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Rentals as a resource for Irish family history

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This article deals with rentals, a term also used in North America for hire cars,  but here referring to records of rent payments by tenants on Irish estates,  particularly during the 18th and 19th centuries.  They are a potentially valuable source of family history information that is often overlooked, mainly because very few are available  on-line.

1. Background

During the 18th and most of the 19th centuries, almost every Irish farmer and small-holder was a tenant of one of the large estates whose Anglo-Irish gentry owners controlled every aspect of Irish life. The reason for this was that successive rebellions against British administration in earlier centuries had resulted in almost all Irish land being confiscated from its historic owners.  This land was then granted to those who were proven to be loyal to British interests. These included the ‘adventurers’ who had funded the armies involved in quelling Irish  rebellions;   the soldiers who served in the armies involved (in lieu of pay);  and also others who were due favours by the British court.   These new owners (and their successors) rented the land to the existing occupiers, or in some cases (particularly Ulster) settled their new properties with immigrants from Scotland and England.  In parallel, draconian anti-Catholic legislation (called the Penal Laws) was imposed from 1703 limiting the right of Catholics to own property above a certain value;  to hold public positions; and to receive education.  The rights of Presbyterians were also curtailed.  This created a situation whereby acceptance of the role of tenant with no rights was the only option available to most Catholics.

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Rental of Cloncurry Estate in Limerick in 1818.

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Small Sources No. 44. This is a list of 69 tenants on the Cloncurry estate  in the Civil Parish of Abington (Barony of Owneybeg) directly east of the City of Limerick. The original document is a rental in the National Library of Ireland (NLI Ms. 8183).   See our article here for a detailed account of rentals and their relevance.  The tenants are a mix of large and small tenants who together paid a total of £5,193 in rent,  but the individual holdings range in rental amounts from £1.15 shillings to £965. The size of holdings is not provided.  The record does provide the rent due and paid and any arrears.  The notes in brackets provide some additional information on local townland names.   The Abington estate comprised 1,796 acres and belonged to Lord Cloncurry, whose main estates and residence was in County Kildare.  Further information on his Limerick estate is available here.  He was a controversial figure in the Ireland of his time.  He was associated with the rebel group, the United Irishmen,  and was imprisoned on suspicion of treason in 1798.  However, he gained greater prominence after suing a friend for having an affair with his wife.  The court case proved one of the great scandals of the time.     A detailed account of the life of Lord Cloncurry and his attempts to introduce reforms to his Abington and other estates is in a Maynooth University PhD thesis available here.   This is of particular interest because it describes his efforts to ‘improve’ his estates, i.e. to provide assistance to his tenants by developing their farms and the local infrastructure.   As an ‘improving’ landlord, he gradually eliminated the ‘middle men’ on his estates.  These were large tenants who did not themselves  till the land,  but rented it in smaller lots to sub-tenants. They often charged very high rents and provided no support to their tenants.    Cloncurry got rid of these middle-men (where he legally could) so that he could deal directly with those tenants who worked the land.   It is interesting to note, for instance that in 1818 there are only 4 tenants in the townland of Mongfune below,  whereas in the Griffith Valuation (1851) he has 24 tenants in this townland.   Only one of the 1818 tenants,  Matthew Duhy,  is still present and he is himself a large farmer.   Henry White, a tenant in Knockanerry, seems  also to be a middle-man and appears in the Valuation Books of 1850 as a holder of 31 properties in this townland.

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Tenants in Inch and Holycross parishes, Tipperary 1829/30

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Small Sources 43.   This list of 124 tenants is from a rent book of the Lidwell estate in Co. Tipperary for the period 1829-30.  The document is in the National Library of Ireland  (NLI Mss. 9480) and is titled “Brown, of Clonboy, Papers. Rentals of Cormackstown and Clonmore, Co. Tipperary, the estate of Robert Lidwell, 1826-33′.     See our article here for a detailed account of rentals and their relevance.   The Lidwells had estates in several parts of Tipperary and these are detailed in the Landed Estates Database.  One branch held properties in the townlands of Clon More (Civil Parish of Inch – approx 1200 acres) and Cormackstown (Civil Parish of Holycross – approx 600 acres), barony of Eliogarty from 1736.  The account book was apparently only a rough record made by the agent and the writing is indecipherable in places (see example at end of blog). To understand the detail it is useful to know that it was common practice for land to be rented to a group of tenants  (partners) who would then distribute the land among themselves by arrangement. The Clonmore account book usefully lists the partnerships in place in this property. (Note, however, that there is no similar list for the Cormackstown property). The Clonmore list shows that there were 18 main tenants, and that 9 of these were partnerships (four of these being partnerships among brothers).  An extract is shown below.   In the list of 124 tenants below, some of the payments are indicated as being from partners of these main tenants, e.g. John Brennan partner of Patk. Malone.  The partnership to which they belong is indicated as  ‘per’.  The rental does not indicate whether the tenants were in the Cormackstown or Clonmore property, but the location of some can be worked out from this information.

