These pages provide historical background and detailed descriptions of the documents in the Cromwellian Surveys Gold Seam. The information here is aimed at all researchers who want to delve deeper into these fascinating collections.
Long before the outbreak of hostilities in October 1641, the kingdom of Ireland had witnessed the displacement of the native Catholic population and the planting of a new Protestant settler class. Indeed, recent research suggests that the full extent of the land transfer prior to 1640 was greater than previously understood, with Catholic ownership having declined to just 50%.
From the outset of the insurrection in 1641, the colonial authorities sought to exploit the crisis either to further expand the confiscations of land, or to turn back the seemingly inexorable tide of plantation by Protestant settlers. The Lords Justices in Dublin accused all Irish Catholics of complicity in the revolt. The English parliament at Westminster passed the Adventurers Act to finance the reconquest of Ireland through the confiscation of millions of acres of Irish Catholic land. English military victory, therefore, would result in the complete destruction of the Catholic landowning class.
Faced with such an alarming prospect, the Catholic leadership, both native Irish and Old English (descendants of earlier settlers who arrived following the original English invasion of the twelfth century) allied with the Catholic Church, to create the Confederate Association, a parallel government, seeking to reach a deal with King Charles I from a position of strength.
For them, the rebellion marked an attempt to preserve their privileged status, not overthrow the English government. The subsequent negotiations centred on the key issues of religious concessions and security of tenure. Deep divisions emerged in the confederate ranks between those who favoured simple toleration of Catholicism, with an end to any overt discrimination or persecution, and those who sought a full public restoration of the Catholic Church.
In contrast, the confederate leadership seemingly spoke with one voice on the land issue. They simply sought security of tenure for existing estates, with a sixty-year statute of limitations on royal title. This position safeguarded those who had survived earlier confiscations but did nothing for displaced, mainly native Irish, landholders.
It is clear, however, that those supporting major religious concessions belonged to the latter category, with many returned exiles from the continent hoping to overturn entirely the new colonial order, especially in Ulster. These internal tensions eventually erupted into civil war between 1646 and 1648, before the confederates finally agreed to peace terms with the royalists in the wake of the execution of King Charles I in January 1649. Ultimately, the confederate leadership eschewed the more radical demands of the Catholic clergy and exiles, compromising in the final peace settlement on both religious and landed concessions. The plantations for the most part would stay in place.
Following almost a decade of bloody, but inconclusive, conflict throughout the three Stuart kingdoms, the execution of King Charles I in January 1649 by the Westminster parliament allowed the newly formed English Republic to focus its military and economic power on the reconquest of Ireland. The campaign led by Oliver Cromwell brooked no compromise with the Catholic Irish. The English state required total victory to maximise the confiscation of land, which would be used to pay off its creditors and subsequently the arrears of thousands of soldiers in the English army. The next four years witnessed the most destructive period in Irish history, as the English pursued victory at any cost. The population fell by at least 20%.
Having defeated its enemies in war, the English Republic now set about seizing the spoils of victory. The 1642 Adventurers Act had clearly outlined the framework of the post-war settlement. The only question mark lay over the extent of the confiscations.
Seizing the estates of all Catholic landowners would guarantee the maximum return of land but threatened to prolong the war, leaving Catholics with little alternative but to fight to the bitter end. The Act of Settlement in August 1652 represented a compromise from the earlier demand for an unconditional surrender.
The English authorities promised not to harm those willing to live peacefully under the new regime, but potentially excluded from pardon large sections of the population including those involved in killings during the first year of the insurrection, Catholic clergy, and over 100 named leaders. The newly established High Courts of Justice sentenced hundreds to death, but many potential victims were already dead or had fled into exile on the continent. Apart from identifying those exempted from pardon, the Act of Settlement gave no indication of how and when the land seizures and redistribution would take place. Anybody possessing estates with a rental value of more than £10 per annum would be judged ‘according to their respective demerits and considerations under which they fall’.
Confiscations and Surveys
On 2 July 1653, the English Council of State ordered all Catholic landowners to transplant with their dependents across the River Shannon into the western province of Connacht and County Clare. On crossing the Shannon, they registered with English parliamentary commissioners, who assigned them portions of land, displacing existing Catholic landowners in the process.
