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Irish Land Records- Part 2
Article published: August 25, 2001; Updated 26 October 2005
By Kyle J. Betit, ProGenealogists

Landholding in Ireland

This is the second part of a two part series on Landholding In Ireland. Click here to read part one.

Landed Estate Records

Estate records are the private papers of the landlords of Ireland, those who held tracts of land and leased or rented property to the occupiers of that land. Only a very few people in Ireland actually owned land outright. Everyone else, the vast majority of inhabitants prior to the twentieth century, leased or rented rather than owned their house and land. Your ancestor could have been a landlord or someone renting from a landlord. In either case, estate records are relevant. Estate papers are relevant to the common tenant because the landlords often kept detailed records, such as rent rolls and leases, of the people living on their estates. In fact, before church records begin, estate papers may be among the only sources available for tracing the common classes.

Many estate landowners were members of the nobility, landed gentry or Church of Ireland clergy. Land was also held by the Crown (the reigning monarch), the Church of Ireland, London guilds (similar to modern-day unions), and various companies. This means that a large majority of landholders after the Reformation were Protestants.

Types of Records and Information

A wide variety of records and information can be found in estate papers. Two of the most common types are rent rolls and leases. A leaseholder held a written agreement for the term that the property would be held, while a renter could rent from year to year. Other records found in estate papers can include estate maps, emigration lists, petitions to the landowner, wills and deeds, freeholders and poll lists, mortgages, and eviction records. These are private family papers with no set rules for their content or even their survival.

Estate papers may indicate relationships and death dates of tenants. For example, it was common for land to be occupied under a "lease of lives" in which the tenant held the lease as long as three people named in the lease were living. The people named were often relatives, particularly children, of the lessee. The ages and relationships of the "lives" at the time the lease was written may be stated in the estate papers as well as their dates of death.

General Strategy for Accessing Estate Papers

Large numbers of Irish estate papers have survived, but they are found in numerous repositories in Ireland, Great Britain and elsewhere without any rhyme or reason. The following steps may be used to locate estate papers that pertain to the place where your ancestor lived:
    1. Determine the townland (preferably) or parish where your ancestor lived.
    2. Identify the landowner's full name and title (see the following section for sources to do this). By title is meant that many of the landlords were earls, marquises, dukes, and other nobles. So the MacDonnell family of Antrim were the Earls of Antrim.
    3. Determine where the landowner's estate papers are deposited.
    4. Search the estate papers looking for records covering the appropriate time period and townland/parish of interest. Don't assume that all of a landowner's estate papers are in one repository–those for your townland may be in another archives.
Sources for Identifying the Landowner

You can use the following sources to identify the landowner of the property that your ancestor occupied in a particular time period. Land did change hands due to confiscations, sales, bankruptcies, and inheritances, so over time you may need to research more than one landowner's name.
  • 1708-present: Registry of Deeds records available at the FHL and the Registry of Deeds in Dublin.
  • 1823-1837: Tithe Composition Applotment Books sometimes indicate the landowner.
  • 1830s: Ordnance Survey (John O'Donovan) Place Name Books are available at the NLI.
  • 1847-recent: Richard Griffith's Valuation of Ireland of 1847-1864 and subsequent revision books include an "Immediate Lessor" column indicating the landlord of each occupier. Various: Richard Hayes' Manuscript Sources for the History of Irish Civilisation lists estate papers at the NLI, NAI, PRONI and other repositories.
Sources for Locating Estate Papers

Major repositories of estate papers include the NLI, NAI, PRONI, Trinity College, and county and university libraries in Ireland and Great Britain. The FHL has microfilm copies of some estate papers. Estate papers may not have been deposited in the county where the estate was located or even in Ireland. Landowners often had land in several Irish counties and may have lived outside of Ireland altogether (called "absentee landlords").

Here are some major reference works for locating estate papers. Others may be found in Radford and Betit's A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your Irish Ancestors.
  • Richard J. Hayes' Manuscript Sources for the History of Irish Civilisation catalogues estate papers (1) under the name of county, then "estates," for example: "Roscommon, County: Estates"; (2) under the name of the estate (as in a town or castle name); and (3) under the name or title of the estate owner.

  • "County Source Lists" in John Grenham's Tracing Your Irish Ancestors: The Complete Guide> include some estate papers and where they are available.

  • The "Census and Census Substitutes" listings for each county in James G. Ryan's Irish Records include estate papers.
    • National Inventory of Documentary Sources in the United Kingdom and Ireland (NIDS) (published by Chadwyck-Healy) includes Trinity College, University College Dublin, University College Galway, archives at universities and county record offices in England, Wales and Scotland. The index to NIDS is available on CD-ROM with capability for key-word searches.

  • The National Register of Archives produced by the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts inventories manuscript collections repositories in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. A subject index to the NRA may be searched on-line

  • Estate Records of the Irish Famine: A Second Guide to Famine Archives, 1840-1855, by Andrés Eiríksson and Cormac O Gráda, lists collections at the NAI, the NLI, the PRONI, and county, university and other libraries in Ireland. The book is arranged alphabetically by county and name of proprietor.

  • Estate record inventories of papers in the NLI and the NAI were published in a joint project of the Irish Genealogical Society International (PO Box 16585, St. Paul MN 55116-0585) and the GO. At this writing, inventories have been published for counties Armagh, Cavan, Cork, Donegal, Fermanagh, Galway, Kerry, Leitrim, Mayo, Monaghan, Roscommon, Sligo, Tyrone, and Waterford, as well as for the Lismore Papers.

