Projects at NUI Maynooth unearth records of families across Ireland in the 19th Century President Ronald Reagan's ancestor found on the Morpeth Roll

Researchers from NUI Maynooth, the Centre for the Study of Historic Houses and Estates (CSHIHE), the Russell Library and the National Library of Ireland gathered at the university today to unveil the results of unique research into 19th century records. The launch took place as part of a genealogy workshop today at NUI Maynooth for local history groups.

The Morpeth Roll and Landed Estates projects are especially significant projects, as Irish censuses from the 19th century have generally not survived to the present day. Estate rental information dating from the first half of the 19th century is one of the most important census substitutes available, revealing land-holding patterns and the changes that took place during the Great Famine of 1845, with the destination of emigrants also detailed as well as comments about the moral and economic background of certain tenants. The information contained within the Morpeth Roll is also of major significance as it predates the Famine and has the potential to shine a light on Irish society in the 1840s.

Research undertaken at NUI Maynooth has identified links to many families including a number of well-known figures such as President Ronald Reagan, movie director, John Ford and members from Irish brewing families; Guinness, Beamish and Smithwicks. The Roll, signed by over 160,000 people across Ireland as a parting gift for George Howard, the Lord Viscount Morpeth, when he left his post as Chief Secretary, has just returned to NUI Maynooth following a tour around Ireland. The Morpeth Roll has been documented in “The Morpeth Roll: Ireland identified in 1841”, edited by Christopher Ridgway, which was launched today.

Following an 18 month collaborative project between the CSHIHE at NUI Maynooth and the National Library, the research team published its report into estate rentals and mapped surveys documenting the lives of thousands of tenants living on estates over several generations in the 19th century. The report provides detailed records of a significant number of the estate collections catalogued by the National Library and includes two research case studies, one on the Leitrim estate and the other on the Westport estate.

Congratulating both teams on their achievements, Professor Philip Nolan, President said: “At NUI Maynooth we are developing Ireland’s most significant centre for 19th century genealogical and social research. Our researchers are leading the charge in terms of insight in Ireland’s social fabric during this period, overcoming the challenges thrown down by the lack of census data and using sources such as the Morpeth Roll and landed estate records to develop tangible links between our ancestors and parishes across Ireland.”

Discussing the Morpeth Roll campaign, Professor Terry Dooley said: “The Morpeth Roll is one of Ireland’s most significant historical and political documents and we’ve seen significant interest in the Roll nationally and internationally, with many groups getting involved in unearthing the people behind the signatures. We’re delighted to launch the Morpeth Roll book and host a workshop at NUI Maynooth today, which will equip even more people with the skills and knowledge to discover the fascinating stories of those who signed it.”

Speaking about the Landed Estates project, Prof Marian Lyons said: “Landed estates are an integral part of Ireland’s heritage, and estate papers constitute vital sources for the study of our social and economic history. This project was initiated to make the landed estate collections more accessible to a wider range of researchers, including those studying social and economic history and genealogy. Our recommendation now is that an online database of the landed estates should be created and further academic scrutiny undertaken to enable researchers to gain a deeper understanding of how demographics and land-holding were manifested at local level.”

The Morpeth Roll is a joint project between NUI Maynooth, Castle Howard and Ancestry.com and is available to view online at www.ancestry.com.  For many years the testimonial roll remained hidden away in a basement at Castle Howard, Yorkshire, but it is now on loan at NUI Maynooth thanks to the generosity of Simon Howard, owner of Castle Howard and the efforts of Prof. Christopher Ridgway, Curator at Castle Howard and Prof Terence Dooley, Director of the CSHIHE, NUI Maynooth. It is now the focus of an important scholarly investigation with conservation led by Paul Hoary, Russell Library, NUI Maynooth.