History locked up in a Roll. The 1841 Morpeth Roll.

Exhibition : Ireland Identified. The Morpeth Roll
Touring throughout Ireland 2013-14
A View. History for the unravelling.

Castle Howard is the home, the ancestral home of the Morpeth Roll. It’s compiler being Lord Morpeth 3rd Duke of Devonshire.

What is it? If you have not been following Gallery exhibitions or have an interest in Irish genealogy and the 17th century period in Ireland then you will not be aware it is a large bobbin in a box. that bobbin has wound to it the names of around 160,000 inhabitants of Ireland. They each have signed it or assigned a representative to ascribe their name to the list as it came to their district.
It is therefore also a geographical artifact containing names and sometimes locations of those putting their names to the record.
What is also conveyed is a notional faith in record and a representation though it provides no entitlements so is a deficient object from the outset.

In 1841 no documentation existed to form the populations representation and though this was not the device, it seemed to the narrow band of people who themselves were the power brokers for the crown and liberals, moderates to provide a benchmark in adieu for one form of governance as Lord Morpeth took his leave of Ireland where he had been Viceroy and the conveyor of Ireland’s politics back and forth across the Irish Sea. the seed for the Morpeth roll was the forthcoming election. lord Morpeth’s party, the Whigs were no longer in apposition to govern here or in the Islands and there was a shift in tactics required to repress the advance of such leaders as Daniel O’Connell, the cause of Nationalism and the representation of all the people of Ireland. The need for control of Ireland was strategic as it seen by Westminister and beyond as the colonial bedrock of power and control that Ireland represented. If it was wrested from British control, no longer could the assumption of being a global power be asserted by the Westminster parliment.

The ad-hoc roll was a symbol of the basic lack of direction and a piece of theatre which on the one hand spread the false notion of representation advancing but as a roll call and tool for arguing the required participation of the mass population not as fighters for Britain but as proposers of their own destiny and future. That it did neither is another die-cast reminder of the atrocious faith lost in politics and in some places the contrivance of denominations to divide nations.

Imagine the names, the people.
Some were to flee to America or to wherever their coinage or bodies would take them?
Some were to die in the famine or fall victim to its outcomes and out working.
Some were to extend their fortunes, make new ones.
Some were to find or loose Religion.
Some were to be separated forever a short time after.
Some were even listed as X and countless numbers were absented from the roll through will or misfortune.
If you look to it in any of the above contexts and into its live heritage then it will have continued its story.

There are many familiar names and that is the Genealogical gift it gives for diaspora and history dwellers, for they too are countless and never will there be any shortage of people who will find this roll a fascinating artifact.

In this brief essay it has myself expanding upon its instantly recognisable core indications and from its subjectivity hopefully some objectivity.

Historical artifacts are many and some indeed have the same shape and construction as this little known compress of Irish and British history from a crucial time democracy and the out workings of Royal compromise and internationalism was taking form from the reign of Charles the second. As there are muddled parts to nation building or retaining community the failed Royalist uprising of 1659 and the restoration soon after was established under Charles, a free parliament was a central coveted jewel so long as the power tyrannies and absolute rule lay in the hand of the petitioned and not the petitioner. Charles in exile and through parentage was an agent of the international view. Before him lay that restoration and patronage and continued despotic acts in respect of Ireland’s rule. Internationalism did not extend to granting freedoms to appropriated lands that were of use strategically and that provided garrisons.

Nevertheless in the scheme of things European he lay down a new attitude to races and difference. Whereas Cromwell had sacked worshipful places he was a parliamentarian invoking, in the days when you could walk up and down the chamber Religion as he decried the rump therein ranting “Ye have no more Religion than my horse.” On a side note Charles the second idolised horses and established Newmarket’s racing institution perhaps as they gave him access to retreat and passions more fruitful than power.

What the out workings of the restoration became was an onset of parliamentary advantage to be extended only so far and by the time the Morpeth Roll was wound onto its spindle Ireland had still not anything like self governance and subsequently the ravages of the famine put away all things. 1841 the roll was formed but it was only as Cromwell once spoke to the Catholic Leader of Ross in Ireland.. “But by liberty of conscience you mean a liberty to exercise the mass, I judge it best to use plain dealing and to let you know, where the Parliament of England have power that will not be allowed of.” Is it the point that it is not the freedom of conscience and therefore the right to practice ones own religion Cromwell holds onto but the position of power above religion?
What in fact he was doing was forming a relation to religion which English politics has never moved from, even under the restoration it was a conscious grip over community which only the Enlightenment would shine ‘light’ upon, that backwardness and excuse for liberty that Parliaments become.when they are mere dominion purchasers and resellers.

Daniel O’Connell was in the lions control for a time but his wider conscious saw him bring some light of his own to the island of Ireland holding in his mind the destiny to be irredeemable, to be free and not a host for dominion. He also became versed in the fates of other nations, collections of provinces, that they too recognised what independence truly meant.

While ‘Catholic Emancipation’ was no longer the burden of government processes there was then the reforms of Disraeli and the Tories any counsel he sought or found was inevitably concerned with Ireland in its limitations of having fellow conspirators.
Disraeli had a poor opinion of the leader of the Tories, Lord Peel, perhaps because Peel had got wind of the affair with Lady Sykes Disraeli was having; the public knowledge only came after his death so Peel May have had concerns about the might of the diminutive Disraeli. The Reforms in England were global in context and knowledge, discovery, science, industry, society was evolving rapidly. It was break neck and in its midst a world truth of food poverty was to ravage Ireland when it’s food resources were destroyed and little help within or without came from the establishment. This horror was inescapable and when resources came the population had in its largest measure departed or had died as a result of their famine.

The recovery re-established in Ireland through the metamorphic values of religion, the Catholic Church which would find itself in a defining era.

Irish and English historians, there are others besides to be included, find Ireland history at once intriguing, complex and recurrent themes of betrayal of reason when so much reason is intrinsically within its confines.

In a scientific sense as we go on, in the Religious faith also, configurations of nervous systems integrating are simultaneously reconciliations of space and time while topographically fixed in physical relationships.

Ultimately the natural state is the most powerful.

John Graham

12 December 2013

Further details on The Morpeth Roll can be found on





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