Ireland History

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Legananny Dolman, County Down, Ireland

Efficient family history research requires an understanding of the historical events that affected your ancestors and the records about them. Learning about wars, laws, migrations, settlement patterns, local events, and economic or religious trends may help you understand family movements. These events may also direct you to records, such as settlement certificates or military records, that mention your family. Learning about the conditions in which your ancestors lived and the events that influenced their lives will also help you understand your ancestors as human beings.

History[edit | edit source]

The state was created as the Irish Free State in 1922 as a result of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. It had the status of Dominion until 1937 when a new constitution was adopted, in which the state was named Ireland and effectively became a republic, with an elected non-executive president as head of state.

Ireland was officially declared a Republic in 1949, following the Republic of Ireland Act 1948. Ireland became a member of the United Nations in December 1955. It joined the European Economic Community, the predecessor of the European Union, in 1973. The state had no formal relations with Northern Ireland for most of the twentieth century, but during the 1980's and 1990's the British and Irish governments worked with the Northern Ireland parties towards a resolution to the troubles. Since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the Irish government and Northern Ireland Executive have co-operated on a number of policy areas under the North-South Ministerial Council created by the Agreement.

Ireland ranks among the top twenty-five wealthiest countries in the world in terms of GDP per capita, and as the tenth most prosperous country in the world according to The Legatum Prosperity Index 2015. After joining the European Economic Community, Ireland enacted a series of liberal economic policies that resulted in rapid economic growth. The country achieved considerable prosperity between the years of 1995 and 2007, which became known as the Celtic Tiger period.

The Celtic Tiger period was halted by an unprecedented financial crisis that began in 2008, in conjunction with the concurrent global economic crash. However, as the Irish economy was the fastest growing in the EU in 2015, Ireland is again quickly ascending league tables comparing wealth and prosperity internationally. For example, in 2015, Ireland was ranked as the joint sixth, with Germany, most developed country in the world by the United Nations Human Development Index.

Timeline[edit | edit source]

1002 - 1014 Irish Kingdom. Brian Boru united Irish regional kings
1169 - 1171 Norman invasion of Ireland in several stages
1200 - 1250 English colonists were sent to colonize Ireland
1494 - The English crown officially claimed Ireland as part of England. Meetings and legislative drafts of the Irish parliament were subject to the control of the English king and council. But in 1496 Kildare, the lord deputy who had ruled Ireland before 1494, was reinstated
1536 - 1541 First English conquest of Ireland
1549 - 1640 Many English and Scottish families were sent to Ireland to receive estates as rewards from the king. Lands were mainly granted in the counties of Leix, Offaly, Tipperary, Wexford, Leitrim, and Longford and in the major plantations in Ulster province. Some civil servants received lands in Munster province. Many Irish families were displaced
1603 - Scots began settling Ulster province
1641 - 1652 Irish Rebellion. Ulster natives overthrew English colonial rule, and Irish rebels established a Catholic government called the Confederation of Kilkenny
1649 - Second English conquest. Oliver Cromwell crushed the rebellion in Ireland and awarded lands to Protestants. Catholics who could prove they had not been involved in the rebellion were given estates in West Clare. Some prisoners were sent to New England
1739 - 1741 The "Great Frost" destroyed stored food in the winter and led to poor harvests in the fall. The result was a great famine in 1740 in which a quarter of a million people died
1800 Ireland united with England and Scotland to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
1845 - Civil registration of non-Catholic marriages began
1845 - 1852 Potato Famine Blight destroyed the potato crop for several consecutive years resulting in starvation and disease. Millions died and millions emigrated
1850 - 1914 Many Irish emigrated
1864 - Civil registration of births and deaths began. Marriage registration began to include Catholics
1869 - The Church of Ireland ceased to be recognized as the state church
1919 - 1921 War of Independence resulted in 1,468 deaths. A treaty, signed on 7 January 1922, split Ireland into the predominantly Catholic Republic of Ireland and the predominantly Protestant Northern Ireland
1922 - 1923 Irish Civil War and Irregulars of the Irish Republican Army opposed to the 1922 treaty were in conflict with the Free State forces

Online Resources[edit | edit source]

For key dates relating to church records, see Ireland Church History. For dates and records of other wars involving the Irish, see England. To find out when the various British rulers reigned, see:

  • Cheney, C. R., ed. Handbook of Dates. 1945. Reprint. London, England: Offices of the Royal Historical Society, 1955. (Family History Library book Ref 942 C4rg No. 4.)

