If your ancestors worked on the land in Ireland in the 1820s and 30s, there’s a chance they may appear in the Tithe Defaulters List of 1831.
The records are held at the National Archives in Dublin. They are also available to search online with a subscription to Find My Past.
The second half of this article covers the turbulent history that led to the formation of this list. But first, I’ll show you how to search and use the online archive.
The Tithe Defaulters List On Find My Past
To get familiar with the Tithe Defaulters collection on Find My Past, I advise that you browse it by the counties in which your ancestors lived.
Your relatives may not be in the list, but their neighbors might. The rich historic details will give you a stark insight into these tough times.
How to set up a filter for the Tithe Defaulters collection
Follow these steps to set up a filter on the Tithe Defaulters collection.
- Go to the Search page on the Find My Past website
- Set the country in the left pane to “Ireland”
- Expand the first category of “Census, Land & Substitutes”
- Click on “Land & Estates”
- Click on the “Browse Record Set” link in the main window
Check the picture below to see exactly what you need to do.
The “Browse Record Set” link will pop up a window that lists all the collections in this sub-category.
You may have to click the “more” button to get down to the 1831 Tithe Defaulters list. Check the box and click the button to apply the filters.
You will be returned to the Search page. Now for the next steps.
Browse the tithe defaulter records by county
With just under 30 thousand names in the collection, it’s possible that you won’t find any results if you search on a surname in your family tree.
Therefore, I suggest that you search by a county. Even then, there are counties that aren’t represented so you may need to try a few.
I started with County Meath in the “Where” search box. This whittled the collection down to 44 results, which are easily browsable (click on the View button).
The results list shows the defaulter’s name and the parish. If your ancestors lived in the same parish, this could be a rich source of information for you.
Even if you don’t recognize a name or location, click on one of the transcripts to get a feel for the information. You’ll be sure to want to read the affidavit.
The affidavits in the transcripts
The affidavits in the transcripts are extraordinarily rich in detail. Some that I checked were essays of 500 words.
The affidavits are charged with emotion. They also contain plenty of names involved in the grievance.
The names of witnesses aren’t indexed so they won’t come up in a search. This is another reason why it’s worth browsing through part of the Find My Past collection.
What Is The Tithe Defaulters List Of 1831?
The Tithe Defaulters List of 1831 is a collection of people who failed to pay tithes to the Church of Ireland.
A tithe is a religious tax. This particular tax was levied on tenants or owners of farmland. They were obliged to pay 10% of the value of their produce to the local Protestant clergy.
I’ll address the history of the Tithe War in the next section of this article. Here, I’ll focus on the use of these records for your genealogy research.
The 1831 collection has 29,027 names from 232 parishes.
If you’re thinking that’s a small number compared to the population of Ireland at the time, you’d be right. Let’s break it down a bit further.
This table orders the counties by the approximate number of records in the collection.
If your ancestors were Catholic subsistence farmers in Kilkenny, then there’s a good chance they’ll appear in the list.
If your ancestors were in Meath, then you probably won’t find them. But you’ll get a fascinating insight into events in a single parish in 1830.
What information is in the records?
The records give this information:
- Name of the defaulter
- Their residence, parish, area, and county
- Occupation (this may not be filled in)
- Full text of the Affidavit
Some records don’t provide the occupation of the defaulter. But here’s a sampling of the types of occupations you may see:
If you’re wondering what a “cottier” was, this was someone who rented a cottage with a small bit of land of about an acre. The famine would destroy this type of living.
Try the Petty Sessions too
If your ancestors went through hard times as tenant farmers or laborers, then they may have been fined for late payment in rent or for small thefts.
You may have better luck of finding them in the records kept by the lowest courts for these kind of minor infractions. I certainly found mine in there!
The good news is that these records cover the whole country for a much longer time than the 1831 Defaulters List.
Check out our article on the Irish Petty Court Sessions On Find My Past.
Other Related Collections On Find My Past
Aside from the Petty Sessions I already mentioned, you may find it useful to check these collections.
Overview Of Irish Court And Prison Records
A Brief History Of The Tithe Wars
Let’s take a brief look at how the Tithe Defaulters List came about.
The tithes were a heavy burden on small landowners and tenants. Most of the Irish population were Roman Catholic, but the tithes went solely to the local Protestant church.
The tax was levied regardless of the religion of the payer. You can imagine that this was an increasing source of resentment to those who didn’t belong to the Protestant faith.
In fact, many of the small farmers were also paying voluntary contributions to the Catholic clergy. They were facing a double burden in hard times.
Some people defaulted in the years before 1831 due to their inability to pay. Others increasingly defaulted as a political protest.
The start of the Tithe War
Because of the loss in income, the Protestant clergy were also feeling hard times. They demanded relief from the Government.
In order to get reimbursement, the clergy had to record who had defaulted for how much. These lists of defaulters were sent up to Dublin and compiled into collections. One of these collections is the 1831 list.
The lists weren’t just to reimburse the clergy. They also drove the enforced seizure of goods and livestock from defaulters. The seizures were by bailiffs with the backing of the Irish Constabulary.
Tensions inflamed in 1831 when twelve people resisting a seizure were shot dead in Wexford.
Later that year, a group of resisters ambushed a detachment of the Irish Constabulary who were escorting a bailiff. Twelve constables were killed. (If your ancestor was a member of the police force, check out our article on the Royal Irish Constabulary collection on Find My Past).
There were other skirmishes, killings, and mass shootings spread throughout the southern and eastern parts of the country.
Much of the protests were peaceful
It would be mistaken to think that the resistance to tithes was mostly violent. The opposite is the case. It became a political movement of non-violent protest.
Daniel O’Connell was a lawyer who defended many of the protesters. His name looms large in Irish history as The Liberator.
In 1832, a massive crowd of two hundred thousand people assembled to hear O’Connell address a meeting in Ballyhale, County Kilkenny.
The end of the Tithe War
In 1838, the Government backed down. They introduced the Tithe Commution Action, which reduced the amount. It also removed direct payments to the clergy, although extra payment was tacked on to the tenant’s rent.
This reduced the sectarian tension. It also removed the flashpoints of armed collections of tithes. That was the end of the Tithe War.
It took another few decades for the tithe system to go away completely. But in 1869, the Anglican Church of Ireland was separated from the Church of England (this is called disestablishment).
This meant that it was no longer the official state church in Ireland. And therefore, it did not receive tax funds. That was the end of an official tithe system.