Irish Freeholders, Freemen and Voting Registers
by Kyle J. Betit
Voters, Poll, Freemen and Freeholders Records are lists of people entitled to vote, or of people actually voting at elections. They are normally arranged on a county, city or borough basis. Freeholders were substantial farmers of the Irish counties who had the right to vote, while freemen or free citizens of cities and boroughs had votes. In cities, freeholders who qualified through their land as well as freemen who qualified through their trade voted in elections, but usually borough elections only involved freemen.
Freeholders records are often only available in Ireland and we can get these records for you from Ireland! Ask for a free estimate!
1824 Voters Lists, County Clare, Barony of Bunratty, from the Co. Clare
Crown and Peace Office, now at the National Archives of Ireland, Dublin (1D/40/37)
TYPES OF RECORDS
A freeholder held his property either in fee simple, which means outright ownership, or by a lease for a life or lives (such as the term of his life or the term of three lives named in the lease). A tenant who held land for a definite period such as 31 years or 100 years did not qualify as a freeholder. A person with a freehold of sufficient value, depending on the law at the time, could register to vote. A great deal of the Irish freeholders records were lost in the 1922 Four Courts Fire.
From 1727 to 1793 only Protestants with a forty-shilling freehold (a freehold worth at least 40 shillings per year above the rent) or above qualified to vote. In 1793 Catholics with at least a forty-shilling freehold were given the vote. Forty-shilling freeholders, whether Catholic or Protestant, had the vote between 1793 and 1829. In 1829, all 40 shilling freeholders lost the vote, and from that date a £10 freehold was required to qualify to vote. From 1832 through 1884 a series of reform acts extended the franchise somewhat, but it was not until 1918 that all adult males (over age 21) were given the vote. In the 1920s women over age 21 gained the same privilege in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland).
In the latter half of the 18th century and on into the early 19th century, landlords had some incentive to subdivide farms and to grant leases for lives (freehold estates). A freeholder with property of sufficient value could register to vote in elections. Some Irish landholders therefore created small freeholds, often by providing direct leases to people who previously were subtenants, in an effort to increase the landholders’ political influence, particularly after the enfranchisement of Roman Catholics in 1793. Freehold tenants could be persuaded to vote for their landlord’s chosen candidate in elections.
Poll Books record votes cast at parliamentary elections by qualifying freeholders. They contain the name and address of the voter and often the address of their freehold. Freeholders Registers give similar information to the Poll Books but do not record how people voted at a particular election.
A Freeholders Register generally lists:
- the name of the freeholder;
- the abode of the freeholder;
- the location of the freehold;
- the value of the freehold;
- the lives named in the lease or other tenure;
- and the date and place of registry of the freehold.
In some cases the freeholder’s landlord or occupation is also listed. If the landlord is given, this may lead the researcher into landed estate papers for that landlord. Depending on their content and survival, landed estate papers can be full of information about successive generations of tenant families who held land by lease. For details about accessing and using landed estate papers, see Betit and Radford’s chapter “Estate Records” in Ireland: A Genealogical Guide.
What Percentage of the Population is Included in Freeholders’ Lists?
A significant percentage of the population was included in freeholders lists in the time period 1793-1829 when both Catholic and Protestant forty-shilling freeholders were qualified voters. For example, the population of County Leitrim in 1821 was 124,785 while there were 5,315 freeholders polled in the election of 1818 in County Leitrim.1 Another example is County Limerick where the population in 1821 was 218,432, while there were 12,379 freeholders polled in the County Limerick 1820 election. When the qualification was raised to £10 in 1829, the electorate dropped from about 230,000 to around 14,000 in all of Ireland.2
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The technical meaning of the term “Freeman” was a person who possessed the “freedom” of a city or borough. The freeman had the right to vote in elections as well as exemption from certain fees. A person who held the freedom of a city did not necessarily live in the city. The members of the city and borough trade guilds were freemen.
The concept of freemen was introduced by the Normans who invaded Ireland in the twelfth century. Boroughs first sent representatives to the Irish Parliament in 1299.3 At least 200 boroughs were created from the 1100s through the 1600s in Ireland. Borough and city corporations were created by charters held of the Crown. The charters of many of these boroughs were later revoked.
In 1829, the boroughs in Ireland were: Athlone, Carrickfergus, Clonmel, Coleraine, Downpatrick, Drogheda, Dundalk, Dungannon, Dungarvon, Ennis, Galway, Lisburn, Mallow, Newry, Ross, Sligo, Tralee, Wexford, and Youghal. In 1829, there were eight cities in Ireland: Armagh, Cashel, Cork, Dublin, Kilkenny, Limerick, Londonderry, and Waterford. An individual could qualify for the freedom of a borough or city in several ways:
- by birthright for the son of a freeman;
- by marriage to the daughter of a freeman; or
- by apprenticeship to a freeman.
