The Gilberts and the Calendar of Ancient Records of Dublin
Niall C.E.J. O’Brien
In June 1865 the Dublin town clerk, W.J. Henry, wrote a letter of invitation to John Thomas Gilbert, a thirty-six year old author and campaigner for the better care of archive documents, to inspect the archives of Dublin Corporation. Four years previously Gilbert was the author of The History of the City of Dublin which work was well received. In this book, and in his other works, John Gilbert was a pioneer in a new form of historical research whereby the words of the original documents were used to tell the story rather than biased impressions of the past.
This letter of invitation began a working relationship between John Gilbert and Dublin City Council which continued after his death in the person of his wife and was not finally completed until 1944. Apart from organising, arranging and supervising the proper storage of the city records, the relationship produced the Calendar of Ancient Records of Dublin, nineteen volumes of published archives recording the business of the city authorities from 1171 to 1841. The volumes provided historians, geographers and family researchers with much accessible information to begin to record the life of the city and the people within and they continue to help researchers of today and will help those of tomorrow.
History over division
The mixed ancestry John T. Gilbert was part of the person and part of his mission. His father was an English Protestant while his mother was an Irish Catholic. The subject of this article, the Calendar of the Ancient Records of Dublin is mainly from 1600 the records of a Protestant council over a Catholic city yet this did not stop John Gilbert from publishing the records of the Corporation, in fact, it inspired him to press on.
As a Catholic John Gilbert feared that any history that he wrote would be dismissed by the powers that be as Catholic nationalism at the expense of Protestant unionism. Therefore Gilbert from the start vowed to accompany each statement by an original document of proof “so nothing could be rejected as partisan, or Jacobite or Romanist”. Editing original texts became his overriding interest to open the facts of history to interpretation by others.
From a very early age John Gilbert was collecting books and old documents along with transcribed those documents he could not get. As a young man Gilbert did much f his reading in Marsh’s Library and in the library of the Royal Dublin Society. At the age of nineteen he joined the Celtic Society which gave him entry into the world of scholars and academia. The Society had as its aim the preservation and publication of original documents illustrative of Irish history, literature and antiquities.
John Gilbert would go on to edit many works of original documents such as the Historic and Municipal Documents of Ireland, A.D. 1172-1320 from the archives of the City of Dublin (1870); Facsimiles of National Manuscripts of Ireland, five volumes (1874-1884); History of the Irish Confederation and the War in Ireland, 1641-1653, seven volumes (1882-1891), Chartularies of St. Mary’s Abbey, Dublin, with the Register of its house at Dunbrody and Annals of Ireland, two volumes (1884) and ‘Crede Mihi’, the most ancient register of the Archbishops of Dublin before the Reformation (1897) to name but a very small few of his many works. The publication of many of these works opened the door to historians previously unknown or highly inaccessible.
John Thomas Gilbert
Fighting for public records
In the preface to his History of the City of Dublin (1854) John Gilbert complained of the difficulty in accessing public records. He asked that the government “adopt measures for the publication of the ancient unpublished Anglo-Irish public records … [which were] moulding to decay; while the unindexed and unclassified condition of those in better preservation renders their contents almost unavailable to literary investigators”.
This was his opening salvo in the fight for public records. Over the following years he campaigned for the establishment of the Public Record Office of Ireland which was finally achieved in 1867. Gilbert had hopes of heading the new office and lobbied hard, may be too hard, as his academic rival, Sir Samuel Ferguson was put in charge. John Gilbert got the job as secretary but had to give up his family business. In 1874 the secretary job was abolished and Gilbert was left with little income.
Yet he continued to work for public records through his work for the Historical Manuscripts Commission and the Royal Irish Academy. During the 1870s Gilbert saw through the press the publication of some of the finest manuscripts belonging to the Academy.
The Ancient Records of Dublin
In 1870 John Gilbert edited a book of documents coving the years 1171 to 1320 from the archives of Dublin Corporation under the Master of the Rolls series which was funded by the British Treasury. Gilbert hoped that the Treasury would fund further volumes from the Corporation archives but it was not to be. Instead Gilbert produced thirty-nine volumes of transcripts for the Corporation which today form part of the Gilbert Library in the Dublin City Library on Pearse Street.