The English authorities hesitated over whether to expel the entire Catholic population out of the other three provinces but eventually adopted a more pragmatic approach, realising that such an enormous undertaking exceeded their administrative capabilities. Moreover, the new Protestant estate holders required a subservient native population to work their land as tenants.
With the process of seizures underway, the Council of State established a Committee for Claims for Lands in Ireland to oversee the redistribution process but, before the committee’s work could start in earnest, the authorities needed to establish who owned what at the outbreak of the rebellion.
This question was the basis for the famous Cromwellian land surveys, the Civil Survey, named because it was made at the behest of the ‘Civil authorities,’ and the Down Survey, named for the mapping process under which a ‘chain was laid down and a scale made’.
The Books of Survey and Distribution are a tabulation of these surveys: the ‘book of survey’, and the people to whom the confiscated land was allocated—the ‘book of distribution’.
The death of Oliver Cromwell in September 1658 presaged a political crisis in England, which resulted in the collapse of the republican regime and the restoration of Charles II as king of the three Stuart kingdoms. The Catholic elite of Ireland, both at home and in exile on the continent, hoped that their loyal support of the Stuart cause would encourage the king to overturn the Cromwellian land settlement and enable them to recover their estates.
Similarly, the Protestants of Ireland understood the precariousness of their position. In early 1660, prior to the king’s return, they held a convention in Dublin, which agreed to support the king’s restoration if he maintained the status quo in Ireland, including the Cromwellian land settlement. Wary of alienating Protestant support in the three kingdoms by siding with Irish Catholics, the king abandoned his former allies. Whereas in England and Scotland the clock was turned back to 1640, as if the proceeding twenty years had not happened, in Ireland there would be no return to the status quo ante bellum. An Act of Pardon and Indemnity in 1660 specifically excluded from pardon anybody involved ‘in the plotting, contriving, or designing the great and heinous rebellion of Ireland’.
This sweeping statement potentially encompassed the entire Catholic population, although Charles reserved the right to pardon individuals for loyal service. Shortly afterwards, in November, the king published a ‘Gracious Declaration’, which effectively confirmed all the beneficiaries of the Cromwellian land settlement in their estates. The declaration listed thirty-six individuals, mostly Catholic nobles and close friends of the restored king, such as Donough Mac Carthy, earl of Clancarty, who would recover all their lands ‘without being put to any further proof’, alongside another 200 Catholic Irish officers identified as worthy of royal grace and favour.
The Irish parliament, now completely Protestant in composition, apart from a handful of Catholic nobles in the House of Lords, set about providing a legislative foundation to the king’s declared wishes. The Act of Settlement in 1662 and Act of Explanation in 1665 confirmed the redistribution of lands in the previous decade, although a Court of Claims did declare hundreds of Catholics innocent before it was abruptly shut down, with as many as 8,000 cases still unheard.
Their efforts to recover estates often floundered due to the refusal of the new Protestant proprietors to relinquish possession. The surviving Catholic proprietors made renewed attempts to recover their lands through the Commission of Grace, established at the close of the reign of Charles II in 1684, but the rulings of this court were overturned following the defeat of James II and his exile from Ireland in December 1688.
By 1703, a final distribution of land confiscated from James’ supporters was made, the ‘Trustees Survey’. With this the nature of land ownership of Ireland was settled until the land reforms of the nineteenth century.
This Gold Seam includes digital images and searchable transcription of the Books and Surveys and Distribution, produced in partnership with the Irish Manuscripts Commission. The copy available here is the Quit Rent Office set of the Books of Survey and Distribution. The Quit Rent Office copy is the most complete set of the Books of Survey and Distribution extant. It survives in 20 volumes at The National Archives (Ireland).
These manuscripts were conserved and digitised in 2016 at the National Archives (Ireland). The transcription work was undertaken by Professor Micheál Ó Siochrú and Dr David Brown at Trinity College Dublin in 2016–18. The digitized materials were contributed to the Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland for public presentation in 2022.
