Irish Roots

July 18th, 2011

John Grenham


Freedom of the City, as we now understand it, means simply honorary citizenship, the highest mark of distinction a city can confer. From its origins in the 13th century up to the institution of "one man, one vote" in 1919, however, freedom meant something much more specific. "Freemen" had the right to vote in municipal elections, were exempt ("free") from many tolls and taxes, and were obliged to defend the city from attack. Because trade guilds were exclusively urban, and the welfare of their members depended directly on the health of the city, membership of the guilds and admission to the freedom of the city became inextricably linked. Freedom records can thus stand as substitutes for now-vanished guild membership lists.

The records of the old freedom of Dublin have survived intact, but have long been underused by researchers. That is about to change. Dublin City Library and Archive have now made records of admission to the Dublin Freedom up to 1774 searchable online at dublinheritage.ie. The site throws the records wide open and makes them much more intelligible (at least I hope it does, since I designed it). A user can now freely reconstruct admissions for each quarterly meeting of the City Assembly, track the rise and fall of different trades, trace the arrival of Huguenot tradesmen as it happens, see the detailed effects on the city of the wave of change from Cromwell to the Restoration through James II and William and on into the great mid-18th century boom. Sons (and sometimes daughters) of freemen were eligible for admission, so multiple generations of families can be reconstructed. Long-vanished Dublin surnames pepper the records - Desmyniere, Kathrens, Linekar - as well as vivid individual events: Napper Tandy's ejection in 1798, the admissions of Barack Obama's 6 X great-granduncle Michael Carney in 1716, of Dean Swift in 1729 and Wolfe Tone's father in 1767.

Hours of happy burrowing await. Enjoy.


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.

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