Irish History Reference Sources[edit | edit source]

A few comprehensive Irish histories include:

  • Foster, R. F. The Oxford Illustrated History of Ireland. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991. (Family History Library book 941.5 H2hf.) This book provides a history of Ireland written in modern times.
  • Griffin, William D., ed. and comp. Ireland: A Chronology and Fact Book. Dobbs Ferry, New York, New York: Oceana Publications, 1973. (Family History Library book 941.5 H2ir.) This book contains a lengthy time line of Irish history supplemented with transcripts of historical documents.
  • O'Donovan, John, ed.Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland: From the Earliest Times to the Year 1616. 1856. Reprint. 3d ed. 7 vols. Blackrock, Ireland: Edmund Burke Publisher, 1990. (Family History Library book 941.5 H2af.) This series provides a comprehensive history of early Ireland in Gaelic and English. It contains many dates of specific events, including the deaths of some individuals.
  • Punch, Terrence M. "Irish Repealers at Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1843." On 23 May 1843, "The Register," the Catholic newspaper in Halifax, printed a complete list of the Repeal Membership in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Beside each name is given place of origin in Ireland. The Act of Union in 1801 was a watershed  in modern Irish political history.Many considered it a mistake, hence the list of Irish Repealers. Article in The Irish Ancestor, pages 6-13, Family History Library Ref. 941.5 B2i v10-11.
  • Phair, P. Beryl. "'Declaration' Against Repeal of the Union, 1830."  A list of gentry and working class signatures of this delaration. Two thousand signed and the list contains name, residences and occupation. More in a later issue of The Irish Ancestor. vol XIII no. 1. 1981 pages 18-36, FHL Ref. 941.5 B2i vol. 13, Also vol. XIII, no2, 1981, pages 104-112, FHL Ref. 941.5 B2i vol. 13. 

Local Histories[edit | edit source]

Local histories are particularly helpful in understanding the time, places, and conditions in which your ancestor lived. Local histories describe the economy; the prominent families; and the founding of churches, hospitals, schools, and businesses in an area. Even if a local history does not mention your ancestor, it may direct you to records that do.

For many localities, more than one written history exists. Local histories can be found in major research libraries, including the Family History Library. The Family History Library has many histories about Irish parishes.

The Family History Library has many national, county, and parish histories for Ireland as well as histories for specific time periods, groups, occupations, and localities in Ireland. Major research libraries may have similar histories.

Historical sources available at the Family History Library are listed in the Place Search of the catalog under the following headings:





Bibliographies of Irish history available at the Family History Library are listed in the Place Search of the catalog under:


Early to Mid-16th Century[edit | edit source]

The Celts who colonized Ireland developed a strong Gaelic culture where families were closely linked to territories. Norse and Danish coastal invaders of the 8th - 9th centuries were defeated in 1014 and absorbed into the native population. In the 11th century the Normans largely conquered Ireland and gradually became integrated, but this was the start of the English domination of the island. However at first English law only prevailed within east and southeast Ireland including Dublin and parts of Kildare, Meath, Wicklow and Louth and in the earliest times Kilkenny, Wexford, Waterford and Tipperary. The area was known as the pale (meaning the bounds of civilization) and continued to shrink until the re-conquest by the English King Henry VIII in the mid-16th century.

The Tudor policy was to guarantee the Gaelic chieftains lordship of their territories but pursue a vigorous destruction of Gaelic culture including language and dress. The latter was bitterly opposed and English rule was precarious in some areas. The defeat of the O’Neills and O’Donnells in 1603 in Ulster lead to their retreat and the plantation (colonization) by English, Welsh and Scots Protestant upper classes, although much of the native Catholic population remained as tenants and labourers.

The 1600s to 1850[edit | edit source]

A rebellion by Catholics in 1641 based in Kilkenny was finally quashed by Oliver Cromwell in 1649 resulting in confiscation of lands by the English and expulsion of Catholics to the western province of Connaught and to the West Indies. Protestant settlement in Ireland was encouraged by an Act of 1662 and particularly assisted French Huguenots to immigrate to Ireland bringing with them important trades such as weaving and goldsmithing.

The Irish Catholics had the sympathy of James II of England, but he was deposed in 1688 and lost the Battle of the Boyne to the new Protestant king William of Orange in 1690. This had disastrous consequences for the native Irish; about half a million Catholic soldiers fled to Europe and the Treaty of Limerick was not honoured by the English causing resentment which continues to this day. Instead a series of severe Penal Laws were enacted which restricted the Irish from owning or inheriting land, entering certain trades or public office and the right to vote as well as the limiting the activities of the Catholic church. From a family history point of view this meant that the Irish suffered further impoverishment and far fewer records were kept of them during the 18th century.

The Penal Laws also affected to a certain extent the Presbyterians who comprised mainly the Scots who had moved into Ulster from 1609. This was a major cause of the migration of these Scots-Irish to North America in the 18th century. The major period of emigration from Ireland commenced about 1780 and peaked during the Great Potato Famine of 1845-1849. Ryan examines the various causes of this famine. Most of the famine emigrants were poor Irish Catholics, and they went to North America, Australia and Britain.

Early 1900s and Destruction of Records[edit | edit source]

Rights to land, the franchise etc. were very gradually introduced to the remaining Irish population but a movement for self-government began in the late 19th century. This culminated in the 1916 rebellion and the establishment of an independent Irish State in 1921. Internecine fighting continued for several years during which the Four Courts Building in Dublin was shelled and set ablaze, destroying valuable archives. There are several sources for further details of this complex period.

The family historian researching prior to 1921 will be dealing with records that are largely the same as English ones and the instructor's more detailed courses on English records will therefore be useful. However, most of the land, tax, probate, voting and occupational records in Ireland will deal only with the Protestants because of the Penal Laws prohibiting the Irish Catholics from participating. The Catholics will be found in civil registration, what remains of the census, church registers and the Poor Law records.[1]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Christensen, Penelope. "Ireland History (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012),