Planning a visit to Clare - a vade mecum

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Re: Planning a visit to Clare - a vade mecum

Post by JPJC » Tue Oct 28, 2014 4:24 am

I respectfully offer some notes on Paddy’s useful guide, after doing family history research in Co Clare in 2000 and 2014. It is from the perspective of someone coming from Sydney who is not a professional family historian, so please forgive anything unintended.


1. I would respectfully highlight Paddy’s advice that you find out everything you can before you book flights.

In my view, unless you either know precisely where (ie. which townland or which street) your ancestors are from or are able to find out from relatives or people who knew them or the extended family, you are unlikely to achieve much visiting Ireland.

I would never want to deter anyone from trying or going simply to take in the beautiful scenery, the historic sites and find some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet.

But the difficulties with Irish records, most of which were established for administrative purposes, rather than family history, make them very difficult to ‘cold search’ if you have very little to go on. I won’t go into detail, as those difficulties are well-known.

I would only note that it seems pointless to me to travel there at great expense with the intention of looking up records in, for example, the National Library, unless you have a very clear idea of (a) precisely what you want to find out (in terms of event, place and time) and (b) the information you are likely to find.

2. Expect the unexpected. The marriage records for “Parish A” for 1905 to date might be at the parish office. But any earlier marriage records may be at a local studies centre or on-loan to a researcher and can be consulted at their house. If they are home.

You will literally bump into people who may give you valuable tips to follow up. You need to be flexible enough to work out what can be followed up ‘on the ground’ and what can be done later from home by e-mail or telephone.

If there is a particular museum or local studies centre you want to visit, I would contact them to make sure they are open when you propose to visit. Sometimes, they close without notice. I would not rely on their website, as it may not be updated regularly (or at all). If you are caught out, have a contingency plan for how to use your new free time.

3. Wander around the places you are going to using Google Earth (street view mode). It may feel odd to do parts of your future trip on-line and see the sights before you get there. But it is great help in planning (eg) with working out driving distances and, in our case, finding a fantastic B & B.

4. Keep a rein on your expectations. I think it is fair to say most people will not get further back that the 1830s - 1840s and are doing well to get far. If you want to get back to Brian Boru and have no definate leads that point that way, I respectfully reconsidering your objectives.

Getting around

1. There is practically no public transport in Co Clare. If you want to get around you will need a car or someone willing to drive you around. (You could cycle, but I have not done this so can’t comment, except to say speed limits on all roads, including one-lane country roads with numerous blind spots, are treated as advice, not restrictions. That is not a criticism, it's just what I often saw.)

2. If you are coming from Dublin, car hire is now done on-line and you collect from the Airport. Most people use Argus Car hire: It is not my intention to promote that particular firm. All I will say is that the cost of booking online is significantly cheaper than over the counter bookings or booking over the phone. We had no problems with a 75 year old driver. But getting additional insurance is practically compulsory, unless you are willing to pay a very significant deposit up front.

3. The same applies to booking train travel. If you want to get the train between, for example, Dublin and Ennis, book on-line. It is significantly cheaper. The days of going to the ticket office are over, as far as I can tell.


1. I am straying into ‘horses for courses’ territory here. But I would not, with respect, get too carried away with advanced technology. In my view, all you need to record your findings is a good supply of pens and pencils and notebooks. If you want to copy documents or photographs, as noted below, that can be done with a digital camera (although you should experiment with the focus).

While it is true you may not appreciate the importance of something when you first hear or see it, I would keep the method of recording it simple. This is because you will often have limited time and so need to access newly acquired information at short notice. It is, for me at least, easier to open a notebook that find my place in a voice recording that has been uploaded to a website that may be off-line.

2. Having said that, in relation to internet access, I think the working assumption now is that everyone has a i-pad or i-phone or similar. If you do not have your own device, most hotels have a computer with internet access. There is also a bank of ‘pay-as-you-go’ computers at Shannon Airport. But, with respect, if there is over-reliance on internet access for basic research during the trip, it may indicate insufficient time was spent on research and planning before leaving.

Ennis Office of BDM

The staff at the Ennis Office of BDM are exceptionally helpful and, as Paddy notes, will do their best to find the record you are after.

But the Office, for a researcher’s perspective, is a counter set into a wall in a small room in the Sandfield Centre. If there is a queue, you will be there for some time. In my respectful view, getting copies of certificates is something best done by mail. I’ve found the BMD is very efficient with mail inquiries. The personal element is lost, in the sense that you cannot discuss the details of your search with the person who has immediate access to the registers. But unless you know what you are looking for with some precision (townland, approximate date), visiting the Office in person is unlikely to assist.

I think as long as you keep the basics in mind, your trip to Ireland will be one of the most rewarding experiences in your life – especially if you have (or are able to find) family there.

JPJC Oct 2014

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Joined: Mon Dec 28, 2015 9:18 am

Re: Planning a visit to Clare - a vade mecum

Post by macedonianmarevel » Mon Apr 18, 2016 10:21 am

We followed paddy's tips - ie getting research done before hand. The GRO office in Dublin is a great place to visit. a lot cheaper getting copies of records than doing it online. Also the most important tip Paddy gave was visiting relatives in ireland. They have the knowledge you are probably seeking but usually being elderly you have to be patient and let them tell their stories. the info you seek is embedded in there. You will probably have to have many cups of tea or if you are lucky have a drink or three with them.

My wife Kerry(nee kennedy) has discovered her ancestral homestead and cousins she didn't know she had here in ennistimon thru asking around the town who would be able to fill in the "gaps" that all the ancestral online sites and parish records couldn't do!!

Also thanks to Mick O for pointing us in the right direction and Paddy for your great guide.

The Clare Library Research Centre were fantastic as was the BMD office both in Ennis.

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