  • The PRONI's Guide to Landed Estate Records inventories records in the six Northern Ireland counties held at the PRONI.
Incumbered Estates Records

The Incumbered Estates Act of 1849 created a court to sell debt-ridden estates. Over 3,000 estates were processed by the court between 1849 and 1857, and the court continued to sell estates through the 1880s. Printed sales brochures for estates being sold are available at the NAI, NLI, PRONI, and FHL. They usually include a map of the estate and a listing by townland or street of the tenants, their yearly rents, and their types of tenure. If the land was held by a lease, the brochure lists the date of the lease and the number of years or names of lives, sometimes going back into the eighteenth century.

The NAI has a finding aid arranged by townland to the Incumbered Estates records (called LEC or Landed Estate Court rentals), and the NLI has a finding aid arranged alphabetically by owners' names. You can also call up the sales brochures in volumes by date at the NLI. The FHL has microfilmed eighty-three volumes of printed sales brochures, but there is no index included.

References and Further Reading

  • Agnew, Jean. "The Registry of Deeds: A Beginner's Guide." In Aspects of Irish Genealogy III: Proceedings of the Third Irish Genealogical Congress, edited by Christopher Ryan. Dublin: Irish Genealogical Congress Committee, 1999.

  • Betit, Kyle J. "Freeholders, Freemen and Voting Registers," The Irish At Home and Abroad 6 (4) (4th Quarter 1999): 146-164.

  • Betit, Kyle J. "Catholic Qualification Rolls, 1775-1801," The Irish At Home and Abroad 6 (4) (4th Quarter 1999): 165-167.

  • Collins, Peter. "Eighteenth-Century Records." In Pathways to Ulster's Past: Sources and Resources for Local Studies, pp. 21-23. Belfast: The Institute of Irish Studies, The Queen's University of Belfast, 1998.

  • De Burgh, U.H. Hussey. The Landowners of Ireland. An Alphabetical List of Owners of Estates of 500 Acres or £500 Valuation and Upwards. Dublin: Hodges, Foster and Figgis, 1878.

  • Eiríksson, Andrés and Cormac O Gráda. Estate Records of the Irish Famine: A Second Guide to Famine Archives, 1840-1855. Dublin: Irish Famine Network, 1995.

  • Evans, M.D. "Manuscripts of Genealogical Interest in Trinity College, Dublin." In Aspects of Irish Genealogy II, edited by M.D. Evans, 61-82. Dublin: Irish Genealogical Congress Committee, 1996.

  • Falley, Margaret Dickson. "Records of Public Office, Freemen, Freeholders, Guilds, Schools." In Irish and Scotch-Irish Ancestral Research, vol 1, pp. 666-671. 1962. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1988.

  • ffolliott, Rosemary. "Co. Carlow Freeholders in 1767," The Irish Ancestor 12 (1-2) (1980): 46-47.
  • ffolliott, Rosemary. "The Registry of Deeds for Genealogical Purposes." In Irish Genealogy: A Record Finder, edited by Donal F. Begley, 139-156. Dublin: Heraldic Artists, Ltd., 1987.

  • Grenham, John. Tracing Your Irish Ancestors: The Complete Guide. 2nd Ed. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan Ltd., 1999.

  • Guide to Landed Estate Records. Belfast: Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, 1994. Hayes, Richard J. Manuscript Sources for the History of Irish Civilisation. 11 vols. Boston: G.K. & Co., 1965.

  • Landowners in Ireland. Return of Owners of Land of One Acres and Upwards. 1876. Reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1988.

  • Lynn, James Hugh. "Leases for Lives in Ireland," The Irish At Home and Abroad 6 (4) (4th Quarter 1999): 168-173.

  • Maxwell, Ian. Tracing Your Ancestors in Northern Ireland: A Guide to Ancestry Research in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. Edinburgh: The Stationery Office, 1997.

  • Radford, Dwight A. and Kyle J. Betit. A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your Irish Ancestors. Cincinnati, Ohio: Betterway, 2001.

  • Ryan, James G. Irish Records: Sources for Family & Local History. Rev. ed. Salt Lake City, UT: Ancestry, 1997.

  • Trench, Richard Chenevix. Grace's Card: Irish Catholic Landlords 1690-1800. Cork: Mercier Press, 1997.

  • Vaughan, W.E. Landlords and Tenants in Mid-Victorian Ireland. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994.

  • Addresses

    County Roscommon Family History Society: Bealnamullia, Athlone, Co. Roscommon, Ireland

    Family History Library: 35 North West Temple, Salt Lake City, UT 84150, USA; British Isles Ref Tel: (801) 240-2367; Internet:

    National Archives: Bishop Street, Dublin 4, Ireland; Tel: (01) 4783711; Fax: (01) 4783650; Internet:

    National Library of Ireland: Kildare Street, Dublin 2, Ireland; Tel: (01) 6618811; Fax: (01) 6766690

    Public Record Office: Ruskin Avenue, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 4DU, England; Tel: (0181) 392 5200; Fax: (0181) 878 8905

    Public Record Office of Northern Ireland: 66 Balmoral Avenue, Belfast BT9 6NY, Northern Ireland; Tel: (028 90) 251318; Fax: (028 90) 255999; Internet:

    Registry of Deeds: Henrietta Street, Dublin 1, Ireland; Tel: (01) 6707500; Fax: (01) 8048408. Trinity College Dublin: College Street, Dublin 2, Ireland; Tel: (01) 608 1189; Fax: (01) 608 2690

    University College Dublin: Archives Department, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland; Tel: (01) 7067547; Fax: (01) 7061146; Internet:

    Valuation Office of Ireland: Irish Life Center, Abbey Street Lower, Dublin 1, Ireland; Tel: (01) 8171000; Fax: (01) 8171180; Internet:

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