The Quit Rent Office copy of the Books of Survey and Distribution was not in the Public Record Office of Ireland (PROI) at the time of the fire of 1922. After 1922, the PROI accessioned the Quit Rent Office collections, they were listed by Margaret Griffith, deputy keeper of the records.
This set of the Books of Survey and Distribution is not the only surviving set of manuscripts. Other notable examples include:
The Quit Rent was an area-based tax on land that was an important part of the Adventurers’ Act. Prior to the Act the crown could demand that landowners surrender their estates, which were then re-granted, often in return for a hefty fine. In return for Charles I giving up this hereditary right the Quit Rent ensured a constant annual income to the crown. The rent was to be collected by the Quit Rent Office as soon as patents had been passed under the Acts of Settlement and Explanation, 1665–8, but the ink was barely dry on these patents before the task of collecting the tax was farmed out to private consortia (tax farmers). These private commercial organisations paid a fixed sum to the government and then collected the tax, or ‘rent’, from individual landholders.
A financial debacle ensued, and the Irish exchequer was completely frozen in 1671. A further effort at farming the tax was attempted in 1674, with the tax apparently worth £10,000 to the King’s coffers. But when this attempt at privatisation also failed the Quit Rent was collected directly by the state thereafter. Consequently, in 1677 Arthur Capel, first earl of Essex, issued an order for a set of books to be compiled that would help with the collection of the tax.
Although the Quit Rent Office set of the Books of Survey and Distribution was probably copied after this instruction, it is possible it was copied from a set compiled in the 1660s by Thomas Taylor, then a sub-commissioner for the Court of Claims.
Taylor was a protégé of Sir William Petty, working on the Down Survey in the 1650s. He also undertook some private work to help senior Cromwellian bureaucrats identify some of the best prizes in fortified land as they became available. The copies in these volumes were transcribed by William Hawkins, Clerk of the Quit Rents, and Francis Guybon, his under clerk.
As the Books of Survey and Distribution are effectively the work of Thomas Taylor, his previous experience of the Cromwellian surveys is evident throughout. Petty’s decision making, in particular, shines through in the selection of the sources used and their logical order and tabulation.
The Books of Survey and Distribution list roughly 40,000 of the 55,000 ancient townlands of Ireland. The Books themselves are not an original record of land ownership. Insead they provide a tabulation in a consistent and condensed form of the original records available to Taylor and Hawkins. The purpose of the Books was not to provide a listing of every townland in Ireland, but instead to provide a catalogue of those lands that would be liable, in the over-optimistic opinions of the compilers, to pay the Quit Rent.
Although the list of townlands in the Books of Survey and Distribution is impressive, some local inconsistencies should be noted. In general, the landed estates of Protestant supporters in Ireland of the English parliament’s struggle with Charles I, were not surveyed by the Cromwellians, so are not included. However, the Books of Survey and Distribution include most estates owned by landed Protestants sympathetic to the royalist cause, as well as most diocesan land.
The inclusion of royalist land implies that the original version of this source was compiled quite close to the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, when it was unclear whether or not elements of the Cromwellian land settlement would be reversed. Consequently, the vast estate of the Marquis of Ormond is included here, while others such as the lands of the second earl of Cork are not. The books are, therefore, not just a tabulation of the estates of Catholic Ireland, but a far more valuable source that includes data for roughly 80% of the country.
The Civil Survey is incredibly rich in detail. It is also the final testament of many native Irish as a landowning class.The survey was conducted by local juries, usually presided over by a revenue official or army officer, who invited local landowners and other interested parties to describe each of the landholdings in their areas and provide lists of tenants, rents, buildings, and other features of interest. In many cases, Catholic landowners were forced to describe their own estates, which had been ear-marked for confiscation. The same presiding officials were also responsible for the transportation of these landowners to Connacht.
The Civil Survey contains information not contained in the Books of Survey and Distribution. The two sources should be used alongside each other. When the reference column in the Civil Survey is blank, this usually indicates that the information given has been taken from a patent roll or inquisition, and not from one of the formal surveys. Large plantation estates are normally recorded in this way and some further information can be gleaned from the relevant sources, especially John Lodge’s Records of the Rolls, and other calendars.
