The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) was established on the 22 June 1923 in the wake of the destruction of the Public Record Office of Ireland, Dublin which resulted in the cataclysmic loss of 700 years of Irish records. Over the course of the last 100 years, PRONI has been proactive in seeking out and identifying surrogates of records that were destroyed in 1923 and has amassed over 3 million records, dating from 1219 onwards, although the majority of the archive is post 1600. From its establishment, PRONI has exercised a wide remit for collecting archives that includes records created by Government, local councils, schools, hospitals and courts, as well as private records which have been deposited by businesses, churches, politicians, artists, writers and the landed estates.
In 2011, PRONI relocated to new purpose-built offices in the historic Titanic Quarter of Belfast. The new headquarters building was designed to complement the shipbuilding traditions of the Belfast harbour. The building is clad in white limestone and continues the custom of Belfast public buildings being constructed from Portland stone. The roof is clad in Corten steel, a reference to the engineering and shipbuilding tradition of Queen’s Island. The interior features include walkways reminiscent of gangways and windows that replicate portholes. The building has been enhanced through artwork as part of the fabric of the building. Two signature art pieces dominate the atrium – ‘Ulster Names’, a poem by John Hewitt, executed in calligraphy on Corten steel panels, and an installation by artist Felicity Straker Graham entitled ‘Heritage’, that resembles a bookcase packed with books, scrolls and parchment, all made from porcelain.
PRONI hosts events, exhibitions and conferences in addition to providing state-of-the-art research areas for international, national and local visitors. A number of key collections have been digitised and are accessible online. These include the historical map viewer which makes available six-inch Ordnance Survey maps dating from 1832-1969 which are rich in detail and identify individual streets and houses. PRONI’s Valuation Revision books are also available from 1864-1933 and allow researchers to identify land occupants for farms and properties across Northern Ireland. A wills index gives details of probated wills from 1858 onwards. PRONI also makes available digitised copies of its 19th century street indexes which is an untapped treasure trove of information. The PRONI e-catalogue which contains over 1.5 million catalogue entries is also available online for searching and browsing.
The PRONI asset at Titanic Quarter supports both tangible and intangible heritage. It preserves the community memory of all our citizens. Amongst the archives are records are stories of the shipyards and shipbuilders, the factories and factory workers, the public buildings and public servants, the old and the new. PRONI continues to work with its partners in Titanic Quarter through making available images from the collection for use on public storyboards, providing interpretation and historical context for visitors, residents and stakeholders. PRONI is the winner of a Sustainability award at the Royal Town Planning Institute awards in 2011; the Engineering Excellence Award 2011 from the Association for Consulting Engineers; and the 2012 Royal Society of Ulster Architects design award for over £2.5m.