The Irish Prison Registers collection contains details of people incarcerated in prisons across 26 counties between 1790 and 1924.
The collection has over 3.1 million records.
This article looks at what you’ll find in this collection on Find My Past. We also give you tips on searching for what you need.
What Is In The Irish Prison Registers?
Don’t be surprised if some of your ancestors and relatives turn up in a prison register. This doesn’t mean that they were career criminals.
It’s worth being aware of the history of this period.
Times were hard, and many impoverished people resorted to robbery of food and goods to eke out a living. You may find that an ancestor lived out their life as a tenant farmer with occasional brushes with the law.
These were also turbulent political times with agitation spilling into violence. The governments of the day introduced various political offenses to target different types of activity.
Where were the prisons?
The records are from prisons in 20 of the 26 counties of the modern Republic Of Ireland. The records from the six counties of Northern Ireland are held elsewhere.
Don’t assume that your relative will only be imprisoned in a jail in their home county. Some prisons, like Kilhmainhm in Dublin, took prisoners from all over the country.
Spike Island in Cork was another depot that took prisoners before deportation to Australia.
Here are the counties and their number of prisons. I’ve listed them by the three provinces.
You may be surprised to see a whopping fifteen prisons on Cork. No, this isn’t because it was the crime capital of the country!
Most of these Cork prisons were bridewells, and you’ll see that in their names. A bridewell was a smaller jail or correction center. Prisoners were often held there while waiting for a trial.
You’ll find a full list of individual prisons at the end of this artice.
What Do The Records Tell You?
If you’re browsing or searching the collection on Find My Past, the transcripts include these details:
- first and last name
- age and birth year
- county of residence
- date of offense
- nature of the offense
- role (prisoner, victim, relative)
- link to an image of the page in the register
Find My Past has indexed all names within the collection, not just the prisoner. The role section will tell you if the person was a prisoner, a victim, or a relative.
Be sure to check the original image for more details.
The link in the transcript jumps you to an image of the page in the register for this record.
These are the extra details in the image that aren’t on the record transcript:
- official trying the case
- color of eyes and hair
The height is always of interest if this is a direct ancestor! And I also find that the religion can further help me identify whether I’ve got the correct person.
How To Browse The Irish Prison Registers On Find My Past
There is a sub-category on Find My Past called “Prison Registers”. Strangely enough, the Irish Prison Register collection isn’t on the list (that may be corrected after I’ve written this!).
Here’s one way to browse to the collection:
- Use the top Search menu to “Search all records”
- Set the country in the left navigation pane to Ireland
- Expand the “Institutions & organizations” category in the left pane
- Click on “Courts & Legal”
- Click the “Browse Record set” link beside the Record set input box
Here’s a picture of the steps above.
The “Browse Record set” link opens a pop-up window that lists all the record sets under this chosen category within Ireland.
You’ll see the collection in the list. Select this record set and apply the filter.
There are over 3.1 million records in the collection, so you will want to apply some extra search criteria.
There are two different county locations in the search index. One is the location of the prison and the other is the county of residence of the person.
It’s important to remember that neither may be the county of birth of your relative. People were more likely to be imprisoned close to home for minor offenses. But as I mentioned before, some prisons were depots for the country.
Prisoners could also be moved from a bridewell (small jail) to a larger prison.
So, it’s best to start your search with the name filters. If you are faced with a lot of records, then add a location filter on the county you believe your relative lived in at the time. Then widen that to neighboring counties.
Finally, check the large Dublin prisons like Kilmainham and Grangegorman. If your relative was deported, check Spike Island in Cork.
Related Collections On Find My Past
If you find your ancestors or relatives in the prison registers, then you could check these other collections below. Some cover a short time span so may not be relevant to you.
- Irish Petty Sessions on Find My Past (lowest court hearing minor offences)
- Irish Outrage Reports on Find My Past (1836-1840)
- Irish Tithe Defaulters (report of 1831)
You may also want to check whether the crime was covered in a newspaper. We have a review of newspapers on Find My Past.
Are The Irish Prison Registers On Other Online Sites?
There is a free searchable archive on FamilySearch.org. However, their version of this collection has very few details. The transcripts include name, birthplace, and place of imprisonment.
You also can’t view the source images on the FamilySearch website unless you visit one of their family history centers.
Overview Of Irish Court And Prison Records
This covers the main paid and free sites that have collections with online access.
All Prisons In the Irish Prison Registers Collection
Below are the prisons in this collection, broken down by county and province. The dates indicate the earliest and most recent record in the collection.
|Connacht||Leitrim||Carrick On Shannon||1849||1901|
|Leinster||Dublin||Grangegorman Female Prison||1831||1897|
|Leinster||Wexford||New Ross (Bridewell)||1846||1905|
|Munster||Cork||Spike Island Prison||1860||1883|