'Irish Roots' archive



Irish Roots


September 28 2015

10,000 Protestants

The Irish Genealogical Research Society (irishancestors.ie) have just come up with a humdinger of a record-set, the esoteric-sounding "Dublin Presbyterian Colporteur's Notebook, 1875".

What, you might ask (I did), is a colporteur? Not, unfortunately, a composer of witty Broadway musicals, but someone employed by a church to distribute Bibles and other religious tracts. William Malone was paid by Ormond Quay Presbyterian congregation to seek out and visit "unconnected" Presbyterian and other Protestant families. The aim was to recruit new members.

Between January and October 1875, Malone appears to have noted down details of every household he visited, sometime more than a dozen a day, six days a week, eventually ranging over the whole of central Dublin. Most of the households were poor or working-class and he recorded occupations, education, number of children and places of origin, covering up to 10,000 people, nearly a third of the Protestant population of the inner city at the time. By the look of the notebook, he simply went from house to house, tenement to tenement, like every door-to-door evangelist before and since.

On the way he recorded plenty of local colour. One case needing "special attention" was Archibald Henry of 50 Marlboro Street "who holds infidel views & ridiculed the idea of a revelation from heaven. Was inebriated." And he supplies some strong, by-the-way, sectarian commentary. He found one Catholic household "averse to Gospel truth & firmly attached to their own errors". It ran both ways: "Was threatened with a poker by a Rom C. same afternoon".

The lack of nineteenth-century censuses for Dublin means that, as well as giving a vividly-flavoured sense of the period, the Notebook is also a seriously useful census substitute. The IGRS (in particular its indefatigable chairman Steven Smyrl) and the owners of the notebook, Clontarf and Scots Presbyterian Congregation, are to be congratulated on bringing it into the public domain. Members' access is at goo.gl/CX3IBG

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