Victims and Criminals 1821-1860

Irish family historians must resort to some strange sources for information.  Our new e-Book  is a good example.  It contains information on approximately 3,000 persons named in notices seeking information on perpetrators of crime in the period 1821 to 1860. They are effectively ‘Wanted’ posters or ‘Proclamations’ seeking information on those involved in serious crimes and offering rewards for their capture.  Their value is that they name victims and usually their residences or locations,  and often their occupation or relationships.  A minority of the notices name specific criminals.  An example of a full proclamation is in Figure 1 relating to an attack on a John McTernan in Donegal,  indicating his residence.

Thousands of such  proclamations were published in the Dublin Gazette between 1821 and 1860.  This was the publication in which the British Government of the day published official and legal notices relating to Ireland.  The numbers per county differ as can be seen in the table in Figure 3 below.  Flyleaf Press has now published extracts of approximately 3,000 of these proclamations in a new e-Book entitled “Victims and Criminals in Ireland: 1821-1860: a resource for Irish family and local history” (ISBN 978-1-907990-40-3) compiled by James G Ryan.  It is a rich source of information in a period in which other sources can be difficult to find, particularly in Western counties.  A small number of the entries are notices issued by the Chief Heralds of Ireland or England giving permission for changes of name, or for changes in some aspect of a coat of arms. Almost all of these people would be gentry of the upper classes.  All of the latter notices were published in the London Gazette  during the same period.

Figure 1: Proclamation related to attack on John McTernan in Donegal 1837

The background to this source is that in March 2022 the Law Reform Commission ran a public consultation on a proposal to revoke 3,000 ‘statutory and prerogative instruments’ made between 1821 and 1860. The Law Reform Commission was established in 1975 “to keep the law under review and to conduct research with a view to the reform of the law”.  As part of their role, they identify legal instruments (laws, notices etc) that are redundant, and propose their repeal,  following consultation with relevant authorities and the public. For this purpose, they published abbreviated versions of all of these proclamations (including a reference to their original entry in the Dublin Gazette). Almost all of the notices are ‘Proclamations for apprehension’ of unidentified (sometimes named) persons involved in specific crimes.

Typical examples of the abbreviated versions published by the Law Reform Commission are:

August 19, 1835 [Dublin Gazette Issue No.12583, p.481]  Proclamation for apprehending the persons who attacked the house of Daniel Malone of Upper Gurteen, near Drimnacor, Co. Longford… 

 Jan.10, 1839 [Dublin Gazette Issue No.13005, p.32]  Proclamation for apprehending Michael Aylward, who inflicted wounds on his wife Mary Aylward, at Ballinclea, in Ballyadams, Queen’s County…

         Oct. 28, 1836  [Dublin Gazette Issue  No.12767,  p.599]   Proclamation for apprehending the men who violently assaulted Martin Lawless, herdsman to Thomas Tully of Refane,  parish of Kilmean,  barony of Leitrim, Co. Galway, while looking after his master’s sheep

The first two provide very specific addresses for persons, while the latter provides an effective location and an occupation. Others provide family relationships, employments, and other information. Note that these are abbreviations of the full proclamations and in some cases the original contains significantly more information.   For example the abbreviated entry for the proclamation shown in Figure 1 is:  Feb. 11, 1837 [DG Issue No.12799, p.123] Proclamation for apprehending the men who attacked the house of John McTernan in the mountain part of Coolcolly, parish of Kilbarn, within a mile and a half of Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal. 

Figure 2: Full proclamation relating to attack on John Brady in Westmeath 1826

In some cases the original proclamation provides much more detail, and names further victims.    For example  one abbreviated entry  is:    July 20, 1826 [DG Issue No. 11158, p.529] Proclamation for apprehending the persons who murdered James Haggarty on the lands of Gilliardstown, parish of Castlepollard, Co. Westmeath.    The full proclamation is in Figure 2 and provides signficantly more information and names further victims.

The reward offered in proclamations is typically £50 but ranges from £20 to £500.  In some areas where there was significant local unrest (see below) the local gentry and others often contributed to the reward offered.  Where this is the case,  the names of these subscribers, and the amount contributed by each, may be detailed in the notice.



.Some historical background

The period of history reported (1820-1860) was a troubled time in Ireland.  When the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815,  there were no longer large armies to maintain and food and crop prices dropped significantly.  Tenants became unable to pay their rent,  landlords income dropped and economic recession, evictions and general public unrest ensued.   This period was followed by the Great Famine of 1845-47  which decimated the population and resulted in huge levels of  hunger, illness, death and emigration.  It was also a period in which Catholics,  who formed the vast bulk of the population,  were emerging from over a century of oppression and were developing their political and social voice through regional and national campaigns for fair rent, voting rights, abolition of tithes and other causes. The desperation of many people is illustrated by the extent and nature of the grievous crimes reported.  These crimes therefore include both politically motivated actions as well as the crimes of passion or greed to which all human nature is inclined.

