Did you know Daniel O’Connell – the Great Liberator inadvertently created some Irish genealogy gold?
In the early 19th century, landlords had been happily adding small freeholds to their estate until O'Connell mobilised these 40-shilling freeholders for Catholic Emancipation. With that, the landlords quickly moved to strip them of their right to vote, and freeholds became big news in 1829.
Irish Freeholder Registers have the potential to tell us a lot about our ancestors for a variety of periods in Irish history. But only some county records survived the Public Records Office fire of 1922.
However (thanks to O'Connell) newspapers began publishing lengthy Notices of Application for Registering Freeholds that listed those who applied to vote, from May 1829 onwards. With more and more county newspaper archives coming online, these lists can reveal names, addresses, freehold details, and more about our ancestors, their neighbours, their landlords, and other relatives named on the lease.
Here are our members' most frequently asked questions about Irish Freeholder Lists ...
FAQ#1 What is a freehold?
Land tenure in Ireland was classed as either freehold or leasehold. Your tenant farmer ancestor, for example, could have been a freeholder, a leaseholder, or a tenant at will.
A freehold could be held (a) "in fee" meaning outright ownership, or (b) as a lease for an indefinite period of a life or a number of lives (e.g. three lives, roughly 31 years each).
A leasehold was a lease for a definite, fixed period (e.g. 9 or 14, or 31, or 99 years).
A tenant at will had no security of tenure.
By the 19th century, the class of holding was only important for political elections. A person with a freehold of sufficient value, depending on the law at the time, could register to vote. A tenant who held land for a definite period such as 31 years or 300 years did not qualify as a freeholder.
FAQ#2 What are freeholders lists?
Freeholders' Lists aka Jury Lists were arranged by county and drawn up regularly in Ireland since 1727. They recorded any man whose freehold value (according to the law at that time) qualified him to vote in elections.
Between 1793–1829 poorer Catholic and Protestant freeholders (with an annual rent of at least 40 shillings) were equally eligible to vote. These freeholder lists are of particular interest for Irish genealogy research because they represent a significant percentage of the population. Freeholder lists can be a valuable census substitute for early 19th-century Ireland.
Irish Freeholder Records may turn up in a variety of publications:
- Freeholders Registers – lists of freeholders eligible to vote;
- Poll Books – records of votes actually cast in elections;
- Newspaper notices – Lists of applicants giving Notice of Intention to Register to Vote.
FAQ#3 Was my ancestor a freeholder?
If your ancestor owned his land outright "in fee" he was definitely a freeholder.
If your ancestor was a substantial small farmer or merchant, he was likely to have been a freeholder, especially if your ancestral farm or property holding (albeit rented) dates back to pre-famine times.
If your ancestor was a tenant he may have been a freeholder depending on the type of lease he had with his landlord.
- A freehold lease could be for one or more "lives" – his own life or for the lives of other people named in the lease. A lease of "3 lives" was a common type of lease, especially in the 1700s. It lasted for as long as the 3 people named in it remained alive. Generally, the others named on the lease were sons, sons-in-law, or "partners" (in-laws) sharing the land collectively.
If your ancestor was part of a collective or shared interest in a farm of land that was a freehold worth a mere 40 shillings (£2) per annum above the rent, he could appear on freeholders lists for the period from 1796 to 1829 (when both Catholic and Protestant "40 shilling freeholders" qualified to vote).
A herd (looking after the land on behalf of a grazier or landlord) would not have been a freeholder.
A cottager (with only a potato garden) would not have been a freeholder.
FAQ#4 Why are Irish freehold lists important?
Freeholders lists (for Protestants) date back to the early 18th century.
However, it was not until 1918** that all adult males over 21 years of age got the right to vote in Ireland, followed by suffrage for all Irish women in 1922. Eligibility to vote (albeit influenced by the landlord's preferences) was a big deal.
**It was not until 1969 that this was achieved in Northern Ireland.
Freeholders' Lists can
help pinpoint where an ancestor was living within a county, as the address was very often included.
suggest family relationships, as the people named as "lives" in leases were often close relatives;
identify other property held by a family that could be key to discovering parish of origin or more.
Note: A freehold property was not the only determinant of voting eligibility. Freemen of various corporation towns and cities also had a right to vote in some elections and can be discovered on other Irish voters lists.
FAQ#5 What can Irish freehold records tell me?
A List of Freeholders can provide a range of information about people and land ownership:
Name of freeholder;
Address (Place of Abode);
Location (Situation of Freehold);
Name of the landlord;
Value of freehold in shillings (s.) or pounds (l.)
Others named on the lease (Names of Lives or other Tenure);
Date of registration.
An ordinary applicant (small-medium farmer) would apply based on holding (or having a shared interest) in a £10 freehold in their townland of residence. The gentry (whether resident or not) would typically apply based on having a £50 freehold in any county.
Each applicant gave the address of the freehold (by townland, parish, barony) and residence if different. They would cite whether the freehold was for land, and/or a house (only the head of household would claim for "house and land"). Where a number of sons/ brothers were also named on these "lease for lives", they would apply to claim their freehold interest in that same "land" in the home townland.
Some farmers held leases of land only in townlands outside their own parish, which can suggest points of earlier origins, or that they were middlemen. LEARN MORE What is a townland?
FAQ#6 Where can I find Irish freeholder records?
Most of the original freeholders' records were lost when Ireland's Public Records Office went up in flames in 1922. But other copies and abstracts have survived.
Valuable collections of freeholders registers can be found at:
Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) online search (free)
For the Republic of Ireland, the majority of surviving lists are held (undigitized) at either the:
However, newspaper archives are a wonderful online resource for Freeholders lists.
- British Newspaper Archive online search (paid)
In addition, some counties have digitized their own or added them to the IGP Web. online search (free)
For a comprehensive overview of what freeholder records (online and offline) are available for your ancestral county, check out John Grenham's County Records.
FAQ#7 What Irish freeholder records are online?
Sadly not all counties have surviving lists. But for those who do, or have some newspaper listings (in whole or in part) here were will build* a collection of links (by county) to get you started.
*At the time of writing this article, we were unable to identify links for some counties (if you can help with those counties please email email@example.com).
CARLOW Carlow Sentinel 1836
DERRY ~ LONDONDERRY Pre-1840 freeholders' registers and poll books (PRONI)
DUBLIN Dublin Evening Packet 1830 (BNA) also 1831
FERMANAGH Pre-1840 freeholders' registers and poll books (PRONI) Enniskillen Chronicle and Erne Packet (BNA)
KILKENNY Kilkenny Moderator June 1829 (BNA)
LAOIS aka QUEENS Freeholders in Queens County from 1758 to 1775 (IGPweb)
LONGFORD* Freeholders 1800 & 1828 (JohnGrenham)
OFFALY aka KINGS* none identified (Leinster Express TBC)
SLIGO Sligo Journal 1833 (BNA)
TIPPERARY Clonmel Herald 1835 (BNA)
WESTMEATH Westmeath Journal May 1829 (BNA)
WEXFORD Wexford Independent 1837 (BNA)
*Want to contribute/add to this resource for your county or parish? See FAQ#8.
FAQ#8 Can I add my findings to the above list?
Got a surviving freeholders list or link to share? Want to volunteer a transcription?
Our members are sharing their Freehold List discoveries directly to their county TIMELINE like this:
Share to your county Timeline, to help all members and researchers piece together and reconnect with a place and time.
Des Keenen Pre-famine Ireland: Social Structure