Ireland - Tithe Defaulters 1831



Ireland - a listing of Land Tax or

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Note -  The Tithe Defaulters are now only available on CD from Irish Family History Centre 

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by Stephen McCormac

There are one hundred and sixty-two boxes containing what are called Official Papers Miscellaneous Assorted (OPMA for short) files in the National Archives, Bishop St, Dublin. These OPMA boxes have some items of great genealogical interest. The Tithe Defaulter Schedules fall into this category. These schedules are lists of the names of the people who did not pay their tithes for the year 1831.

At this point a little history might be helpful. When increasing numbers of tithe payers refused to pay tithes during the years 1830 and 1831, in particular, many Church of Ireland clergymen found themselves in difficult financial circumstances. The Government of the day set up what was called Clergy Relief Fund 1831, 'by an Act passed in the second year of His present Majesty' (1832), to alleviate their distress. It had '1831' in its title because the clergymen could only claim for the arrears of that year. One consequence of this Act was that the Government then had the job of collecting the arrears of tithes in each parish rather than the clergymen.

The fund totalled 60,000 only. I say 'only' because for the thirteen counties I have dealt with there were arrears of 31,193. In County Kilkenny alone there were arrears of 12,115. Incidentally, the tithe defaulter, as a result of this Act of 1832, became not a debtor of a Church of Ireland clergyman but a debtor of the State. Apparently this made no difference. According to J. C. Beckett: The Makings of Modern Ireland 1603-1923 (page 310), the State spent some 27,000 in recovering a mere 12,000. There were outstanding arrears of 1,000,000.

If the clergyman wished to seek assistance under the terms of the Act, he had to swear an affidavit setting out the methods he had employed in attempting to recover the arrears of tithe for 1831. To accompany the affidavit he had to write out a Schedule, 'hereunto annexed', setting out the 'Names, Descriptions, and Places of Abode of the Persons, Occupiers of Land' within his Parish or the 'Representatives of such of them as are dead'. He also had to state how much tithe was due from each tithe payer and how much each tithe payer was in arrears. The affidavits and the schedules then had to be sent to Dublin Castle for a decision as to whether relief would be granted or not under the terms of the Act which set up the Clergy Relief Fund.

All of these conditions were met and it is because of this that the Schedules attached to the affidavits are such a valuable source of information.

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There are 1,061 pages of names of Tithe Defaulters. These 1,061 pages of names cover 232 Parishes and list 29,027 names. This is a unique record of people living in Ireland, and of their address and occupation, at the time that the various Schedules were compiled, namely, in June, July and August, 1832. Given the paucity of census material for 1831 and the fact that although the Tithe Applotment Books cover much more of Ireland than these Defaulter Lists, they do not give occupations, neither do they have the variety of 'observations' made in the schedules. These schedules are an important addition to other genealogical sources. I also take the view that insofar as the clergymen wanted their money they would have been particularly careful to give the names of all tithe defaulters. For this reason I would expect these lists of names to be very comprehensive in terms of the parishes they cover. Indeed, in some parishes the total number of defaulters is greater than the total number of families as recorded in the 1831 Census. This could, of course, be a fault of the 1831 Census.

While there are two hundred and thirty-two parishes recorded, there are only one hundred and twenty-three Affidavits. The discrepancy is due to the fact that several clergymen were vicars or rectors of more than one parish. These Affidavits are also a source of genealogical material.7 They obviously give the name of the Church of Ireland clergyman. In addition to this the signatures of the clergymen were witnessed by a Law Officer, whose signature is attached The Law Officer sometimes identifies himself as either a J.P. or a Magistrate. In some instances he tells us that he is a Mayor. Thus, for example, we have the identity (and the signature) of the Mayor of Clonmel, M. Chaytor; the Mayor of Cashel, Benjamin White; the Mayor of Waterford, Henry Alcock; the Mayor of Kilkenny, William Robertstown and the Mayor of Youghal, M.Hale. But the affidavits also name a variety of other people including priests, tithe agents, vicars of adjoining Parishes for which there are no Schedules. They also give us the name of the Lieutenant of Castletown Yeomanry, Mr Dixie Blundell of Inch Glebe, Arklow.

The affidavits also mention the Whitefoot System and 'Hurlers'. And here some more history is needed. It was under the pretext of holding hurling matches that the mass meetings in protest against tithe payment were held. Of course, to hold hurling matches one had to acquire a hurley, somehow. This would have been quite dangerous because to cut down a tree, shrub or sapling valued at 1.0.0 or more, was punished by transportation. The protesters or hurlers were warned of this by a friend of Daniel O'Connell, Patrick Costelloe, who was a partner in a Kilkenny law firm . He criticised those who had cut down timber to make hurley sticks as being 'wrong, foolish and illegal' (see "Michael O'Hanrahan"  "(KilkennyHistory and Society. Ed. Wm.Nolan and Kevin Whelan. Dublin, Geography Publications, 1990.)"

