Four new volumes have been published in the Maynooth Studies in Local History series (general editor Raymond Gillespie). The volumes by Denis Casey, Emma Lyons, Brendan Scott and Jonathan Wright. are available from all good bookshops and directly from Four Courts Press.
This years Maynooth Studies in Local History, like many of their predecessors, span not only the entire country from the urban world of industrial Belfast to rural tranquillity in Kildare but also occupy the full gamut of Irish history from the twelfth century to the late nineteenth. They encompass town and countryside from plantation Belturbet to the rolling plains of Meath recorded in the charters written in Ireland’s most famous manuscript, the Book of Kells. Together they reconstruct lost worlds and the experiences of living in them.
Some of the stories that they tell are gory. The Belfast parricide John Linn who murdered his father with a chisel before being transported to Australia provides not only a moral tale about the seamy side of industrial Belfast but also a method of achieving fame. After his death his skull became a subject of fascination for those who practiced the art of phrenology, measuring the bumps on his head.
Other stories are less gruesome. In the case of the study of the Morriston Lattin estate in Kildare it is a tale of survival of a Catholic landed family in the age of the ‘penal laws’. This is a story of ingenuity and subterfuge as generations of catholic landowners not only protected themselves but also their tenants from the interference of the Dublin administration. The records they generated reveal a hidden Ireland not in the remote west but within a day’s journey of the capital.
Belturbet was further from Dublin than the Lattin estate but there is also a story of survival to be revealed as settlers and natives built a new world on the edge of the Ulster plantation. In creating a new world, both physically in the new buildings that went up in the town and mentally in the minds of those who lived there, they survived rebellion and prosperity to shape the seventeenth century to meet their own needs and revealed in the Belturbet corporation books.
If the shape of Belturbet and Morriston Lattin can be reconstrued from plentiful evidence 12th century Meath is revealed in only a few rather intractable sources. The great codex of medieval Ireland, The Book of Kells, was used as a notebook to record land transactions that were not to be forgotten – an early example of vandalism producing one of the most valuable sources we have. Yet understanding these sources is not easy relying on understanding context and motivation. Tigernán Ua Ruairic and his activities helps to reveal the significance of the se elusive documents in a detective story in which the chase is as thrilling as the outcome.