 Account Books of the Franciscan House, Broad Lane, Cork, 1764-1921 (Irish Manuscripts Commission, Dublin, 2012), pp. xviii, 1-910.

L Kennedy (Editor), C Murphy (Editor)

    Research output: Book/ReportAnthologypeer-review


    This massive volume presents daily expenditures and wage payments, as taken from the manuscript accounts maintained by Franciscan friars at Broad Lane, Cork city, for the period 1764-1921. Many of the original manuscripts are difficult to decipher, so this huge volume of data is made available for the first time to scholars and others. The friary accounts furnish a unique window on social and economic change in one of Ireland’s leading maritime cities. Due to a variety of circumstances, Ireland has suffered major losses to its historical archives. Thus economic and social information that extends in a fairly consistent fashion over long periods of time is relatively rare for Ireland. This is why the records of ecclesiastical institutions take on a greater significance than they might in some other countries. The Irish Catholic church and its various institutions possessed a degree of continuity, formal organization and geographical coverage that is unmatched by any other private body. Foremost among institutions preserving detailed records is the Franciscan Order of Friars in Ireland. The Account Books for the Franciscan friary at Broad Lane yield a particularly long run of consistent information, stretching from the later 18th century to the second decade of the twentieth. These record on a daily basis the living expenses of the Broad Lane community. The variety of commodities mentioned, even in the early years, is striking. As well as water and milk, we find expenditures on such drinks as ale, porter, cider, wine, claret, brandy, punch and rum. Tea makes its first appearance in the summer of 1769. So also does sugar, suggesting demand for the two was interrelated. Among references to meats and fish, we find sausages, kidneys, veal, beef, mutton, salmon, turbot and cod. The more carbohydrate-rich foods consumed by the Franciscans included the ubiquitous potato, as well as bread, rice, butter and eggs. The purchase of vegetables was less common, though lemons and onions are mentioned, and, as a condiment, mustard. It is likely that vegetables and potatoes were more commonly available to the community than is suggested by the lists of purchases. This is because the Franciscans were the beneficiaries of payments in kind, generated by the door-to-door collections known as questing (or the seeking of alms). In addition to food and drink, energy and light sources in the form of coal and candles added to the comfort of the community. In subsequent years and decades the variety of food and drink widened, which means it is possible to trace the evolution of a consumer culture through the medium of these records. Of particular interest is the “hungry 1840s”, when thousands died of malnutrition and associated diseases in Cork city and countryside. The Franciscan records offer an unexpected vantage point on the course of retail food prices and clerical consumption during the worst of decades in modern Irish history. Widening opportunities for consumption, comfort and perhaps piety are evident in the post-Famine decades.The members of the community did not of course receive wages. The convent at Broad Lane did, however, hire skilled and unskilled workmen, usually for building and maintenance work. So we have references to masons, stone cutters, slaters, sawyers and carpenters, as well as labourers. In addition, the convent made payments to washerwomen, cooks, kitchen maids and servants. These were generally female. Thus this all-male institution, in an incidental way, generated records relating to women as well as men, which is a somewhat unexpected bonus. The convent at Broad Lane was first and foremost a religious institution. The accounts offer insights into the progress of organised religion in Cork from the later eighteenth century onwards. We find that incense was being used in the church in Broad Lane as early as 1764. Candles were a frequent purchase, altar linen was regularly washed, while four shillings and four pence was spent on books for the library on the twelfth of August 1777. An inventory of “all furniture, plates, books, altar ornaments, vestments, latch and kitchen furniture etc” taken in July 1822 mentions that by then the library contained a remarkable “2,688 volumes of all descriptions”. This must have made it one of the largest repositories for books, pamphlets and manuscripts in Cork in this period. A highly literate community might also be expected to be interested in newspapers and we find bills for the Cork Mercantile Chronicle, the Tablet, and later on the Freeman’s Journal, as well as subscriptions in the late nineteenth century to the Dublin Review and the Gaelic Journal. These subscriptions also suggest an increasing identification with Irish nationalism, as does a donation of £3 to the “Tenants Defence” in December 1890 (possibly linked to the Plan of Campaign, a nationalist agrarian agitation of the period). All in all, this volume makes available a range of primary source material that is of interest to social and economic historians, as well as historians of religion, dialect and cultural change. The introduction by the editors sets out the value of these resources and identifies some of the salient features of the account books. A digitised version (see the Irish Manuscripts Commission’s website) facilitates searches within the work.Grant: the work for the volume extended over many years and was only possible as a result of generous grants from the Irish Manuscripts Commission (Euro 9,440) and University College Dublin.
    Original languageEnglish
    PublisherIrish Manuscripts Commission
    Number of pages0
    ISBN (Print)978-1-906865-24-5
    Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 14 May 2012


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