Ireland Church History

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Effective research in church records requires some understanding of your ancestor's religion and the events that led to the creation of church records.

Major Historical Events

The following major events affected Irish church history and records:

1537 King Henry VIII declared himself supreme head of a new church, the Church of England (Anglican).

1541 Henry VIII became King of Ireland.

1560 The Anglican church (Church of Ireland) became the state church of Ireland under Elizabeth I.

1605-09 The plantation of Ulster was started. Many Presbyterians from Scotland were sent to Ulster to displace Irish Catholics and to strengthen English rule.

1619 The earliest known Church of Ireland parish register (St. John, Dublin) was begun.

1634 A law was passed requiring that Church of Ireland registers be kept.

1637 Presbyterian worship was suppressed by the Church of Ireland.

Mid-1600s The Quaker, Congregationalist, and Baptist movements began. The Huguenot migrations to Ireland also began.

1674 The oldest known Presbyterian register (Antrim, County Antrim) was begun.

1695-1728 The Penal Laws against Catholics were in force. Catholic clergy were banished. The Catholic church was forbidden to keep parish registers and Catholics were deprived of the rights to own property, hold office, and vote.

1719 The Toleration Act was passed, protecting Protestant dissenters.

1726 Nonconforming Presbyterians separated from the main Presbyterian body to form the presbytery of Antrim.

1747 The Methodist movement began.

1750s Some Catholic registers in urban parishes were begun. Many Church of Ireland registers were begun.

1772-95 Catholic Relief Acts gradually restored the rights taken away by the Penal Laws.

1782 An act was passed validating marriages performed by Presbyterian ministers.

1816 Methodists divided into two groups: Primitive Methodists and Wesleyan Methodists.

1819 The Presbyterian church began to require its ministers to keep records.

1829 Irish Catholics became free to practice Catholicism without legal persecutions. Many Catholic records were begun.

1869 The Church of Ireland ceased to be recognized as the state church.

1876 A law was passed requiring Church of Ireland registers to be stored in the Public Record Office, Dublin.

1878 The 1876 storage law was amended to allow Church of Ireland ministers with suitable storage facilities to retain their records. The Primitive Methodists and Wesleyan Methodists united.

1922 A separate record repository was established for Northern Ireland. The Public Record Office, Dublin, burned, destroying many Church of Ireland parish records and other documents.

By studying Ireland's religious history and the histories of particular denominations, you will learn of conditions that influenced your ancestor's life and the keeping of church records.

Sources for Irish Church History

To find sources on Irish church history, look in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under the following headings: