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Unpuzzling Ireland's Church Records - Part II

Roman Catholic Parish Church of Maghercloone, County Monaghan

 I’m writing this a little early this week, as I’m leaving tomorrow morning on a cruise where I’ll be giving four genealogy lectures (hard work but someone has to do it )<g>.

   As I mentioned last week, it’s very important to understand that religion in Ireland was a political issue as well as a spiritual one.  Therefore a brief look at the history of Ireland is important to help understand their church records.


    •1537 - Henry VIII declared himself supreme head of the Church of England (Anglican)

      •1541 - Henry VIII became King of Ireland

      •1560 - Church of Ireland became the State Church under Elizabeth I

      •1605-1609 - Plantation of Ulster began

      •1634 - Law passed requiring Church of Ireland registers to be kept

      •1637 - Presbyterian worship was suppressed by Church of Ireland

      •1695 - Laws for the Suppression of Popery

      •1719 - Toleration Act protected Protestant dissenters

      •1772-1795 - Catholic Relief Acts began to restore rights taken away under the Penal Laws

      •1782 - Act validating marriages performed by Presbyterian ministers

      •1819 - Presbyterian ministers required to keep records

      •1829 - Catholics became free to practice their religion

      •1869 - Church of Ireland no longer the State Church

      •1876 - Law required Church of Ireland registers to be stored at the Public Records Office
                    in Dublin

      •1878 - Storage law amended to churches with suitable storage facilities to keep their
                    registers

      •1922 - Fire at the Public Records Office destroys records stored there

   So that in a nutshell is the history of the religious and political strife that continues today in Ireland.  By studying religious history in general, and denomination in particular you will learn about the conditions that affected your ancestors lives, as well as the possibility of finding church records.

   Because of the Penal Laws, religious registers, other than the Church of Ireland were not kept until the latter part of the 18th Century as the Catholic Relief Acts were past.  Most registers for rural areas, however, and especially for the west of Ireland don’t begin until well into the 19th Century.  No matter what you believe is your ancestors religious affiliation, it’s important to check the Church of Ireland registers that survive for marriages and deaths.  The only legal marriages in Ireland were performed by Church of Ireland clergy, and “dissenters” didn’t have burial grounds so some were buried from the Church of Ireland.  This is true especially if the family was well off.  You might also find the oldest son of a catholic family joining the Church of Ireland in order to be able to inherit the land.

   In the 1861 census (which was destroyed in the fire) the Irish religious affiliation was overwhelmingly Roman Catholic - 77% and this is 8 years prior to the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland!  The Church of Ireland was next, coming in a distant second as just under 12%.  Then Presbyterians at 9% however they were primarily still located in the north in Ulster.  Methodists represented less than 1% and others also at less than 1%, included Quakers, Baptists and Jews.

   Next week I’ll look denominational records...what they are and where the surviving records can be found.

    Happy Hunting!


Unpuzzling Irish Church Records - Part III

© Donna M. Moughty 2007- 2013