The Wonderful Dublin Merchant Guild Rolls

Sometimes you come across a source that shows just how shallow genealogy really is. We’re just scratching around in the very, very recent past.

The original roll

Dublin City Libraries and Archive have just put online the Dublin merchant guild rolls, dating from about 1190 to 1265. These are the records of admission to the merchant guild of Dublin city over that 75-year period, more than 8,500 entries recording names, occupations, places of origin and (in some cases) fathers’ names.

The first thing to be said is that the records are useless for genealogical research: they are just so far over the horizon of other documentary material as to be completely out of reach. So far out of reach, in fact, that I hereby offer a reward of €250 to anyone who can document a modern descent from anyone named in the rolls.

Walter the steersman

But they are still hypnotically wonderful. When they start, Dublin had been in the possession of the Normans for less than four decades, barely a generation. Already, though, their pan-European trading networks had absorbed the city. Those enrolling in the guild in order to trade in Dublin include merchants from places all over Germany, Italy, Spain, France, England, Scotland and Wales, and of course Norman Ireland.

The early locations of Norman settlement in Ireland are spelt out with crystal clarity in the origins of the merchants: Castledermot, Drogheda, Carlingford, Arklow, Wexford … There’s even a solitary trader from Achill.

Nevin from Connacht

My favourites are the four merchants enrolled from Rinndown in Roscommon.  This walled town flourished briefly in the early 13th century as a trading outpost with the Gaels of Connacht, having Lough Ree as a handy escape-cum-trade-route at its backdoor. William the Northerner, Robert the Seaman, William of Hereford and just plain Ivor all gave Rinndown as their home when they enrolled.

There are also Gaels in the records. Kellach Mac Inidi (McKennedy) seems to have been one of a number of Kennedy butchers trading in the city. Others include Mac Keyvin, Mac Scanlan, Mac Gilleroth. This period is four or five generations after the beginning of the adoption of hereditary surnames by the Irish and it is striking how the only surnames in the lists appear to be Gaelic. The Normans are still identified only by a place of origin, or an occupation or their father’s name.

The harp of Thomas le Harpur

All of this is visible only because of the extraordinary transcription done by the late Philomena Connolly. Originally published by Dublin City Council as the First supplement to The Calendar of the Ancient Records of Dublin in 1992, this republication online (with the addition of the spectacular images of the original vellum scrolls) has opened up the records to all of us.

It’s not genealogy, but I love it.





17 thoughts on “The Wonderful Dublin Merchant Guild Rolls”

  1. Very interesting — thanks for sharing — does make our the things we are looking for seem “recent”.

  2. John: I am a relatively recent arrival at your web site and I am enjoying it very much and thank you for your generous supply of information. I also appreciate your manner of sharing things in a lively and sometimes humorous vein. I look forward to getting your messages regularly.

  3. It is good to preserve everything that can reasonably be maintained. While it is true that perhaps no one can make a definitive link to the guild members mentioned, facts are facts, can become clues and answer questions one never hoped would be answered. Viewing these rolls might spark a question or research path that does take the present genealogist to new answers and facts.

  4. Wondering is there anything about the Fairbrother family of weaver sq in the liberties also known as the tenters fields. I am trying to find the connection to our family .My g g g grandfather was Abraham Fairbrother of Dolphins Barn and I have got copies of his father dismissel from the Quaker society. In 1735 Hope you can help me

  5. Thank you so much for sharing. I enjoy reading anything that comes our way as sometimes just a little tidbit helps piece the puzzle together and learning moree about the Irish and the history is very interesting. I have so little to go on to try and find my great great grandfather Thomas O’Ragan’s ancestors who came from Ireland I was told.

  6. What an amazing document. I agree that even though we may not find our ancestors, we can certainly appreciate the historical view of Ireland. Love your column and your book.

  7. Can I claim the €250 reward you offered, “to anyone who can document a modern descent from anyone named in the [Dublin Merchant Guild] rolls.”
    The descendant is alive and well and living in Monaco, and recently added to the next generation.

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