Irish Roots

November 15th, 2010

John Grenham

TCD's recent launch of the 1641 Depositions online (http://1641.tcd.ie) has raised some tantalising prospects. These eyewitness accounts of events in the 1641 rebellion have long been controversial: they were used to legitimise the wave of confiscations and transplantations that followed the end of the Cromwellian war in 1652 and for centuries have been the focus of a sectarian struggle over the truth of the massacres they describe. Along with the siege of Derry and the Battle of the Boyne, they are at the heart of the Ulster Protestant identity.

Leaving aside vexed questions - we should all know by now that no-one has a monopoly on barbarism - the Depositions are extraordinarily circumstantial, with details of names, addresses, occupations, and families of individuals on all sides, as well as hair-raising accounts of robbery, mass slaughter, rape and cannibalism. Despite their importance for Ulster, that province accounts for only 20% of the total, with much larger numbers for Munster and Leinster. They cover a huge social range, from Isacke Quarrie of Cappoquin, pewterer, to the Earl of Clanrickard.

The transcriptions are flawless, and the site has an extensive set of search tools (though it could do with wild-card place-name and surname options). So will it unlock the 17th century for genealogy? Unfortunately not. The problem is not with the Depositions, or the site. It is simply that the gulf between existing sources and the mid-17th century is too great. You may very well have reason to suspect that Isacke of Cappoquin is in your family tree, but, as yet, there is no way to bridge the intervening five or six generations. It may become possible in the future as more 18th-century estate records are digitised, but for now the Depositions remain an isolated part of the family history jigsaw, however indispensable they are for every other branch of Irish history.


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.


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