These transcript volumes were the result from Gilbert’s work in arranging the Corporation’s archives to which he was asked to do in 1865 by the town clerk. During the 1860s special strong rooms were made for the archives while the documents were arranged, repaired and classified. In his report to the Corporation in June 1866 Gilbert proposed the publication of the records as of public good and as an aid to the preservation of the original documents. Nothing was done with the recommendation.
In 1884 John Gilbert again approached Dublin Corporation about the publication of their records. Up until that time Dublin Corporation viewed their records as an instrument for internal administration and for the protection of its legal entitlements to property around the city. One example, among many, for the use of the archives was in the court case between Dublin Corporation and Tedcastle’s coal merchants. The Corporation used its archives to show its right to levy dues on every coal entering the city. John Gilbert gave background assist to the Corporation in the case which they won in June 1887. Three weeks later, on 11th July 1887, the Corporation approved the idea of publishing the archives and the Calendar of Ancient Records of Dublin was born.
Publication of the Ancient Records
The work done by John Gilbert over the years with the Corporation’s archives meant that he lost little time in commencing the work. A committee was established to supervise the work and the first volume of the Ancient Records appeared in 1889. John Gilbert included selected royal charters along with extracts from two medieval manuscripts, the Chain Book and the White Book with further extracts from the franchise roll and complete transcripts of the Assembly roll from 1447 up to 1730 in the first seven volumes which he edited. Gilbert was working on the eighth volume when he died suddenly in May 1898. The Ancient Records project was the biggest publishing project undertaken by an Irish local authority and helped to restore Gilbert’s reputation following the battles of the Public Record Office. In 1897 John Gilbert received a knighthood and the Ancient Records were a strong contributing factor in getting the honour.
Some volumes of the Ancient Records
On 29th May 1891 John T. Gilbert married Rosa Mulholland, daughter of Dr. Joseph Stevenson Mulholland of Belfast. He was sixty-two and she was fifty-one. Rosa Mulholland was a writer of novels and stories for children with some forty published titles. Rosa was a great support for John Gilbert and after his death she wrote a biography on him to maintain and establish his record. She also continued some of the projects let incomplete by the death of Gilbert in 1898. One of these was to see the second volume on the Ormond papers in Kilkenny Castle through the press as part of the Historical Manuscripts Commission series.
The biggest project left incomplete in May 1898 was the Calendar of Ancient Records of Dublin. Rosa Mulholland Gilbert finished volume eight which was left unfinished by Gilbert. She appears in the title page as Rosa Mulholland Gilbert, editor. At the end of the preface we are told that she was assisted by John Francis Weldrick. Together they would edit the next ten volumes with Lady Gilbert in the title page from volume nine onwards and John Weldrick at the end of the preface.
Lady Gilbert died on 21st April 1921 while working on volume eighteen. After the death of Lady Gilbert her assistant editor since 1901, John Francis Weldrick was entrusted with finishing volume eighteen and with the production and editing of the final volume, number nineteen. In 1922 volume eighteen was published with Lady Gilbert on the title page and John Weldrick in the preface.
John Francis Weldrick was a gentleman scholar with a private income which allowed him to pursue literary and antiquarian interests. In the 1901 census John Francis Weldrick was living on Booterstown Avenue with his wife, Mary Ellen and three of their four children. These children were John Francis, junior, accountant (aged 19), Brendan Charles (aged 12) and Mary Elizabeth (aged 15). All the family were Roman Catholics. John Francis Weldrick senior was aged 52 in 1901 and born in Dublin. John Francis Weldrick described himself as a publisher who could speak Irish and English. The family appear to be modest in their wealth as no servants were listed as living in the house. In 1911 John Francis Weldrick described himself as a literary editor with the Ancient Records of Dublin as one of his chief editor jobs. The same census tells us that John Francis married his wife, Mary Ellen some thirty years before in about 1881.
Volume nineteen would cover the period up to the passing of the Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Act, 1840 and thus bring the ancient records of Dublin Corporation up to the major changes which the 1840 Act brought – one could say with a good deal of firmness that the Act marked the end of the medieval and early modern Corporation.
