Family Networks: Global Connections Project. Tenerife’s Irish merchants in the early modern North Atlantic
One of the most successful Irish merchant dynasties was based in Tenerife in the Canary Islands and saw its greatest splendour in the 18th century. Today, the enormous archives of this mercantile house, the Cólogan Archive, survive as perhaps the largest family merchant archives from the eighteenth century anywhere in Europe. Thanks to its enormous extent, infinite variety and extraordinary interest, it is a uniquely important documentary source not only for the history of the Canary Islands, mainland Spain and Ireland but also for the history of trade in the North Atlantic and of the emergence of the Atlantic system of trade and exchange, still so powerfully influential today.
The nearly 200 metres of archival documentation trace the history of several generations of Irish merchants, beginning with the Walshes and Fitzgeralds from Waterford, who settled on the island over 300 years ago. A little later, John Colgan (‘Cólogan’ in Spanish) arrived from Dublin, and married into the Walsh family. He continued his antecedents’ extraordinary commercial and business success, which lasted until the middle of the nineteenth century, encompassing interests in North, Central and South America and across the globe. Today many members of the Cólogan family live and work in Tenerife, where they are prominent in the professions, in public service and as well-known social figures. Thanks to a happy accident of history and, more importantly, to the foresight and interest of successive family members, a vast quantity of family papers has survived. Together they constitute an archive of the first importance.
The Cólogan Archive is still in family ownership. Due to the family’s generosity and the foresight of Melchor Zárate Cólogan, the archive and has been deposited in the Archivo Histórico Provincial de Tenerife, directed by Francisco J. Macías Martín. There it is being sorted, conserved and catalogued for use by researchers. In addition, much of the archive has been digitized. This work is overseen by an expert archival team led by Carlos Rodriguez Morales. There the archive awaits its historians, promising a rich source for a range of scholarly projects, including research questions concerning commercial networking, the history of capital and the social, cultural and scientific interests of merchant elites and their entourage. Carlos Cólogan Soriano, a nephew of Melchor Zárate Cólogan, has already used the archive to great effect in a string of important works on family history published in recent years, and has extended generous co-operation to Maynooth and UCD scholars associated with the Family Networks: Global Connections Project. Prof Agustin Guimerá Ravina (Madrid) has produced an outstanding monograph on the role of the Walsh-Cólogans in the emergence of the European bourgeoisie (1986). Much more remains to be done.
The current research project is based in the Humanities Institute in Maynooth University. It enjoys the support of the School of History in UCD, the Archivo Provincial de Santa Cruz de Tenerife and the Cólogan family. Its researchers are Dr John Bergin (UCD) Prof Thomas O’Connor (Maynooth University), Dr Ivar McGrath (UCD), Dr Carlos Rodriguez Morales (Archivo Provincial de Santa Cruz de Tenerife) and Carlos Cólogan Soriano (Tenerife). It has three principal aims. First, to bring the archive to the attention of the broader scholarly community and the public, by means of a dedicated Virtual Research Environment. Second, to uncover the nature and extent of the family’s commercial and personal networks. Third, to explore the range of interdisciplinary research questions for which the archive provides unique source material. An international conference is planned for the coming year and an edition of a key document from the collection is currently in preparation for publication.
La Paz: residence of an Irish merchant in Tenerife
Bernard Walsh (1663–1727) was a key figure among Waterford merchants who settled in Tenerife in the late 17th century. This handsome villa at La Paz was one of three principal houses he owned in Tenerife. He conducted business from his townhouses, but La Paz – a country estate overlooking the Atlantic ocean – was a place of retreat from work. It is still owned by Walsh’s descendants, the Cólogan family.
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Maynooth University has applied for funding to collaborate with Uppsala University in Sweden and Vilinius University in Lithuania. If successful, the Maynooth branch of this project would be housed at the Maynooth University Arts and Humanities Institute.
Atlas Litríocht na Gaeilge: Project Leader: An tOll Fionntáin de Brún, Roinn na Nua-Ghaeilge