NEARLY 100 YEARS ago, the contents of the Public Record Office was destroyed in a fire at the Four Courts at the outset of the civil war.

With it went seven centuries of Irish historical and genealogical records that had been stored in the six-storey Victorian archive.

Now, through painstaking research and restoration, researchers at Trinity College Dublin have embarked on a project to digitally recreate the building and its contents in virtual reality.

When completed, people will be able to explore a reconstructed Public Record Office as it was before the fire, and access its documents in 3D virtual reality.

The project, expected to be completed in time for the 100th anniversary of the fire in 1922, aims to bring millions of lost historical and genealogical facts to a global audience.

Dr Peter Crooks, the principal investigator on the project, said that the researchers had to find copies of the records originally held here elsewhere around the world.

He said: “Because the archival collections date from such an early period of history, the reconstruction effort will allow anyone with an interest in researching their families or localities to engage in deep history, reaching back almost half a millennium earlier than most readily available genealogical resources.”

These archives held many details that touched on many aspects of Ireland, including births, marriages, deaths, wills, maps, parish registers and town records.

The virtual reality world will be built from original architectural plans and photographic evidence, and capture the exact scale and dimensions of the six-storey archive.

Users will be able to enter the archive, browse its virtual shelves and link to substitute or surviving records held by archives and libraries around the world.

The entire archive will be fully searchable documents including exchequer records from the middle ages and handwritten government orders from the Cromwellian era.

Trinity’s Provost Dr Patrick Prendergast said the project would “reopen Ireland’s deeper past to the general public at home and in the wider diaspora”.

Virtual reality is a technology that can greatly contribute in exploring the past. Due to the full immersion it provides the users with, the feeling of presence (which is studied alongside Storytelling and Gamification fields by the Thematic Area 4 of the ViMM project) is greatly enhanced, making the users feel like they really are, in this specific case, in the Public Record Office. In this case, with the help of virtual reality, a very interesting experience is created that will help the users see what the Public Record Office used to look like before the fire and explore the building.