But unfortunately for those waiting for the final volume their wait was extended by the death of John Weldrick before the volume had gone to press. His daughter, Miss Mary Weldrick was now entrusted with the legacy of three deceased editors and the task of concluding the project began in 1887. Yet it was not to be as Mary Weldrick died with volume nineteen at the book proof stage with extensive revision need to have the volume in a presentable state.
Changes in technology were now to leave the volume in the “to do” box as the original type fount was no longer available much like changes in computer technology render old computers as antique pieces and their programmes unreadable. There the volume rested until in the 1940s Dollard Limited, the Dublin printing-house that had been with the series since first day, found themselves without much work as the World War and the Irish Emergency meant people had other things to do than print books.
Dollard looked at volume nineteen as something to hand which it could print without much work or so they thought. But because of the technology changes volume nineteen would need a lot of work as it would have to be totally reset to be ready for publication. The General Purposes Committee of Dublin City Council were not excited by a heavy bill to reset the volume. Instead they proposed that volume nineteen would be printed as it stood on the death of John Weldrick. This was accepted as the best of a bad lot solution and in the foreword that then city manager, P.J. Hernon, told readers that the volume was printed with known infirmities.
Weldrick and Kearney families
The first eighteen volumes of the Calendar of Ancient Records of Dublin, which I recently purchased, came from the estate of Peter Kearney (volume nineteen, the rare volume, came from a different source). Inside the cover Peter Kearney wrote that he received the volumes in two parts from John J. Murphy, town clerk of Dublin in 1921 and 1927. It is not known who this Peter Kearney was but in the 1901 census, Thomas Kearney of the North Circular Road, letter press printer, listed one Joseph Weldrick (aged 14) as his son. In 1911 Thomas Kearney listed William M. Weldrick as his step son. This William Weldrick appears in 1901 in the house of William Harwood of Arbour Hill, his grandfather.
I do not have information to establish how the various people of the surname of Weldrick were related to each other in the first decade of the twentieth century. There were two main families called Weldrick, one Protestant, and the other Catholic. Yet it is possible that John Francis Weldrick, assistant editor of the Ancient Records was connected with Peter Kearney who received the volumes from the Dublin town clerk in the 1920s. If this is so these volumes of Ancient Records may reach back into that age of adventure when the archives of Ireland, so long closed to general access, even to scholars of note, were opened for the public to come in and for people like John T. Gilbert to published those records for the people who lived far from the new archive centres.
A history for all
John T. Gilbert regarded himself as a nationalist and in 1884 the then Dublin City Council was dominated by the nationalist Home Rule Party. Yet Gilbert presented the publication of the Ancient Records of Dublin on their own merit. The documents should speak for themselves without any apology or censorship. John Gilbert wished the documents to speak the truth without fear or favour. In this project, as in his other publications, the documents were the key that opened the door of historical exploration and they continue to open new doors as historians of different times see history from a different angle, a different interpretation and different values.
Many historians have pointed out failings in the Ancient Records of Dublin – the absence of an index – documents too strictly edited as to leave their real meaning shrouded in darkness – further documents cut short like the franchise roll halted in the Calendar in 1485 with no explanation when the actual roll continued until 1512. Yet these mistakes and omissions are as nothing if the documents were left unpublished. The destruction of so many medieval and modern documents in the fire at the Public Record Office of Ireland in 1922 shows the importance of publishing documents, even with errors – let he without sin cast the first stone – and John T. Gilbert published many documents and his work continues to inspire others to continue the work and start new projects.
