Expert Tip: Irish Trade & Postal Directories

Irish directories often provide information that is not easily available elsewhere. They date back to 1751 when the first true trade directory was published by Peter Wilson of Dame Street, Dublin. Four years later, Wilson embarked on an annual series that continued until 1837. It was regularly bound in with The Gentleman’s and Citizens Almanack produced by John Watson.

From 1787 the publication went under the title of The Treble Almanack and included Exshaw’s English Court Registry with a plan of the city.

In the early years, this directory consisted purely of an alphabetical list of merchants and traders with their addresses and occupations. By 1815, a listing of the Nobility & Gentry was added. Still in the early 19th century, small lists were added  of linen hall factors, pawnbrokers, hotel keepers, Irish militia officers and Revenue officials, but these lists were not necessarily produced on an annual basis.

In 1834, Pettigrew & Oulton’s Dublin Almanac and General Register of Ireland began an annual publication pattern that continued to 1949. These volumes included a street-by-street listing and extended the area covered. Under the heading Official Authorities of Counties, the names and addresses of magistrates and other local dignitaries were added.

Thom’s Irish Almanac and Official Directory started annual publication in 1844 and continues to the present day. Although often considered a Dublin directory, it included country-wide alphabetical lists for many key professions.

Limerick was the first provincial town to issue a trade directory in 1769. It’s available on Limerick City Library’s website.

1787 saw Richard Lucas’s Cork Directory & six towns published in south Cork, providing an alphabetical list of Cork merchants with separate lists of bankers, barristers, surgeons, revenue collectors etc. Only merchants are listed for the six towns.

In 1820 J Pigot & Co issued the Commercial Directory of Ireland, the first of a series of composite directories covering the major towns, arranged by trade then alphabetically by surname.

A directory listing indicates a fair degree of prosperity; disappearance suggests death of a trader or, more rarely, retirement or removal elsewhere. A listing is often the only source of a man’s exact occupation, leaving the specifics rather than just the more generic “merchant” so often found in a will etc. Do bear in mind that an entry may have been at least six months old by the date of publication.

Findmypast has the most online trade directories at present. These sites also provide free online access to a range of directories: Failte Romhat, Census Finder and PRONI.

The most comprehensive collections are those held by the National Library of Ireland and the National Archives of Ireland, while our own collection in the IGRS library in London is also very extensive.

Jill Williams FIGRS
September 2013

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