Thursday 18 November 2021

New digital archive and database of Irish Catholic clergy launches

A new digital archive and database of the Irish clerical population from medieval to modern times has been launched out of Maynooth University's Arts and Humanities Institute. It's called

The first phase of the Clericus project focussed on students and faculty of St Patrick's College, Maynooth, historically Ireland's largest seminary and pontifical university.

The principal sources were 124 student class portraits and student lists dating from the second half of the 19th century to 2018.

Irish family historians will be particularly pleased to hear that parents' names, including the maiden name of mothers, are available for over half of the students.

Class pieces dating up to 1941 can be viewed on the website. Each portrait is supplemented with biographical information detailing the connections of individual clerics to St Patrick’s College, Maynooth and elsewhere. (This data includes records of students who matriculated into St Patrick’s, but for whom no record of ordination exists.) Project members are looking to enrich these biographical entries with information gleaned from obituaries.

Now in its second phase, the Clericus research team is expanding the temporal and spatial range of the project to include datasets from the early modern period and Irish clergy abroad. Among the newest additions to the database are more than 1,500 Irish clerics who attended the universities of Paris and Toulouse between 1573 and 1792. Similar research will gather data from Lisbon (1587-1850) and Salamanca (1592-1638).

Several of the most comprehensive records for Ireland’s 17th- and 18th-century Catholic clergy have also been identified. One of the resources proving most fruitful to the project is that produced following the 1704 Act of Parliament which required all 'Popish' priests to register at their local magistrates' court or pay a not-insignificant fine.

The resulting list covers the entire country for one year and provides information on each cleric mentioned. This includes their name, place of abode, parish(es), date of ordination, where they received orders, from whom (ie the bishop) and the details of two lay individuals acting as sureties or guarantors for each priest.

Just under 1,100 priests are listed, along with more than 800 lay sureties and several dozen Irish and foreign bishops.

Future plans, in collaboration with Notre Dame University, will include the processing and ingestion of datasets of Irish priests, and male and female religious, active in the USA particularly. It is also envisaged that the existing dataset will be supplemented with biographical information from SPCM's archives and other external sources.