Small Sources 30: Useful records are created in all sorts of strange circumstances, and none are more unique than this one. In the 1820s a new priest, Michael Crotty was appointed to the Catholic parish of Birr, in King’s County (now Offaly). The town was then called Parsonstown. He turned out to be a difficult and divisive person who fell out with his bishop and the other priests of the parish. However, he was also a charismatic and popular priest who gradually lead a significant proportion of his congregation (reportedly about 6,000) away from the Catholic Church into a separate church and attempted to take control of the parish church building. There followed a bitter dispute between Crotty’s faction and the remaining members of the congregation that lasted several years. The dispute involved legal proceedings, military interventions and verbal and physical battles over access to the church. The breakaway congregation eventually merged with the local Presbyterian church, but almost all later drifted back to the Catholic Church and Michael Crotty eventually became an Anglican clergyman in England. Accounts of the so-called ‘Birr Reformation’ are widely available, including a book written by Michael Crotty himself which can be read on-line. Read More
Extract from Grand Jury Presentment of Dublin City 1806/07.
The relative shortage of Irish sources makes every record linking a name to a place useful. One of the obscure sources which can be used are the Grand Jury Presentments. Grand Juries were the forerunners of the modern County Councils. They were a panel of major landowners established in each county to make decisions on legal and other matters. Although originally responsible only for the Justice system, but this was gradually expanded to commissioning of local public works, i.e. building of roads and bridges, and maintenance of public buildings (infirmaries, courthouses, jails etc). It funded these works by means of a county tax on land, known as a cess or ‘rates’. Catholics could not legally serve on grand juries until 1793, and even after this date the jury lists were still predominantly Protestant. They met in spring and summer, just after the regular Assizes (local court) sessions. In these sessions they would hear ‘presentments’, i.e. proposals for grants for the construction or maintenance of roads and bridges etc; and they would also hear consider and approve payments to public officials for services rendered. The family history relevance of these documents is that (a) the proposals usually include the names of proposed contractors and (in some counties) the names of the persons providing services (see example from Dublin above) ; and (b) on occasion, they specify the work to be done by reference to the property of individuals. For example ‘to build a bridge over the river Lingane at Maurice Shea’s house’ or ‘to repair .. the mail coach road.. between Timothy Duggan’s ditch and Thomas Butler’s gate, all in the townland of Ballydrihid’ (Both from Limerick Grand Jury Presentments of 1831). These references usually include not only approved projects, but also those proposed, but not approved, for funding.