Freedom of the City

(A historical note)

FREEDOM dates back almost eight hundred years to the earliest Norman times in Waterford. The Charter which founded the Corporation in 1205 A.D. granted 'diverse liberties, privileges, immunities and exemptions to the Citizens and their successors' and the exercise of these benefits was for centuries the prerogative ot the Freemen.

The original Freemen were most likely designated and new Freemen could be created; otherwise admittance to the Freedom was by right of birth, marriage or apprenticehood. This meant that the sons of Freemen were entitled to be admitted, also 'any person espoused to the daughter or widow of a Freeman' and finally,  'any person bound as an apprentice to a Freeman.'

The principal rights of the Freemen were (a) Franchise rights—for a very long time they were the only local and parliamentary electors, (b) exclusive rights in trade and commerce and (c) exemption from certain taxes, among which were numbered tolls, lassage, passage, pontage, murrage, etc., these being fees in respect of markets, fairs, crossing of bridges, entry of laden vehicles into the town, etc.; all major concessions in their day, but which diminished and eventually disappeared with the emergence of representative institutions of local government.

Freedom was a reflection of the way of life in other ages as much of historical conditions and it would be a mistake to conclude that they all belonged to a governing alien class. Thomas Francis Meagher, soldier, orator and patriot, who first proposed the Tricolour as Ireland's national Flag, was a Freeman. (His portrait hangs in the Council Chamber and the personal relics of his American career are on display in The civic museum—Waterford Treasures at the Granary).

The custom existed, too, of admitting distinguished public figures as Freemen. For example, Lemuel Cox, the Boston architect who, in 1793, built the first (wooden) bridge across the Suir at Waterford, was so admitted.

The Municipal Privilege Act of 1876, whereby each city in Ireland had the right to confer freedom, regulated this practice and established Honorary Freedom on an entirely new plane. Corporations availed of this measure—although sparingly—to honour chosen public figures and others whose accomplishments at home and abroad seemed to them to merit recognition. The Honorary Freedom was extended under the Local Government Act 1991 and counties as well as cities are now eligible to confer it.

Admitted as Honorary Freemen of Waterford since 1876 have been:

Isaac Butt 6/2/1867 "…in recognition of services rendered…in restoring to this Corporation the privilege of nominating the gentlemen to act as High Sheriff of this ancient municipality."
Charles Stewart Parnell 6/12/ 1880 "…in recognition of his eminent services in the cause of Ireland…"
John Dillon 1/11/ 1881 Reason for admission not recorded.
William O'Brien 15/11/ 1887 MP.  “…now a prisoner in Tullamore Gaol.”  “…we consider their [the British Government] conduct in depriving him of his clothing as meriting the contempt of the human race.”
T.D.Sullivan 2/1/ 1888 MP, Lord Mayor of Dublin "…in recognition of his eminent service in the cause of Ireland."
Gen. F. S. Roberts 28/8/1893 "…on his return to his native town after many years absence." This recognition caused some controversy
John Redmond 12/9/ 1902 "MP for Waterford City, 1891-1918; Leader of Irish Parliamentary Party, 1890-1918
Andrew Carnegie 19/10/ 1903 On occasion of laying of foundation stone for Carnegie Library
E. O'Meagher Condon 29/9/ 1909 One of the five people charged at the time of the Manchester martyrs. he spent 12 years in prison.
Richard R. Cherry 7/12/1909 Lord Justice of Appeal. "…whose early association with our City, whose Parliamentary ability and success and whose final elevation to the supreme Tribunal in Ireland are such characteristics as warrant us in giving to him the franchise of our County Borough."
Archbishop Daniel Mannix 12/8/ 1925  "...In recognition of his indomitable stand in defence of the democratic principle of free and unfettered government." Freedom was proposed on 17/8/1920.
Most Rev. Dr Paschal Robinson 15/5/ 1930 First Papal Nuncio to visit city since seventeenth century.
Eamon deValera 28/1/ 1946 Taoiseach
Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh 30/5/ 1955 President of Ireland
Fr. Augustine Sepinski, O.F.M. 15/4/ 1957 Minister General, Franciscan Order on the occasion of the unveiling of the statue of Luke Wadding, O.F.M.
Michael Cardinal Browne, O.P. 7/8/ 1962 Native of Waterford
William Cardinal Conway 28/5/ 1966 Primate of All Ireland
William F. Watt 26/5/ 1969 Businessman and founder of Waterford Music Club
Rt. Rev. Charles J. Henderson 6/4/ 1973 Native of Waterford. Bishop of Tricola.
Patrick W. McGrath 8/6/ 1973 Chairman of Waterford Crystal
John Treacy 25/7/ 1979 Winner of two World Cross-Country titles.
Rev. Bro. Gerard G. McHugh, C.F.C 24/8/ 1979 Superior General of the Congregation of Christian Brothers. On the occasion of the translation of the remains of Bro. Rice to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, Mount Sion.
John W. Armstrong 14/8/1980 Church of Ireland Archbishop and Primate
Noel M. Griffin 24/11/1980 Former managing Director of Waterford Crystal
Matthias Barrett 18/1/1980 Waterford native. Founder of Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd
Seán Kelly 23/1/1987 "A Waterford man who has the achieved the position of No.1 cyclist in the world."
Bro. Felan Burns 23/10/1987 "Provincial of De La Salle Brothers. On occasion of the centenary of the Order in the city"
Mrs. Mary Robinson 1/7 1994 President of Ireland
Michael Doody 9/2/1996 Waterford native. Former City Manager
Anna Manahan 19/4/2002 "In recognition of her contribution to world theatre and for being an ambassador for Waterford." Actress, Waterford native.  Winner of 'Tony' award on Broadway, NY, for Best Featured Actress, 1998.

List of Honorary Freeman courtesy of Dónal Moore, Waterford City Archivist, see 

Copyright © 2006 Waterford History