Cities and boroughs also named honorary freemen.
A freeman’s register usually stated the freeman’s name, the date of admittance, his occupation (the guild to which he belonged), and the means by which he was admitted (birth, marriage or apprenticeship). Mary Clark’s chapter “Sources for Irish Freemen” in Aspects of Irish Genealogy: Proceedings of the 1st Irish Genealogical Congress, edited by Evans and O’Dúill, provides an introduction to the subject as well as bibliographies of manuscript and printed sources.
Freemen records are particularly important for tracing more prominent Dublin families. The free citizens of Dublin were drawn from members of the Trade Guilds and their descendants. It is possible to trace several generations of old Dublin families through the Freemen’s lists. Dublin’s freemen lists extend from c1234-1918. Freemen’s lists are often found in the corporation books of boroughs which may still be in local custody or may have been deposited or microfilmed.
After 1880, Voters Lists are to be found in the Crown and Peace Records for the individual counties. Many of these records survive and have been deposited at the NAI and PRONI. Prior to 1918, voting rights depended on the value of a person’s property holdings. All men over age 21 and some women over age 30 were given the right to vote in 1918 in the United Kingdom, which at that time included all of Ireland. The series of local genealogy guides compiled by Noel Farrell of Longford, Ireland, includes extracts from twentieth century electoral lists for towns in Ireland.
SOURCES FOR RECORDS
Table 1 lists known surviving freeholders, freemen, and voting records for every county and city in Ireland and for more than 40 Irish boroughs, taken from many inventories.4
Other such records not included in Table 1 may be found in some other inventories, such as:
- Walker and Hoppen’s articles “Irish election poll books, 1832-1872” in the periodical Irish Booklore;
- the book Directories and Poll Books, including Almanacs and Electoral Rolls, in the Library of the Society of Genealogists, edited by N.J.N. Newington-Irving;
- John Grenham’s book Tracing Your Irish Ancestors, which lists some records at the National Library of Ireland (NLI) not included in Table 1;
- James G. Ryan’s book Irish Records; and
- The card catalogue in the Manuscript Reading Room of the NLI, which lists the library’s latest manuscript acquisitions.
Records in Irish Repositories: NAI, NLI, PRONI
Much of the original freeholders registers material was destroyed in the Public Record Office fire of 1922. However, the National Archives of Ireland (NAI), the NLI, and the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) each have significant collections of voting, freeholders’ and freemen’s records. The NAI collections are in the surviving Crown and Peace Office material, the Official Papers Series 1 and 2 and other series. The PRONI holds A Guide to Electoral Records which is available in the Search Room.
British Parliamentary Papers
Between 1832-1838 , voting was restricted to those who owned a certain amount of property. Some votes in the Irish elections of 1832, 1835 and 1838 were challenged. The House of Commons Select Committee on Fictitious Votes (Ireland) investigated the challenged votes, comparing rate lists with voting lists. The voting lists were published in reports of the committee. These include lists of freemen and marksmen, and other lists for some towns in Ireland [see Family History Library (FHL) microfilm #1696697 items 8-11]. The boroughs for which lists of voters are found in the committee reports are not listed in Table 1 of this article, but they are listed individually in each of the chapters of John Grenham’s Tracing Your Irish Ancestors.
Landed Estate Papers
Because landowners had an interest in knowing what voting freeholders lived on their estates, copies of freeholders lists are often found among the papers of landed estate owners. For example, the papers of the Londonderry Estate Office Archive of the Marquesses of Londonderry, Newtownards, County Down (now at PRONI, reference D/654) include County Down freeholders lists dating 1789-1824. Some Irish landlords also held controlling interests in boroughs. For details about accessing and using landed estate papers, see Betit and Radford’s chapter “Estate Records” in Ireland: A Genealogical Guide.5
Some lists of electors (freeholders) were published in newspapers in Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries. For example, Rosemary ffolliott in her article “Co. Carlow Freeholders in 1767” in The Irish Ancestor published a list of the freeholders in County Carlow contained in a letter from gentlemen and freeholders in the county to one of the “Knights of the Shire” of County Carlow, which was published in the 18 November 1767 issue of Finn’s Leinster Journal. The County Roscommon Family History Society (previously called the Irish Connections Family Research Group and Society) has compiled and made available for sale two indexes of surnames of freeholders in County Roscommon, 1830 and 1831-1833, taken from newspapers published in the county. For further information about the content of Irish newspapers and how to access them, see Perry C. McIntyre’s article “Irish Newspapers: A Source for Local Events” in The Irish At Home and Abroad and Rosemary ffolliott’s chapter “Newspapers as a Genealogical Source” in Irish Genealogy: A Record Finder, edited by Donal F. Begley.