The printed text of the Civil Survey is also sourced from the Quit Rent Office and the destroyed copy from the Public Record Office of Ireland was itself copied from this set. The text is incomplete — one small part of counties Cork and Kerry survive, for example — because the original Civil Survey, which covered all of Ulster, Leinster, and Munster, was destroyed in a fire at the old Custom House, Dublin, in 1711.
Upon its completion in 1658 the Down Survey, along with the Strafford Survey from the 1630s, were housed in the Surveyor General’s Office in Dublin. There were approximately 1,150 original parish maps in the Down Survey.
According to William Petty, there were 2,278 parishes in Ireland, but a large number of parishes were never surveyed or mapped because they did not contain any forfeited land. Sometimes more than one parish was drawn on a single sheet if it was practical to do so. In addition to the 1,150 parish maps in the Down Survey, the Surveyor General’s Office held 250 parish maps from the Strafford Survey. In total, there were approximately 1,400 parish maps.
The maps and accompanying terriers (textual descriptions of the region shown in the map) were bound into volumes. These were available for public consultation until the destruction of a large amount of the material in 1711.The Down Survey survives in its entirety for ten counties – Carlow, Donegal, Dublin, Leitrim, Londonderry, Tyrone, Waterford, Westmeath, Wexford and Wicklow – while the volumes for Clare, Galway, Kerry, and Roscommon (including the Strafford material) were completely destroyed.
Only ‘a few burnt papers’ remained of Cavan, Fermanagh, Kildare, Louth, Monaghan, Mayo, and Sligo, but at least one complete volume and additional papers survived for Antrim, Armagh, Cork, Down, Dublin, Meath, Kilkenny, Laois, Limerick, Longford, Offaly, and Tipperary.
All the surviving original maps were finally destroyed in the fire in 1922.
The maps presented here are either copies made in manuscript from the originals, or similar maps made by Petty and his team while the Down Survey was being compiled.
Numerous copies were made of the Down Survey Parish maps surviving after 1711, and before the destruction of the manuscripts in the Custom House fire of 1921. In 1786, Daniel O’Brien copied those maps which were bound in books and had survived the 1711 fire in reasonably good order. O’Brien was previously a clerk at Dublin Port working under the instruction of Robert Rochford, Deputy Surveyor of Lands. Rochford followed the unfortunate habit among Down Survey officials of taking these copies into his private care from where they passed to his widow, his executor, and eventually into the custody of Reeves and Company, the solicitors for Forfeited Estates. They were not seen again until 1965. The collection was sold in two sections to the National Library of Ireland and the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. These form the bulk of the parish maps and terriers available here.
The seventh article of Petty’s contract to survey the country committed him to create a set of barony maps, and that these ‘perfect and exact mapps may be had for publique use of each of the barronyes and countyes aforesaid’. These maps, bound with the title Hibernia Regnum, were to be prepared in addition to the Down Survey maps. They have had an eventful history.
In 1707 the Hibernia Regnum map collection was being shipped from Dublin to the Petty family’s residence at Bowood in England, aboard the Unity, when the ship was captured by French privateers. The map collection came into the possession of Monsieur de Valincont, Secretary General of the French navy in 1709, and is next recorded in 1718 in the possession of Abbot Dubois, an advisor to the Duke of Orleans. Dubois gave the volumes to Guillaume de l’Isle, Royal Cartographer to the French king. The manuscript was donated to the Imperial Library by de l’Isle’s widow in 1727, and remained there almost entirely undisturbed until 1774, when they were brought to the attention of the Earl of Harcourt, a British ambassador to Paris.
In 1786, another Sir William Petty, First Marquis of Lansdowne and Earl of Shelburne (a relation of his namesake from the 1650s), requested the return of the map collection. The French King was quite willing to comply but was blocked by the Library, which pointed out that it was unwise for him to start returning stolen manuscripts as the Library held a large number of these.
Hibernia Regnum was finally copied in 1789 by General Charles Vallancey, late of the army Corps of Engineers, Major George Taylor, who had produced a book of road maps of Ireland in 1777, a French engraver and a number of assistants. This almost exact copy was brought back to Dublin and was photographed and published by the Ordnance Survey in 1908.
