n the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the vast
majority of the Irish population lived as small tenant farmers on
large estates owned by English landlords. The administration of
these estates inevitably produced large quantities of records,
maps, tenants' lists, rentals, account books, lease books etc.
Over the course of the twentieth century, as the estates have
been broken up and sold off, many collections of these records
have become public. Though they apply to a rather limited number
of families, they are gold mines of information; occasionally
supplying whole family relationships.
Unfortunately, these records are generally indexed by landlord
name and it is quite rare for a large landowner to have
individual rental or lease agreements with the huge numbers of
small tenants on his land. Instead, he would let a significant
area to a middleman, who would then sublet to others, who might
in turn rent out parts to the smallest tenants. It is very rare
for estate records to document the smallest landholders since
most of these had no right of tenure in any case, being simply
tenants "at will."
There are a number of ways of discovering who your families
landlord was so you can search for his estate records:
- If the location of your ancestor is known after the
Famine, the Immediate Lessor column in Griffiths
Valuations should be examined. If the Immediate Lessor is
not the landlord but the middleman, then it can be useful
to find this middleman's own holding or residence and see
who he was leasing from. Often the largest lessor in the
area will be the landlord.
- It can be very difficult to establish the identity of the
landowner before the Famine. "A Topographical
Directory of Ireland" by Samuel Lewis usually gives
details of local landowners and their estates; however,
there are omissions.
- Historical and Archaeological societies can offer much
Upon finding the name of your families landlord, you're ready
to check the sources for his estate papers:
- The best place to begin looking is in "Manuscript
Sources for the Study of Irish Civilization" and its
supplements by Richard Hayes copies of which can be found
in the National Library and National Archives as well as
available on microfilm through the LDS Church. Keep in
mind Hayes only indexes manuscripts available through
1976 and many have been made available since then.
- The PRONI.
houses several hundred sets of estate records and the
Deputy Keepers of the PRONI Reports 1924-1953, which are
available through the LDS Church, detail these
acquisitions. The Name Indexes of PRONI should also be
checked. Note that many of the estate records have still
not been catalogued and thus remain completely
- The card index at the National Archives may also be
checked. This is second only to PRONI in the size of its
estate record collection.
- After the Famine, a great deal of land was sold by
bankrupt landlords and these you will find listed in the
Encumbered Estates or Landed Estates Court. Most of the
buyers were Catholic merchants and large farmers.
Brochures were offered which gave details of the property
occasionally listing the tenants, the rents paid, and the
terms of the lease. These brochures are available at the
National Archives in Dublin and are keyed to the townland
- Trinity College once owned extensive estates. It's
library contains a large collection of papers relating to
the administration of their estates and catalogues (not
microfilmed by the LDS Church).
- A number of the most ancient and extensive estate papers
have been published in 6 volumes by the Irish Manuscript
- If your landlord had the major portion of their estate in
England, you should check the Probate Records and Wills
in England. Some Irish lands are to be found in these
- The following publications may be of value:
- "The Landowners of Ireland" by O.H.Hussey
de Burgh. Provides a guide to the major
landowners, the size of their holdings, and where
in the country they are situated.
- "Analecta Hibernica" publication,
issues 15 and 20. This may be available through
interlibrary loan at your local library.
- "Landowners in Ireland: Return of owners of
land of one acre and upwards..." (London,
1876). Reissued by the Genealogical Publishing Co.,Baltimore,
This records 32,614 owners of land in
Ireland in 1876, identifying them by province and
county; the entries record the address of the
owner, along with the extent and valuation of the
property. Only a minority of the population
actually owned the land they occupied, but the
work is invaluable for those who did.
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