New maps of Ireland reveal secrets of medieval wealth across island

25 Jul 2018

A Barbican gate entrance. Image: Thierry Boitier/Shutterstock

Researchers have pored over centuries-old records to create a series of maps revealing the distribution of wealth in medieval Ireland.

It can be easy to assume that Ireland’s current centres of wealth will be found in its largest cities, but could the same be said towards the end of medieval Ireland in the 14th century?

To find this answer, a team of researchers from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) has produced a series of important maps to illustrate the distribution of wealth around the year 1300.

The data is based on early 14th-century papal taxation sources as they can define the extent and impact at the time of English rule when parish incomes could give a good indication of a location’s wealth.

An Irish ‘Domesday Book’

To gather the sources, the team led by PhD geography researcher Christopher Chevallier – under the supervision of Dr Mark Hennessy – visited archives in Armagh, Paris, Kew and even the Vatican Secret Archives.

“These sources offer a unique opportunity to map and quantify the economy of medieval Ireland, superseding the cultural, political and economic divides of the island,” Chevallier said.

He added that there is even potential it could lead to the creation of an economic benchmark for Ireland comparable to the Domesday Book, a hugely important historical document detailing the lives of people in England and Wales in the 11th century.

Map of Medieval Ireland wealth density

Density analysis was performed on the parishes contained within the 1302-1307 valuations, demonstrating markedly higher density within colonial regions. Image: Christopher Chevallier/TCD

Possible European expansion

These new maps have also helped quantify the damage inflicted by the Great European Famine (1315-1317) and the impact of the Bruce Invasion (1315-1318) when Edward Bruce of Scotland claimed the High Kingship of Ireland.

The research is also timely as the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Faughart, the final clash of the invasion, is approaching in October this year.

One the major findings of the research was that while Dublin’s economic hinterland expanded as far west as Mullingar, Kilkenny’s was by far the densest.

It also showed that even after the invasion, Gaelic Irish parishes weren’t as uniformly impoverished as often believed, with areas such as Thomond – ruled by the powerful Ó Briain dynasty – proving to be extremely wealthy.

Looking to the future, Chevallier wants to expand the papal taxation study to other European nations, with some parts of Great Britain, Switzerland and France already mapped this way.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic