Harold’s Cross in Medieval Times by Dr. Sparky Booker

This year marks the 850th anniversary of the arrival of the Normans in Ireland, and we will mark this event by a fascinating talk by Dr Sparky Booker on medieval Dublin, with reference to the Harold family of Harold’s Cross. Medieval Dublin was a cosmopolitan, wealthy port city and a place of interaction and cultural exchange between the different peoples that came to live there. This included Scandinavian settlers from the 9th century onwards, as well as the English and Welsh who came to the city from the 1160s up through the end of the medieval period. This talk discusses the relationships between these different peoples and how much they intermarried, interacted economically, and adopted one another’s clothing, hairstyles, language and customs. Dublin city council and the Irish parliament reacted to this cultural exchange in the later middle ages by enacting a range of laws attempting to regulate and restrain it. This was prompted by anxieties about the erosion of ‘Englishness’ in the city and the colony generally, and a desire to maintain cultural distinctions between English and Irish.

The Harold family from which Harold’s Cross may take its name is an excellent example of the cultural shifts that occurred in settler families in the Dublin region in this period. Originally of Norse descent, this family seems to have been treated (legally) as English by the colonial administration in Ireland. The talk will discuss how this incorporation of the Hiberno-Norse into the colonial/English community came about, and the historical sources we have that shed light on it. The Harold family, however, alongside many families of English and Welsh descent in the Dublin region, came over its long tenure in Ireland to adopt the Irish language and Irish culture. By the later middle ages, the Harolds and similar families were acknowledged as non-Irish by descent, but were treated by the colonial administration as ‘lineages’ or politically and legally connected family groups, much in the same way as Irish families.

Dr Booker’s talk will put the experience of the Harold family into this wider context of cultural exchange in medieval Dublin.

Sparky Booker is a lecturer in medieval Irish history at Queen’s University Belfast and teaches courses on medieval Irish and European history, as well as on urban and women’s history. Before moving to Queen’s in 2016, she was a postdoctoral research associate at Swansea University, on the AHRC-funded project ‘Women negotiating the boundaries of Justice, Britain and Ireland, c. 1100-1750’ (womenhistorylaw.org.uk). Her research for this project examines female plaintiffs in the secular and ecclesiastical courts of Ireland from c. 1350- c.1530, and focuses particularly on litigant strategies, overlapping jurisdictions, and the influence of wealth, status, ethnicity, and gender on women’s legal activities. Her doctoral research explored interactions between the English of Ireland and the Irish in the later middle ages. This work was published by Cambridge University Press in 2018 as Cultural Exchange and Identity in Late Medieval Ireland: the English and Irish of the Four Obedient Shires. This monograph discusses the status of the Irish in the colony, the extensive cultural exchange that took place between the two groups, and how this exchange impacted expressions and constructions of identity in both groups. Sparky is also a long-time member of the Friends of Medieval Dublin, and co-editor of the Tales of Medieval Dublin, published by Four Courts Press in 2014.