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.
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.