Volume one – edited by John T. Gilbert LL.D., F.S.A. M.R.I.A. – published in 1889 – 1171 to 1558
Volume two – edited by John T. Gilbert LL.D., F.S.A. M.R.I.A. – published in 1891 – 1558 to 1610
Volume three – edited by John T. Gilbert F.S.A. M.R.I.A. – published in 1892 – 1610 to 1651
Volume four – edited by John T. Gilbert LL.D., F.S.A. M.R.I.A. – published in 1894 – 1651 to 1671
Volume five – edited by John T. Gilbert LL.D., F.S.A. M.R.I.A. – published in 1895 – 1671 to 1692
Volume six – edited by John T. Gilbert LL.D., F.S.A. M.R.I.A. – published in 1896 – 1692 to 1716
Volume seven – edited by Sir John T. Gilbert LL.D., F.S.A. – published in 1898 – 1716 to 1730
Volume eight – edited by Rosa Mulholland Gilbert – assistant editor John Francis Weldrick – published in 1901 – 1730 to 1740
Volume nine – edited by Lady Gilbert – assistant editor John Francis Weldrick – published in 1902 – 1740 to 1751
Volume ten – edited by Lady Gilbert – assistant editor John Francis Weldrick – published in 1903 – 1752 to 1760
Volume eleven – edited by Lady Gilbert – assistant editor John Francis Weldrick – published in 1904 – 1761 to 1768
Volume twelve – edited by Lady Gilbert – assistant editor John Francis Weldrick – published in 1905 – 1769 to 1778
Volume thirteen – edited by Lady Gilbert – assistant editor John Francis Weldrick – published in 1907 – 1778 to 1786
Volume fourteen – edited by Lady Gilbert – assistant editor John Francis Weldrick – published in 1909 – 1787 to 1796
Volume fifteen – edited by Lady Gilbert – assistant editor John Francis Weldrick – published in 1911 – 1797 to 1806
Volume sixteen – edited by Lady Gilbert – assistant editor John Francis Weldrick – published in 1913 – 1807 to 1814
Volume seventeen – edited by Lady Gilbert – assistant editor John Francis Weldrick – published in 1916 – 1814 to 1822
Volume eighteen – edited by Lady Gilbert – assistant editor John Francis Weldrick – published in 1922 – 1832 to 1841
Volume nineteen – edited by Lady Gilbert – assistant editor John Francis Weldrick – arranged by Miss Mary Weldrick – publishing arranged by P.J. Hernon – published in 1944 – 1832 to 1841
End of post
 Mary Clark, ‘Local archives and Gilbertian reforms’, in Mary Clark, Yvonne Desmond & Nodlaig P. Hardiman (eds.), Sir John T. Gilbert 1829-1898, Historian, Archivist and Librarian (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 1999), p. 79
 Toby Bernard, ‘Sir John Gilbert and Irish historiography’, in Clark, Desmond & Hardiman (eds.), Sir John T. Gilbert, p. 100
 Nodlaig P. Hardiman, ‘The entire Gilbert: the life and times of John T. Gilbert’, in Clark, Desmond & Hardiman (eds.), Sir John T. Gilbert, p. 17
 Nodlaig P. Hardiman, ‘The entire Gilbert: the life and times of John T. Gilbert’, in Clark, Desmond & Hardiman (eds.), Sir John T. Gilbert, p. 19
 Nodlaig P. Hardiman, ‘The entire Gilbert: the life and times of John T. Gilbert’, in Clark, Desmond & Hardiman (eds.), Sir John T. Gilbert, p. 22
 Mary Clark, ‘Local archives and Gilbertian reforms’, in Clark, Desmond & Hardiman (eds.), Sir John T. Gilbert, pp. 82, 85
 Nodlaig P. Hardiman, ‘The entire Gilbert: the life and times of John T. Gilbert’, in Clark, Desmond & Hardiman (eds.), Sir John T. Gilbert, p. 22
 Toby Bernard, ‘Sir John Gilbert and Irish historiography’, in Clark, Desmond & Hardiman (eds.), Sir John T. Gilbert, pp. 104-5
 Mary Clark, ‘Local archives and Gilbertian reforms’, in Clark, Desmond & Hardiman (eds.), Sir John T. Gilbert, p. 90, note 37
 http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/pages/1901/Dublin/Blackrock/Booterstown_Avenue/1313255/ accessed on 25 August 2014
 Lady Gilbert (ed.), Calendar of Ancient Records of Dublin, volume XIX (Dollard, Dublin, 1944), pp. v, vi
 http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/pages/1901/Dublin/Glasnevin/Rosevilla__N_C_R_/1273714/ accessed on 25 August 2014
 http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/pages/1911/Dublin/Arran_Quay/Phibsboro_Avenue/46736/ accessed on 25 August 2014
 http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/pages/1901/Dublin/Arran_Quay/Arbour_Hill/1337628/ accessed on 25 August 2014
 Mary Clark, ‘Local archives and Gilbertian reforms’, in Clark, Desmond & Hardiman (eds.), Sir John T. Gilbert, p. 91