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Maps show distribution of wealth in 14th-century Ireland

They suggest a more complex Gaelic economy than often believed.

i9wfDv5w Christopher Chevallier Source: TCD

RESEARCHERS FROM TRINITY College Dublin have produced a series of maps that illustrate the distribution of wealth in medieval Ireland.

The maps are based on early 14th-century papal taxation sources and use parish incomes as proxies for local wealth around the year 1300.

The work, led by Christopher Chevallier, a PhD researcher in Geography at TCD, and supervised by Dr Mark Hennessy, also quantifies 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 700th anniversary of the Battle of Faughart, the final clash of the invasion, will take place in October.

Chevallier said the documents he analysed, from archives in Northern Ireland, England, Paris and the Vatican, “offer a unique opportunity to map and quantify the economy of medieval Ireland; superseding the cultural, political and economic divides of the island”.

He said there is “potential to create an economic benchmark comparable to the Domesday Book” (a record of the ‘Great Survey’ of much of England and Wales ordered by King William the Conqueror in 1086).

“Additionally, the sources are extremely well situated as they capture the English colony at its peak and before its 14th-century decline.

“The thesis itself is ideal for combining historical and natural sciences with geostatistics, helping to refine and create new historical geography methods,” Chevallier stated.

sh_KUNdw Map A reflects the economic state of Connacht before the invasion Source: TCD

fFEbV57A Map B focuses on county Clare after the invasion Source: TCD

sNuJur4Q Map C reflects parish density before the invasion Source: TCD

The main results of the research include the following:

The colony can be viewed as a network of urban cores surrounded by hinterlands. It was largely situated upon soils with the greatest utility for intensive agriculture. This contributed to the high density and level of wealth found in colonial domains.

In contrast, Gaelic areas were generally defined by isolated parishes, low tiers of wealth, and environmental constraints such as mountainous terrain and soils suited for raising livestock.

Dublin’s economic hinterland was the most expansive and extended as far west as Mullingar, whereas Kilkenny’s hinterland was the densest.

The colony largely failed to make an economic impact in Connacht, with the notable exception of the area surrounding Galway, Athenry and Loughrea. There was also a pocket of wealth in northern Mayo controlled by the MacWilliam Burkes and the O’Dowda families.

Dioceses 

Preliminary analysis between pre- and post-invasion figures indicates that the Diocese of Ossory was depreciated by 47%, the Diocese of Emly by 24%, the Diocese of Cork by 30% and the Diocese of Ross by 10%.

The Diocese of Dublin was especially devastated, with an average depreciation of 68%, and nearly half of the parishes rendered too damaged to be revalued.

The post-invasion data shows that Gaelic Irish parishes weren’t uniformly impoverished. Rather, areas such as Thomond (which was ruled by the powerful Ó Briain dynasty) showed very high levels of wealth, suggesting a more complex Gaelic economy than often believed.

Nevertheless, even after the devastation of the Bruce Invasion and Great European Famine, the colonial areas were still generally outperforming independent Gaelic areas.

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Órla Ryan

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