Londonderry 'Domesday book' set for prestigious Unesco honour

The book has been unavailable to researchers for over 200 years Image copyright City of London Corporation
Image caption The book has been unavailable to researchers for over 200 years

A book containing an important record of the early 17th century population of Ulster is to be given special status by Unesco.

The Great Parchment Book of The Honourable The Irish Society has been likened to the Domesday Book, a great land survey of England from 1086.

It will be honoured at Unesco's UK Memory of the World awards in Cardiff later.

The event marks heritage collections of 'outstanding significance to the UK'.

The Honourable The Irish Society was first created in 1613 to undertake the Plantation in the north-west of Ulster.

It has since evolved into a self funding, cross-community charitable organisation to work for the benefit of the community in County Londonderry.

Image copyright City of London Corporation
Image caption The parchment is of national and international significance

Described by 'The Great Parchment Book project' as the "Domesday of the Ulster Plantation", it was compiled in 1639 and documents a significant period in the history of Ireland.

It is a major survey of all the estates in Derry managed by the City of London Corporation, through the Irish Society and City of London livery companies.

The Plantation of Ulster began in the 17th century when English and Scottish Protestants settled on land confiscated from the Gaelic Irish.

At the time, Ireland was a patchwork of independent kingdoms each ruled by a chieftain and bound by a common set of legal, social and religious traditions.

King James I believed that colonising Ulster would quell rebellion and win over the 'rude and barbarous Irish' to 'civility' and Protestantism.

The Great Parchment Book is significant because it contains key data about landholding and population, not only for the English and Scottish settlers, but also for the native Irish, and women, at all social levels.

The manuscript originally consisted of 165 separate parchment pages, all of which suffered damage at the Guildhall in the City of London fire in 1786.

Image caption Folios of the manuscript had previously been on display at Derry's Guildhall

The uneven shrinkage and distortion caused by the fire rendered much of the text illegible.

It left The Great Parchment Book completely unavailable to researchers for over 200 years.

However, the manuscript remained part of the City of London's collections held at London Metropolitan Archives.

It was successfully reconstructed as a result of a cutting-edge digital imaging project which began in 2010.

During his visit to the United Kingdom in 2014, Michael D Higgins, the President of Ireland, viewed a display of folios from the Great Parchment Book at a State Banquet in his honour at Londonderry's Guildhall.

Edward Montgomery, Secretary of The Honourable The Irish Society, said they were proud to play a pivotal role in bringing the manuscript 'back to life'.

"The book is such a marvellous testament to history and provides a fantastic account from 1639 of the City of London's role in the Plantation of Ulster and its administration.

"It is a wonderful tool for anyone interested in their ancestral history within Ulster and an excellent teaching aid for those exploring early modern Ireland," he said.

In 2013, Peter Robinson, the former First Minister of Northern Ireland, wrote that the Great Parchment Book was "a veritable treasure trove of information".