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Corporation History In Minute Detail

The friday book, an obscure 16th century minute book of the mayor of Dublin and his aldermen now in the possession of Dublin City Council, was presented to Dublin Corporation by the family of Sir John T Banks nearly 100 years ago. There are no other copies available and even the great John Gilbert, who has done so much to preserve the history of municipal Dublin, was not aware of its existence.

It was called the Friday Book simply because it recorded the minutes of meetings held by a steering committee of the Corporation, headed by the mayor and some of his aldermen every Friday.

The very first entry in the Friday Book, in October 1567, states: "It is agreed by Mr Mayor and his brethren aldermen, whose names are subscribed, that they and their successors assemble every Friday in the Tholsel by 9 o'clock, forenoon, under penalty of two shillings and not to depart without the mayor's leave."

The Friday meeting usually dealt with the city's financial matters but the minute book contains some fascinating snippets in relation to everyday life in 'ye olde city'.

The city fathers were clearly worried about crime levels in Dublin in June, 1569, when the mayor, Michael Bea, ordered the purchase of 300 "black bills" for the city's watchmen. A black bill was a long baton with a pike-shaped head, and was used by the watchmen to restore order during riotous situations.

The Friday committee was, from time to time, called upon to decide on matters of discipline and we see from an entry in August, 1578, that two aldermen were jailed briefly for fighting in the Tholsel. "Richard Fiane [Fyan] and Nicholas Fitz Symons aldermen uttered against each other inconvenient and undutiful speeches. They to be committed to ward for 24 hours, and to pay ten shillings."

On another disciplinary matter in March, 1580, Alderman Nicholas Ball was also locked up for a day and ordered to buy bread for the prisoners in Newgate prison and 'poor prisoners in the castle' after he had abused Alderman Alen in the Tholsel.

In January, 1609, there were several more outbreaks of abuse in the Tholsel that had to be addressed by the committee. On January 4th of that year, alderman John Brice was charged with making "irreverent speeches to the mayor" and he was held in the Tholsel until he paid a fine of 40 shillings.

Just three weeks later, a Dublin shoemaker, John Heade, was fined ten pounds for going berserk in the Tholsel court. According to the Friday Book, the cobbler "uttered to the mayor the most intemperate speeches, and opposed his authority in open court".

In June, 1602, the Friday committee -- alarmed at the increasing number of beggars arriving in Dublin -- hired three men during the summer months "to range the city daily, to purge the streets of such, and keep them from entering the gates".

One unusual entry in the book refers to a suspected outbreak of plague in the city in December, 1610, and the measures taken by the Friday committee to contain it. A suspected victim, Philip Rowley, was isolated in a locked cabin, with guards stationed outside. The mayor also ordered the Barber-Surgeons' Guild to send two of its members to examine Rowley for evidence of the disease.