military History or the Census records from 1901 and 1911 so that readers can trace their personal stories and their subsequent history later in the national struggle. The website alsdo contains a specific link page to allow members of the public to contact the Gaol staff with details of any memorabilia they would like to share. Launching the website, Sean Canney TD, Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works (OPW) and Flood Relief, observed that ‘these volumes contain the personal signatures and thoughts of many people who were involved in the struggle for national independence and who sacrificed much for their country. The new website which has been provided by the Office of Public Works Heritage Service is intended to showcase this Collection and to, in a sense open a new page in the history of the Gaol, where members of the public can browse the Collection online and in turn share any material they might have themselves’.
According to Niall Bergin, General Manager of Kilmainham Gaol Museum today, ‘There is a wonderful opportunity to use this historic material as a spur to members of the public to come forward and share material of their own. We feel sure that there are many people whose antecedents were Veterans or who were later involved in the Gaol restoration effort in the 1960’s and may have valuable historic material such as photographs, letters, pension records etc, which will be a wonderful addition to the site and we would be delighted to meet with them and talk to them about what they have’.
The website was developed with the assistance of Professor Mike Cronin of Boston College, Dublin, and yhe OPW intends to continue to expand the site to include more material as it becomes available and will publish further books from the collection on the site in due course.