- British Museum: Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG, England.
- County Roscommon Family History Society: Bealnamullia, Athlone, County Roscommon, Ireland.
- Dublin City Library and Archive: 138-142 Pearse Street, Dublin, County Dublin 2, Republic of Ireland; Tel: 00353 1 6744800; Fax: 00353 1 6744879 Open : Monday-Thursday 10.00-20.00; Friday and Saturday 10.00-17.00
- National Archives of Ireland: Bishop Street, Dublin 4, Ireland; Tel: (01) 4783711; Fax: (01) 4783650
- National Library of Ireland: Kildare Street, Dublin 2, Ireland; Tel: (01) 6618811; Fax: (01) 6766690
- National Library of Wales: Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, Wales SY23 3BU; Tel: (01970) 632800; Fax: (01970) 615709
- Public Record Office of Northern Ireland: 66 Balmoral Avenue, Belfast BT9 6NY, Northern Ireland; Tel: (028 90) 255905; Fax: (028 90) 255999
- Royal Irish Academy: 19 Dawson Street, Dublin 2, Ireland; Tel: (01) 6762570; Fax: (01) 6762346
- Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland: 63 Merrion Square, Dublin 2, Ireland; Fax: (01) 6761749.
- University College Galway: James Hardiman Library, Galway, Ireland; Tel: (091) 524411.
References and Further Reading
- Betit, Kyle J. and Dwight A. Radford. Ireland: A Genealogical Guide. Salt Lake City, Utah, USA: The Irish At Home and Abroad, 1998.
- Clark, Mary. “Sources for Irish Freemen.” In Aspects of Irish Genealogy: Proceedings of the 1st Irish Genealogical Congress, edited by Evans, M.D. and Eileen O’Dúill, 44-53. (Dublin): 1st Irish Genealogical Congress Committee, 1993.
- Collins, Peter. “Eighteenth-Century Records.” In Pathways to Ulster’s Past: Sources and Resources for Local Studies, pp. 21-23. Belfast: The Institute of Irish Studies, The Queen’s University of Belfast, 1998.
- Crawford, W.H. “Sources for studying Ulster towns in the 19th and 20th centuries,” Ulster Local Studies 18 (1) (1996).
- Crossman, Virginia. Local Government in Nineteenth Century Ireland. Belfast, 1994.
- Falley, Margaret Dickson. “Records of Public Office, Freemen, Freeholders, Guilds, Schools.” In Irish and Scotch-Irish Ancestral Research, vol 1, pp. 666-671. 1962. Baltimore, USA: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1988.
- ffolliott, Rosemary. “Co. Carlow Freeholders in 1767,” The Irish Ancestor 12 (1-2) (1980): 46-47.
- ffolliott, Rosemary. “Newspapers as a Genealogical Source.” In Irish Genealogy: A Record Finder, edited by Donal F. Begley, 117-138. Dublin: Heraldic Artists, Ltd., 1987.
- Grenham, John. Tracing Your Irish Ancestors: The Complete Guide. 2nd Ed. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan Ltd., 1999 (Chapter 2: Census records, page 23).
- Grenham, John. “The Genealogical Office and Its Records.” In Guide to the Genealogical Office Dublin, 3-33. Dublin: Irish Manuscripts Commission, 1998.
- Maxwell, Ian. “Electoral Records.” In Tracing Your Ancestors in Northern Ireland: A Guide to Ancestry Research in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, 76-78. Edinburgh: The Stationery Office, 1997.
Magee, Peggy. “How to Use Freeholders Lists,” Gaelic Gleanings 8 (4) (August 1989).
- McIntyre, Perry C. “Irish Newspapers: A Source for Local Events,” The Irish At Home and Abroad 5 (3) (3rd Quarter 1998): 110-113.
- Newington-Irving, N.J.N., ed. Directories and Poll Books, Including Almanacs and Electoral Rolls, in the Library of the Society of Genealogists. London, England: Society of Genealogists, 1995.
- Nolan, William and Anngret Simms, eds. Irish Towns: A Guide to Sources. Dublin: Geography Publications, 1998.
- Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. “Irish Elections, 1750-1832." Belfast: PRONI. “educational facsimile pack.”
- Ryan, James G. Irish Records: Sources for Family & Local History. Rev. ed. Salt Lake City, UT: Ancestry, 1997.
- Smith, Frank. Smith's Inventory of Genealogical Sources: Ireland. Salt Lake City, Utah: Corporation of the President, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1994.
- Walker, Brian Mercer and K. Theodore Hoppen. “Irish election poll books, 1832-1872,” Irish Booklore 3 (1): 8-13; 4 (2) 113-119.