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Tenants of Farnham estate in Castlerahan Barony, Co. Cavan, 1717 – 1785.

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Small Sources 41:  This list of 69 tenants in 55 properties is from a rental (NLI Ms 11, 491 – 8) among the Farnham Estate papers  and shows tenants with properties in County Cavan during a period from 1717 to 1785,  and also the date of their leases and a synopsis of the lease terms.     See our article here for a detailed account of rentals and their relevance.   All of the properties would appear to be within the Barony of Castlerahan (based on the townland names)  in Cavan and the areas rented vary from 23 to 187 acres noting that the acreage is not stated for many.   It would appear that these are first-time tenants as  a series of conditions related to the tenancies are imposed by the estate as follows: Royalties: Turf bogs reserved. … Building within 4 years a good farm-house 80 ft. long 16 ft. wide and 10 ft. high; Orchard 1 acre, penalty £2 added rent; Ditching within 7 years 200 perches 5 ft deep and 6 ft. wide, penalty £2 added rent; not to alien (i.e. Sub-let) more than 15 acres under penalty £10 added rent. Bound to mills penalty 5s. a Barrel. Not to commit or suffer to be committed any waste in woods under penalty of £10 for every time waste is so committed. Power for landlord to examine buildings and to repair them if not repaired within 6 mons. after notice. Tenant to have half of the trees they plant.    

A search of the Tithe Applotment books (1823-37)  shows that at least half of these settler names were still in Cavan,  and many in the same townlands at that time.

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Tenants of Earl of Leitrim in Carrigallen Parish, Co. Leitrim in 1829.

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Small Sources No. 40. This is a list of 137 tenants on the Earl of Leitrim’s Bohey estate in 1829. The circumstance would appear to be the appointment of a new land agent, Berry Norris, who compiled a statement of what was owed by tenants when he started in his new role. In addition to the 137 named tenants, there are also comments from the agent on the circumstances of many tenants. These mainly refer to their competence as tenants  (poor, middling, good etc) but  some  are of genealogical value and refer to other family members.  For instance the entry for Owen O’Neil is ‘Owen O’Neil died, his son is in possession but refuses to pay arrears‘.  An illustration of some further examples is at the end of the blog. The original document (NLI Ms. 16,977) is in the National Library of Ireland among the extensive Leitrim Papers, which contain the records of the Clements family from 1749 to 1946.  A 1751 rental is featured in an earlier blog,  which also contains further information on the estate.   See our article here for a detailed account of rentals and their relevance.   The rental lists the ‘denomination’, i.e. the property name first (by townland) and then the tenant. The properties are mainly in the Civil Parish of Carrigallen in Co. Leitrim.   Several border Lough Garadice,  and some of the islands in the lakes are included as rental properties.  The illustration above shows the local landscape.   ‘Do.’  (an abbreviation of ditto) means ‘the same’ indicating that the tenant or property is the same as that above. The more commonly used versions of the townland names are indicated in brackets where relevant. Read More

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Tenants of the Clements Estate in Mohill, Co. Leitrim in 1800.

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Small Sources No. 39. This is a rental of the Earl of Leitrim listing tenants in the Mohill area, Co. Leitrim on 29th September 1800. Although it contains only 67 names,  the genealogical value  is significantly increased by the fact that almost all leases are ‘leases for lives’, i.e. for the duration of the lives of three named individuals. For instance, the lease to Pierce Simpson below is defined as being for the lives of his sons Launcelot, Edward and Thomas. There are therefore almost triple this number of people listed, most of whom are family members with specified relationships. An illustration of a further example is below.   The record  is from a document (NLI Ms. 12,790) in the National Library of Ireland among the extensive Leitrim Papers, which contain the records of the Clements family from 1749 to 1946.

