Over the past few weeks, the children of Dublin have been sharing their local history with me. They’ve been exploring the history and heritage within their neighbourhoods, and sending me wonderful video footage of buildings, sculptures, plaques, and more, along with their local stories, knowledge, and plenty of questions. During a time when we can’t meet face to face, this has been a great way to hear about what kinds of local history are of interest to children around the city, and to help them find out more.
One of the positives of the past year has been how much we’ve all been encouraged to explore our immediate surroundings, and take a closer look at places we may have taken for granted before.
There are stories behind every part of the city, and uncovering them can really bring our local history to life, and help us to feel more connected to our neighbourhoods.
So, if you and your family would like to begin to uncover your neighbourhood’s history, the good news is that it’s not at all difficult. Read on below for some of my top tips.
My first piece of advice would be: go exploring! Take a walk and really look around. A simple but great tip I remember from architectural history lecturers is “look up!”. You might be surprised to notice unusual features, decorations or text on buildings when you look up high, particularly in the city centre. Have a look at plaques and information panels, sculptures, and even old bridges and walls. Some features will look obviously older, so you may be already able to see layers of history. You might like to photograph or sketch the features that interest you, and will definitely notice details that everyone else has missed.
Then, to dig deeper, there are many free online resources you can use. Historical maps of Dublin can be accessed on a number of websites. These can be used to find out about which features in the area are oldest, and buildings that are no longer around. You may also see street names that have changed over the years, and rivers that have since been covered over. It can be a fun project to compare and contrast the area now to what’s on the old maps.
There are also online maps of things like National Monuments, and buildings that are on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. On these, you might discover that a building near you used to have a really interesting function, or that an important archaeological excavation has taken place in your neighbourhood. Historical photos of many areas can be found on the National Library of Ireland website, and others. There are also online archives of video footage, on which you can search for your local place also.
To find out more about the stories of your area, you can also look up the National Folklore Collection. Many of these stories were collected by children in the 1930s, and tell us much about old customs and traditions, although most are from areas outside of Dublin. To piece together the stories of individual people, you can delve even deeper by accessing online records, such as census records, baptism, marriage and death records. These are all free to access, and can give you a great sense of who used to live in your area, their occupations, and much more.
And of course, one of the best ways to learn about local history is to talk to people. So much of our local history has never been written down, and older people in the area are sure to have stories about your neighbourhood. A phonecall about local history and memories can also be a great way for you to learn more from grandparents and other relatives during lockdown.
When things reopen, don’t forget to include a visit to your local library. Many Dublin City library branches have sections on local history, with publications from local historians and history groups, and your librarian can help point you in the right direction.
These are just some of the ways we can begin to discover our neighbourhood’s past, and hopefully you and your family will make some exciting discoveries as you piece together the layers of history in your local area. Good luck exploring!
If you have a question about exploring history in your neighbourhood, let me know! I’ll try and help you delve into the heritage of your area. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Historian-in-Residence for Children is a partnership between Dublin City Council Culture Company and Dublin City Libraries.
Posted 20 April 2021
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