A distant link to the present members of the British royal family is among the 160,000 signatures found in the Morpeth Roll one of Ireland’s most fascinating artefacts. Made in 1841 as a tribute to a popular chief secretary, it measures 420,000 metres long (3 times the length of Croke Park) and carries hundreds of thousands of signatures from a wide range of pre-famine society.
It was created as a parting gift to honor the services of George Howard Lord Viscount Morpeth. Morpeth was a well liked and respected Chief Secretary for Ireland who regained from 1835 to 1841 at a time of relative peace and prosperity between Catholic Emancipation in 1829 and the Great Famine in 1845. So popular was he that a huge group of people from across all strata of Irish society showed up to sign the roll. Famous signatories included well known Irish patriot Daniel O’Connell, believed to be one of the masterminds behind the roll, as well as Charles Gavan Duffy and Thomas Davis.
However the name that has garnered recent international attention is that of Henry White of Booterstown, Dublin, who, genealogists have discovered is a distant relation of Prince William and Prince Harry through their mother Diana Spencer. It was in 1919, that his great-grandson Luke Henry White married Lavinia Spencer who was a sister of Albert Spencer the grandfather of the late Princess Diana.
And whilst most of the signatories came from the aristocracy, gentry and professional and merchant classes, it is understood that other socio-economic groups may also have been involved and the roll deserves further investigation. And people are able to look for themselves for distant ancestors on the roll online as it has been recently digitized and made available to view online.
For the Morpeth Roll which until recently was stored in the basement of an English castle has been in the hands of NUI Maynooth who have just digitised it and made it available to view online as part of a collaborative project between NUI Maynooth, Castle Howard in Yorkshire and Ancestry.com. For all locals and for all visitors on vacation in Ireland who want to see this magnificent manuscript in person, it is currently touring the country visiting locations such as Farmleigh, Derrynane, Kilkenny, Clonmel and Belfast, before its return to NUI Maynooth where it will remain on public view.
Whether one wants to see an intriguing piece of Irish history in person or check if a distant ancestor left a mark on it online, the Morpeth Roll is proving an interesting testament to a man who played a part in a relative good time in Irish history not to mention an opportunity to spot a distant relation.