Special thanks to Linda Clayton, Dublin genealogist, for her assistance with material at the National Archives of Ireland and for reviewing this article; to Steven C. ffeary-Smyrl APGI, probate researcher of Dublin and chairman of the Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations, for the information that he provided; and to Dr. Mary Clark, Dublin Corporation Archivist, for reviewing this article prior to publication.
Kyle J. Betit is a professional genealogist, author, lecturer and columnist residing in Salt Lake City. He specializes in Irish and Irish immigrant research. This article was originally printed inThe Irish At Home and Abroad, Volume 6, Number 4, 4th Quarter 1999.
1.Samuel Lewis. A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (London, 1837); UK House of Commons. Parliamentary Papers, Accounts and Papers, Vol. XXII (1829): “Relating to Ireland, viz. Elections; Freeholders; Grand Jury Presentments; Police; Stamps; &c.” (GO Ms. 623, FHL# 100224 item 4).
4. Since the writing of this article, the entries from this table have been revised and added to in compiling the “Irish Freeholders, Freemen, and Voting Registers (1234-1978)” Database now hosted on the ProGenealogists Web site.
Appendix 1. History of Voting Rights in Ireland
1690 After the Battle of the Boyne and the triumph of Protestant Prince William of Orange, persons applying to be freemen of Irish towns had to take certain oaths including one abjuring (denying) the doctrine of transubstantiation. This effectively excluded Catholics from being freemen until 1793 when the requirement for the oaths was removed.
1707 Catholics were forbidden to take out leases for more than 31 years.
1727 Catholics were forbidden to vote.
1793 Catholics with forty shilling freeholds or above were given the right to vote. Catholics could become freemen of cities and boroughs.
1800 The Act of Union united the Irish and British parliaments into one parliament which sat in Westminster in London, England.
1829 Forty-shilling freeholders, whether Catholic or Protestant, were disfranchised.
1832 The Great Reform Act extended the franchise to long leaseholders in counties and to £10 householders in boroughs.
1867 The Second Reform Act extended the franchise in counties and boroughs, but the requirements were still based on wealth.
1872 The Secret Ballot Act introduced voting by secret ballot to curb bribery and intimidation and allow men to use their vote more freely as they wished.
1884 Representation of the People Act (Third Reform Act). Any male occupying land or property with an annual rateable value of £10 could vote.
1918 Representation of the People Act (Fourth Reform Act). All males over 21 were given the vote. Women over 30 could vote if either the woman or her husband qualified to vote in local council elections. At this time, about 75 adults out of every 100 in the United Kingdom could vote. This Act also abolished the status of freeman.
1921 The Irish Free State, which later became the Republic of Ireland, separated from the United Kingdom. The Northern Ireland counties (Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry, and Tyrone) remained in the United Kingdom.
1923 The Electoral Act in the Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland) gave women age 21 and over the right to vote.
1928 Representation of the People Act (Fifth Reform Act) (United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland). Uniform voting rights were given to men and women over 21. About 99 adults out of every 100 could vote at this time in the UK.
1969 Representation of the People Act (United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland). The voting age was reduced to 18 for men and women.
Sources: (1) “Britain in the USA” web site (maintained by British Information Services, the New York based information department of the British Embassy in Washington DC, an overseas post of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London); (2) Clark, Mary. “Sources for Irish Freemen.” In Aspects of Irish Genealogy: Proceedings of the 1st Irish Genealogical Congress; (3) O’Hara, Bernard. “Mayo Elections 1801-1982.” In Mayo: Aspects of its Heritage, 96-101, ed. by Bernard O’Hara. Galway, Ireland: The Archaeological, Historical and Folklore Society, Regional Technical College, 1982.
Appendix 2. Glossary
Borough: A town possessing a municipal corporation and special privileges granted by royal charter; such a town sends representatives to Parliament.
Burgess: A magistrate or member of the governing body of a borough (town). Early in the history of boroughs in Ireland, the term “burgess” referred to the citizens of the borough in general.
Corporation: In reference to a municipal corporation, the civil authorities of a borough or incorporated town or city; e.g., the mayor, aldermen, and councillors.
Franchise: The right to vote at public elections.
Freeholder: One who holds an estate for a tenure of fee-simple, fee-tail, or for the term of one or more lives (i.e., for an indefinite period of time).
Freeman: One who possesses the freedom of a city, borough, company, etc.
Leaseholder: One who holds an estate for a tenure by lease.
Lease for Lives: A written lease which was indeterminate in length as it was not known when the person or persons named would die. Most leases for lives were for a period of three lives or for three lives and a period of years, often 31 years. Such leases expired when the last of the lives had died and the time period had expired.
Marksman: An illiterate voter who signs with his mark.
Sovereign: The elected leader of a borough, equivalent to a mayor.