Last Sunday I went to my first TIARA meeting at Boston College where the speaker was Dr. James G. Ryan. He came to talk about Irish Catholic Records, the historical nature of these records, and their availability.

After the War of the Jacobites when William of Orange defeated James the Ist in 1692, William enacted  penal laws, which “made Catholics poor and kept them poor” in order to defeat the Jacobite cause.  The Act of 1697 banned Papists from exercising any ecclestiatical  jurisdiction and performing duties, made The Church of Ireland (an extension of The Church of England), the one every person was to follow  and seriously affected Catholics abilities to be successful. These restrictions imposed on Irish Catholics, which made up the majority of the population, are the reasons record keeping are poor, because baptismal/marriage records were considered “incriminating”. Also, the funding of parishes and training of clergy are additional reasons to the poor record keeping.

To give an idea of the number of churches that kept records, here are some stats Dr. Ryan presented





The percentage increase due to easing of these penal laws and the finally being dropped in 1823 because of their impracticality and lack of commitment.

The Nature of Catholic Records varies. It is generally only Marriage/Baptismal Records, while Burial Records are much rarer (20% of churches kept any burial records) Record-keeping is much better in cities especially in the South & East then in rural areas. From 1830 on, most are available, but before that period, it varies. The information kept in these records varies highly as well.

Dr. Ryan also talked about “couple-beggars”. Getting married in Ireland was expensive, so certain clergy would perform marriages for poor couples or mixed-religion couples at a much cheaper price. This was outlawed in 1827 when marriages not celebrated by a priest were declared void.

He stated that some reasons records might not exist for them is:

– Lived remote from church, attended another parish


-Not able to pay dues

-Non catholic, a considerable number of Irish were of another religion

All of the Original Records are available at the parish of origin. However, microfilm copies are available at the National Library of Ireland and  the Family History Library, Indexes are available at the Irish Family History Foundationand the General Registrar’s Office

The lecture was very interesting not only for genealogical purposes, but also for learning some British Isles history.

Dr. Ryan’s works are available at

Copyright (c) 2008 by Jake Fletcher