Supplementing these are a second set of barony maps, again once the personal property of Sir William Petty, that has survived the journey to Bowood. Now in the British Library (Additional MSS 72868–72873) they were made by the same team of surveyors who produced the original set destroyed in the Public Record Office of Ireland.
The maps and terriers in the first four volumes at the British Library (Additional MSS 72868–72871), surveyed 1655–6, cover areas in which the land was to be assigned to soldiers. These are grouped by province, two volumes for Leinster, one for Munster, and one for Ulster. The fifth volume (72872), surveyed 1657–8, covers the areas intended for the ‘adventurers’ – merchants who invested (adventured) their money in Irish land. The set, known as ‘The Lansdowne Set’ is now incomplete.
A further Munster volume, containing the surveys of Cork and Kerry, was lost as early as 1727, apparently in the course of a lawsuit of Petty’s second son, Henry, Earl of Shelburne, concerning his Kerry estates. The letters A-F were placed on the remaining six volumes prior to 1797, at which time they were in the custody of Sir Francis Hutchinson, agent of the first Marquess of Lansdowne in Dublin (see Add. 72868, ff. v-vii). Volume ‘A’, the third of the Leinster volumes, containing the surveys of Dublin, Longford, and Meath, went missing some time subsequently.
These two sets of barony maps are supplemented by a further collection of 115 maps held at the National Archives (Ireland) that are also part of the Quit Rent Office collection.
Roughly half of these appear to have been formed as an ad hoc collection, mainly copies from the Public Record Office of Ireland, or the Custom House prior to 1867, that were ordered as evidence for various legal cases.
The remainder, 54 barony maps and a set of parish maps for County Meath only, came to the Quit Rent Office from Headfort House, the ancestral home founded by Thomas Taylor, at the same time as the Civil Survey was transferred.
An important set of tracings from Down Survey maps is currently undergoing conservation at the National Archives (Ireland). The tracings, some 2,700 in number, were made for the Griffiths’ Boundary Survey, from 1824 onwards, and were used by these surveyors to confirm the location of townland boundaries. This material was transferred to the Ordnance Survey (O.S.) office in the 1830s and was used to create the First Edition Ordnance Survey maps from 1838. The Ordnance Survey surveyors had the authority to accurately survey the boundaries, but not to change or delete them, thus creating the strong continuity between Petty’s surveyors in the seventeenth century and property boundaries as they exist today.
The transcription of the Books of Survey and Distribution is presented here in tabular format in five columns, reflecting the format of the original manuscripts.
The title of each page is included in the transcription with the original foliation [Insert pop-out definition: foliation: numbering applied to pages or leaves in a manuscript volume]. The modern pagination in the manuscript is added to the title in square brackets.
The transcription includes all the text from the original manuscripts. Some abbreviated terms have been expanded for clarity:
In the original manuscript, the name of the landowner may only appear once in the source with various graphical symbols used to indicate that a single individual owned multiple denominations of land, or that a single denomination of land was owned by multiple individuals.
The layout of these volumes follows the same columnar layout of the manuscripts. The transcription also follows the layout of the original manuscript. There are seven columns, four on the left side facing three on the right.
The first column is a plot number that corresponds to a plot of land marked on the relevant Down Survey map or entry in the Civil Survey. The entries are arranged around these numbers and the transcription follows this convention.
The second column contains the names of the owners of each plot in 1641, and in most cases records their title and religion. Variants in spelling are reproduced as they appear in the text.
The third column, the denomination or name of the parcel of land, is transcribed as in the manuscript. Areas of land in Ireland, and subdivisions of these areas, varied widely across the country in the mid seventeenth century.
A mixture of ecclesiastical and lay divisions was used, together with terms of Irish and English origin. Most notably, the Books of Survey and Distribution use a hierarchy of County at the highest level followed by Barony (a lay subdivision) and then Parish (an ecclesiastical subdivision). Consequently, although the text can appear to be strictly hierarchical, there are many anomalies as parishes frequently crossed the boundaries of baronies.
