HIDDEN among tens of thousands of signatures on the 'largest farewell card' in the world was a link to the future US president.
In spindly letters on the Morpeth Roll, Thomas Reagan – the great-great-grandfather of the late US president Ronald Reagan – from Ballyporeen, Co Tipperary, signed his name in 1841.
He was one of 160,000 Irish people who wanted to thank the outgoing chief secretary of Ireland, reforming Whig George Howard, Lord Morpeth, for his work towards improving conditions.
Amongst the new discoveries are also the signatures of the grandfather of movie director, John Ford of 'The Quiet Man' fame, as well as ancestors of brewing dynasties, the Guinness, Smithwick and Beamish families.
The signatures – collected on 652 sheets of paper which were stuck together onto a linen backing to form a scroll three times the length of Croke Park – are a snapshot of the country before the Great Famine.
Historians are still piecing together the stories of those who signed it.
The roll has now returned to NUI Maynooth after a nationwide tour where it was on view to the public for the first time in 170 years. It will then travel to Queen's University Belfast in December and to Dublin Castle in the New Year.
For most of its history, the roll had been lying, forgotten, in the archives of Castle Howard in Yorkshire, the stately pile owned by the ancestors of the original Lord Morpeth.
However, in 2004, the importance of the Morpeth Roll was brought to light.
And yesterday its return to Maynooth was marked by a book launch. 'The Morpeth Roll, Ireland Identified In 1841', edited by Professor Christopher Ridgway, curator at Castle Howard, details the new research into the document.
The Morpeth Roll is a joint project between NUI Maynooth, Castle Howard and Ancestry.com.
The document has been digitised and made available to view online at www.ancestry.com.