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.
Of genealogical interest, however, is the fact that, during the height of the dispute between the rival Catholic factions in 1834, the anti-Crotty parishioners published 2 posters proclaiming their position. Copies are in the National Library of Ireland (NLI) and digital images of the two posters are available within the NLI catalogue. The first, on 9 March 1834 (NLI reference EPH F399) lists 180 ‘Catholic parishioners of Birr’ (no addresses) and the second on 18 March 1834 (NLI Ref. EPH F400) lists the names of a further 600 parishioners and their residences in the town or in townlands outside the town. These would appear to be heads of household, as all are men. An extract is shown above. The latter list proclaims that they are ‘the great majority of the Roman Catholic inhabitants of the parish of Birr’. The two lists seem to contain different names, and together they provide a limited form of directory of the town with names of approximately 780 local residents. They are somewhat clumsy to search. It is suggested to first go to full screen (top left of the panel containing the poster) and then use the + or – to increase the size. Ancestor Network will offer 1 free hour of research by a professional researcher to conduct further research on these individuals, and/or to obtain copies of the original documents. Click here and quote ‘Offaly SS30’ in the subject line.