The Affidavits repeatedly convey the constancy of the united resistance to the payment of tithes, which they call a 'Combination'. The majority of the affidavits also deal with the violence of the resistance to the payment of tithes. Some examples will help.

That in consequence of the general resistance to the payment of Tithes.... no proceedings were taken to enforce payment....and also from a Notice being posted up in said Parish (Grange Silvia, Co.Kilkenny) that if John Lane, who was employed in collecting said Tithes, did not quit said parish, to prepare his Coffin.
(From the Affidavit of the Rev. John French.)

Again in the affidavit of the Rev William Hughes, rector of Outrath and Mortlestown (Co.Kilkenny),we read the following:

Memorialist was deterred... by the murder ot the Rev. Mr. Whiting in his immediate neighbourhood .

The affidavits can also be quite dramatic. For example, the affidavit of the Rev. Alexander Staples of Gowran Parish, Co Kilkenny reads:

Memorialist drove at various times for the amount of Tythe due. When the cattle were locked up two horns sounded as signals from hill to Hill.

One is left wondering what happened next. What agitation did the sounding horns initiate ?

Above all the affidavits refer to 'the affair at Carrickshock'. This incident terrified the Church of Ireland clergymen and put an end to their attempts to recover the arrears of tithes. What was this 'affair' ?

Carrickshock is a townland near Hugginstown in County Kilkenny, in the parish of Knocktopher. On Wednesday, 14th December, 1831, a crowd of five hundred people followed a party of thirty-eight police under the command of the chief constable, Captain Gibbons, and a process server, named Edmund Butler, whom the police were obviously protecting. The crowd wanted Butler to be handed over to them. The confrontation eventually turned nasty. A hail of stones rained down on the police and Gibbons and fourteen of his men were killed. So also were Butler and twenty-five to thirty local people (see Nolan & Whelan).

Small wonder that the 'affair' at Carrickshock terrified many rectors. Oddly enough, the affidavit of the clergyman in whose parish this slaughter occurred, Hans Hamilton, Vicar of Knocktopher, (and also vicar of Kilmaganny, Aghaviller, Derrynahinch & Donnemaggar Parishes), understates the whole affair. It reads:

...by citation, and frequent notices to pay and settle afterwards by filing Bills in the Court of Exchequer, all which were rendered ineffectual by a combination and conspiracy among the Roman Catholic Parishioners which ended in the murder of the Chief Constable of Police and fourteen Sub-Constables.

I find it strange that he does not dignify the dead with their names. Twenty-six people were charged with these killings but they were all released. Some of them are listed as tithe defaulters. For example, Thomas Ryan, William Norris, James Cashin and James Walsh. But the Schedules of Tithe Defaulters can help us even more. They can give us further insights into history, no matter how local or trivial. For example, if we wish to know the names of some of the people who were among that crowd of five hundred we can turn to the lists of tithe defaulters for Knocktopher and surrounding parishes. Thus history has many sources of confirmation.

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The lists of names of tithe defaulters are interesting in themselves. There are various gems of information, or gossip, in them that are very local and immediate. For example there is the absolute gem of the following entry:

Address: Coolnabrone alias Corrigan Townland, Powerstown Parish, co. Kilkenny.

Name: Anstace Norris, wife of John Norris, carpenter, living in America.

This entry would be of priceless value to the Norris family concerned, researching their family history today. Immediately we wonder did Anstace ever join her husband in America, or did John return to Ireland to rejoin Anstace ? Who knows ? But it is wonderings such as these that make genealogy so gripping a pursuit. This entry also gives us a change in name for the townland.

I am of the opinion that it will take the scrutiny of many pairs of eyes to fully judge the value of these Schedules of Tithe Defaulters. However, here is a selection of entries for County Kilkenny which I include to show the variety of information contained in the Schedules.

There are numerous occupations listed and numerous widows in these schedules. It is surprising how many. The lists also give partnerships in the holding of land. Each partner is listed separately as a tithe defaulter. My favourite entry comes from Adamstown Parish, Co. Cork. Under the address of Oldcourt Townland we have the following entry:

Michael Murphy commonly called the bright boy.

What piece of local history lies behind this entry? What, I wonder, made Michael so bright?

Although the Tithe Defaulters Index does not cover every county, it is a useful research tool which, in view of the deficit of Irish material, will assist many thousands of local historians and genealogists. In conclusion, may I say that I hope others will be encouraged to undertake their own study of the Schedules.

The following is a table of the Counties I have come across and the number of tithe defaulter names given in each. I have recorded all of these names. I have also recorded the affidavits which go with them.

Tipperary 9,346; Kilkenny 10,263; Waterford 1,838; Louth 965; Limerick 851; Meath 36; Laois 360; Offaly 23; Carlow 437; Kerry 20; Cork 2,115;Wexford 2,719.


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Last Updated on 1 February 2017