A mammoth research project is seeking to trace descendants of 250,000 signatories to a pre-famine petition showing their appreciation for an English lord.
The Morpeth Roll was signed by aristocrats, merchants, traders, clergy and ordinary people in 1841, on the departure of George Howard, Lord Morpeth, as chief secretary for Ireland.
Terry Dooley, from the Department of History at NUI Maynooth, said it has the potential to provide a unique insight into Irish life, society and politics in pre-Famine times.
“The Morpeth Roll has significant research potential, whether examined as a pre-Famine census substitute, a genealogy resource, a family heirloom or a politically motivated document,” he said.
“Our campaign will unlock the stories of the signatories and what happened to them through, and after, the Famine.”
It has been estimated that the life stories of about 90% of the signatories after 1841 is unknown.
The scroll itself is made up of 652 individual sheets of paper glued on to linen to make a 412m long petition – three times the length of Croke Park.
It was rolled on to a mahogany spool and held privately by Lord Morpeth’s family in a basement in Castle Howard, Yorkshire, for more than a century.
“The petition was a way of thanking Lord Morpeth,” Mr Dooley said.
“The Whig party was still popular in Ireland at least up until 1841, and by the time he left there were various associations for reform in Ireland and support for Catholic rights.”
Leading names found on the scroll include nationalists Daniel O’Connell, Thomas Davis and Charles Gavan Duffy.
Lord Morpeth, the eldest son of the 6th Earl of Carlisle, was well regarded for his work getting important legislation through parliament including the 1823 Tithe Act which allowed tax to be paid on income and not agricultural yield, and the poor laws. As a Whig supporter, he opposed religious discrimination.
A digitised version of the petition is to be hosted online by ancestry.com to allow descendants, historians, librarians, genealogy enthusiasts and societies to search for names.
Mr Dooley added: “The majority of signatories were of some sort of local profile. I’m from south Monaghan for example and there are a few names that I recognised immediately.”
Next St Patrick’s day the scroll, which has been in a basement in Castle Howard in Yorkshire for over a century, will go on show at NUI Maynooth before going on tour to Farmleigh house in Dublin, Derrynane in Kerry, Kilkenny, Clonmel and Belfast.