Figure 3: Numbers of Proclamations issued per county. Notices issued by Chief Heralds are additional to these

Specific political motivations that can be identified from the notices  include  actions against landlords and their administrators. Some impressions of the nature of the relationship between tenants and their landlords can be obtained from our blog ‘Eye-witnesses to our Ancestry‘  which describes the experiences and observations of visitors to Ireland during this and other periods. There are many examples of crimes broadly related to campaigns for tenant rights.    In pursuit of fair rents, a common local action was that all tenants would suspend payments of rent if it was judged to be excessive.  If a tenant was evicted as a result, protesters would issue warnings to discourage anyone from taking up the vacated tenancy, and might also mount attacks on those who did.  Proclamations related to such actions are frequent in the notices.  There are also notices related to attacks on farms and stock of landlords etc.    A separate form of related tenant action related to ‘turning up’ grassland.  During this period many landlords conducted evictions of small-holders and converted their land to grassland. This was both for economic reasons (i.e. to raise cattle)  and also because tithes were not payable on grassland. To protest this,  extraordinary social action was taken in some areas whereby hundreds of people would gather at night and dig up the landlord’s grassland.  As example:  Mar. 16, 1838 [DG Issue No.12920, p.177] Proclamation for apprehending the persons who maliciously turned up 40 acres of the lands of Clonmony, parish of Bunratty, Co. Clare, belonging to Arthur Gloster. The large number of people required to hand-dig 40 acres in one night is an indication of the local solidarity and grievance involved in these actions.

There were also campaigns against tithes, which was a tax for upkeep of the Church of Ireland, but payable by all denominations.  This was bitterly resented by both Catholics, Presbyterians and other denominations.  Tithe protests were mounted in many counties, but particularly in Tipperary where it developed into a Tithe War. Assaults on those engaged in assessing or collecting tithes; and other tithe-related crimes are frequent  in the notices.  Some of the reported  protests were organised by the so-called secret societies, which operated in various areas.  Among such groups mentioned in the notices are Ribbonmen, Whitefoot, Terry Alt and Rockites which were active in different areas at various times.

The vast bulk of those listed are victims of crimes, rather than criminals.   However, the records cited may provide a lead to other records such as newspaper accounts of the incident.  Where the criminal is named further information may be found in the Prison Register records available from,  and/or in newspaper articles.  For example, the efforts to apprehend John Hurley for murder [DG Issue No.14631, p.449] were clearly successful, as the Prison records show that he was executed in August 1853.  Note that the crimes reported here will generally not appear in the Petty Session records (also available on as these crimes are more serious and would be prosecuted by the Quarter Sessions.  An account of Petty Sessions, with reference to Quarter Sessions,  is in our blog here.

Figure 4: A sample page showing the range of notices included

Family and Place-names

The placenames noted are generally fairly specific and most will note a townland, which is the smallest division of land in Ireland and the most useful in terms of precisely identifying a location. Some noteworthy points are:

(a)   the spelling of townland names is notoriously variable. Our blog on placenames provides some background and suggestions on finding the currently accepted spelling.  Note also that some of the places named in proclamations are houses or estates and will therefore not be found in listings of townlands. Examples include Brockla Park and Duckett’s Grove. Both of these are so-called ‘Big Houses’ occupied by estate owners.

(b)  Name spellings are also variable. During the period in question, there was no formal spelling of Irish names and a significant proportion of the population (particularly along the West coast) only spoke the Irish language, and/or were illiterate.   Clerks and others who were required to write names, anglicised them as phonetically as possible, but variations inevitably occur.   For instance, Kelagher is more usually spelled Kelliher; Kilchrest is usually Gilchrist; Laden is usually Leyden  etc. Where possible, the variant spellings are indicated by including the more usual spelling of the name in addition to the form that appears in the legal notice.

In addition to the spelling variations which may be attributed to the clerks who compiled these notices, there are also variations resulting from the digitisation process.   To create the records, original copies of the Dublin Gazette were scanned using optical character recognition technology.  Some spelling mistakes may be caused by this process.   The notices also include some unusual or obsolete terms (e.g. haggard, puncheon, hough, bawn etc).  A full glossary of these terms is provided in the e-book.

The e-book can be ordered from  HERE and the details are:

Victims and Criminals in Ireland 1821-1860:  a resource for Irish family history.

Compiled by:  James G Ryan

226 pages  including a detailed Introduction.  It is available in Calibre  which is usable on all e-book platforms (Apple,  Android and on PC, Tablet or Mobile).

ISBN:     978-1-907990-40-3

Price:  €14       (=  US$14.90 /  Can$18.90  /  AU$20.70  – as of 1 June 2022)

Other articles in our series on Irish Family Sources: