Wednesday 31 October 2012

Making Ireland English: lecture report

The Autumn Lecture of the Irish Genealogical Research Society (IGRS) took place yesterday evening at the National Library of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin.

The lecture – Making Ireland English: The Irish Aristocracy in the 17th century – was presented by Jane Ohlmeyer of Trinity College Dublin. This report by genealogist Claire Bradley.

Prof Ohlmeyer has recently published a book of the same title, – the result of some 20 years of research – and her knowledge and passion for the subject was evident throughout the talk. She began by explaining that the 17th century was one of the most tumultuous centuries in Irish history; it was a time when English aristocrats were literally tasked with the Anglicisation and 'civilisation' of Ireland.

She noted that while work on the aristocracy had been done to high degree on European and British peerages, very little had been done for Ireland. James I dramatically increased the number of Irish peers in the early part of the 17th century - a cash-for-titles scheme leading to some 60-70 peers in Ireland. Roughly half were Catholic and half were Protestant but over the course of the century, it became more Protestant. Many of these new peers were self-made men, like the Earl of Cork, and still more were already of some form of noble birth. The ultimate prize for these men was the continuation of their lines, usually achieved by marrying an English heiress.

Despite best efforts, several lineages were extinct within a few generations.

Prof. Ohlmeyer spent a good portion of her talk discussing the sources for this period. They include The Complete Peerage by GE Cokayne and John Lodge's Peerage in Ireland, both written with the aid of records later destroyed in the 1922 fire at the Four Courts. Substantional estate records and personal archives survive for the period and are spread across the main repositories of the UK and Ireland.

Other records, such as the Boyles of Cork archive, ended up in Chatsworth, Derbyshire, after the entire Boyle fortune was subsumed into the Duke of Devonshire's property when Charlotte Boyle married the 4th Duke in 1831.

Estate records for approximately one third of all peers remain mostly in PRONI and the National Library of Ireland. The Genealogical Office manuscripts are also a detailed source for the 17th century.

Prof. Ohlmeyer also talked about her involvement with the 1641 depositions project and the plans to link it up with the Irish Statute Staple, the books of survey and distribution and Sir William Petty's maps. When these go online, they will show a very complete picture of land and status in Ireland in the 17th century.

This was a very informative and interesting talk which left the audience wanting more. I have no doubt that many people are heading out to buy her book!

(Many thanks to Claire Bradley.)