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Rentals of Leslie estate.  Rentals of Glaslough and Emy estate, co. Monaghan, 1751 - 1752.  NLI  Ms. 13,719 (2)

Tenants of the Leslie Estate in Monaghan in 1751

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Small Sources 38. This is a list of 95 tenants on the Glaslough and Emy properties of the Leslie estate in Co. Monaghan in the years 1751 and ‘52. The original document is among the extensive papers of the Leslie collection in the National Library of Ireland. The particular document is entitled ‘A Rent Roll of Glaslough and Emy Estates in the County of Monaghan from Allsts. 1751 to AllSts 1752 with fees included’. The reference is NLI Ms. 13,719(2).   The specific date is probably All-Saints day (1st November).

A John Leslie bought Glaslough Castle and estate  in 1665. At the time of these records the head of the family was Charles Powell Leslie who took over the Estate in 1743 and devoted himself to the improvement of farming methods in the district. He was MP for Monaghan in 1776 and in 1779 he was active in the Irish Volunteer Movement which sought greater independence from Britain. He was also an advocate of Catholic rights. Charles represented the County of Monaghan in Grattan’s Parliament and in his election speech of 1783 stated ‘I desire a more equal representation of the people and a tax upon our Absentee Landlords’.  The castle is now a well-known hotel and wedding venue.

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Wexford farmers receiving turnip seed: 1847.

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Small Sources 37:  This document is formally titled a ‘List of the tenants of H.K. Grogan Morgan Esq. who were supplied with turnip seed etc and the quantity given to each’.  It lists 32 tenants in 17 townlands in south Wexford, particularly in the civil parishes of Newbawn, Horetown and Kilturk.    The year 1846 was the height of the Great Famine, and it would appear that the tenants were being provided with seeds of alternate food crops to the potato, whose failure (due to blight) was the direct cause of the famine.     The seeds provided were turnip (otherwise Swede or Rutabaga), mangold or mangel-wurzel, carrot and parsnip.  The original document is in the National Library of Ireland (Ms. 11,108) and is among the Papers of the Grogan Morgan estate.   In 1846 Hamilton Knox Grogan-Morgan was an extensive land-owner in Wexford, Waterford and Cork. He lived in Johnstown Castle in Wexford, which is now an Agricultural research Centre run by the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority.  The Castle and its gardens are open to visitors  and also house an agricultural museum as well as the research centre.

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Tenants of the Barton Estate, Fethard, Co. Tipperary 1775-1805.

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Small Sources 36:     This is a list of 183 tenants from the index to a rental of the Barton Estate in Tipperary. The original document is in the National Library of Ireland and contains “Rent ledgers of the estate of William Barton in Co Tipperary, 1775-1782; 1796 – 1805. NLI, Ms. 5875.”     See our article here for a detailed account of rentals and their relevance.   This rental does not give specific locations for the tenants, but most appear to be in the town of Fethard and the surrounding parishes. A few are indicated as being resident elsewhere. Thomas Barton bought the estate at Fethard, county Tipperary, in 1751 and the family kept possession until the 1950s.  Thomas  was a member of the Barton family of Fermanagh and in the 1720s he established a wine business in Bordeaux, France, which still exists as Barton & Guestier.  Thomas Barton was Member of the British Parliament for Fethard until 1800.  His estate in Tipperary was in the parish of Fethard (barony of Middlethird) and in the neighbouring parishes of Baptistgrange, Barrettsgrange, Coolmundry, Peppardstown, Rathcool and Redcity.   The Barton residence was at Grove House near Fethard.

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Tipperary and Waterford tenants of the Woulfe Mansfield Estate 1783-

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Small Sources 18: This list of 131 tenants is from the index to a rental of the Woulfe & Mansfield estate in the period 1783–1811.  The original is in the National Library of Ireland, NLI Ms. 9632.  The Woulfe & Mansfield families had separate estates in Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary (Woulfe) and Rathgormuck, Co. Waterford (Mansfield).   See our article here for a detailed account of rentals and their relevance.   Read More

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