Pre-Famine ‘census’ scroll to be displayed in search for descendants

A scroll that dates from before the Famine is to be exhibited in Clonmel as part of a massive project to trace the descendants of those that signed it.

A scroll that dates from before the Famine is to be exhibited in Clonmel as part of a massive project to trace the descendants of those that signed it.

The Morpeth Roll was signed by 250,000 supporters of an English lord in 1841 and now NUI Maynooth have joined in the mammoth task of finding out more about those people.

George Howard, Lord Morpeth, was Chief Secretary for Ireland in the early 19th century. On his departure from the country aristocrats, merchants, traders, members of the clergy and even ordinary people signed the roll to show their appreciation of him.

Some very well known names that can be found on the roll include Daniel O’Connell and Thomas Davis, however it is estimated that nothing is known about the lives of up to 90% of the signatories.

Terry Dooley, of the Department of History at NUI Maynooth said the project has the potential to unique insight into Irish life, society and politics in pre-Famine times.

“The Morpeth Roll has significant research potential, whether examined as a pre-Famine census substitute, a genealogy resource, a family heirloom or a politically motivated document. Our campaign will unlock the stores of the signatories and what happened to them through, and after, the Famine.”

The scroll is made up of 652 individual sheet of paper glued on to linen to make a 412m long petition - three times the length of Croke Park. It was rolled on a mahogany spool and held privately by Lord Morpeth’s family in a basement in Castle Howard, Yorkshire, for more than a century. The signatures were all collected in the space of a month and some of the sheets still bear their postage stamps - which had only been introduced the year before! Some of the signatories even penned their names in Irish.

It is hoped that local historians and those interested in genealogy can help to shed light on what happen to the people who signed the Morpeth Roll.

The Roll is currently being digitised so it can be used as an online resource in the search for ancestors or family names.

The Morpeth Roll will first go on display in Maynooth on St Patrick’s Day, next year, before going on a tour of Ireland, exhibiting in Famleigh House, Derrynane in Kerry, Kilkenny, Belfast and Clonmel.