The most common terms found in the text are as follows:
|Parish||A subdivision of a diocese|
|Demesne||land attached to the owner’s home and reserved for their own use.|
|Ballybetagh||Irish, contains 12 or 24 quarters|
|‘Town’||Irish, contains four quarters|
|Ploughland||Equivalent to a ‘Town’|
|Quarter||Irish, fourth part of a ‘Town’|
|Townland||Plantation measure, typically equal to one quarter or 120 nominal Irish acres|
|Ballyboe||Equivalent to a townland or quarte|
|Cartron||A fourth part of a Quarter, containing 30 nominal Irish acres|
|Gneeve||A sixth part of a quarter, containing 20 nominal Irish acres|
|Colpe||Munster usage, nominally 1600 Irish acres. Contains 80 colpe acres of 20 Irish acres each|
|Parcel||Munster usage, a subdivision of a Colpe|
|District||Cromwellian, Ireland was divided into ten administrative districts|
|Acre||Irish acre, contains 1.6 statute acres or 160 perches|
|Perch||40 perches = 1 rood. 4 roods = 1 acre|
|Rood||A quarter of an acre|
The fourth and fifth columns, unprofitable and profitable acreages, are transcribed as they are in the manuscript.
The Survey counted profitable acres, it was used to calculate land entitlement; unprofitable acres were included with these irrespective of area. The figures are normally in Irish Plantation acres in the form acre:rood:perch. There are 1.61 Irish acres in a standard acre, and one standard acre is 0.404 hectares.
The fifth column, the first column on the right side, is the area of land allocated to a new or existing owner – the Distribution.
Columns 6 and 7: Landholder after Distribution
The sixth and seventh columns list the landowners after distribution.
The earlier distributions allocated by the Cromwellian Protectorate and confirmed following the restoration of Charles II are usually in the sixth column.
Land forfeited by previous owners, and distributed to new owners following the defeat of James II, is always indicated in the seventh column.
The remaining phases of allocations and reallocations of land can appear in either column.
These allocations are divided into eight categories, signified by a symbol in the manuscript. These symbols have been replaced with modern characters as close as possible to the original. The categories and symbols are as follows:
|#||Certificates of land ownership issued to soldiers and adventurers under the Act of Settlement. The Quit Rent Office interpreted these as lands for which the Quit Rent was chargeable.|
|<||Lands which were claimed, and the claim allowed, but for which no patent or other documents were produced. A significant example was land claimed by the Duke of York.|
|x||Old Protestant lands|
|W||Certificates of the Court of Claims|
|£||Decrees of the Commission of Grace
|@||The Williamite Forfeitures
|Wo||Land charged with Composition Rent (Connacht only)|
Led by Dr David Brown, this Gold Seam brings together born-digital and re-born digital resources from several partners in the Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland.
From 2016–18, the digitisation and transcription of the Books of Survey and Distribution was funded by the Irish Manuscripts Commission (IMC). A five volume critical edition of the Quit Rent Office set of the Books of Survey and Distribution, edited by Micheál Ó Siochrú and David Brown, will be published by the Irish Manuscripts Commission.
The Irish Manuscripts Commission has also donated digitized copies of their key related publications, Robert Simington (ed.), The Civil Survey 1654-6 (10 Volumes) and The Transplantation to Connacht, and Geraldine Tallon (ed.), The Court of Claims, Submissions and Evidence 1663. These are available on the Virtual Record Treasury website.
The Down Survey of Ireland project was originally funded by the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences. Launched in 2013, the Principal Investigator was Micheál Ó Siochrú and the project researchers were David Brown (cartography) and Eoin Bailey (technical development).
The digitization of an additional set of original Down Survey maps at the National Archives of Ireland was funded by the Arts and Social Sciences benefaction fund at Trinity College Dublin in 2014.
David Brown, Empire and enterprise: Money, power and the Adventurers for Irish land during the British Civil Wars, (Manchester; Manchester University Press, 2020; paperback 2022).
Micheál Ó Siochrú and David Brown, ‘Ireland Transformed: The Down Survey and the Cromwellian Land Settlement’, in Jane Ohlmeyer (ed.), The Cambridge History of Ireland, vol.
2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), pp. 584-607.
Cormac Dennehy (ed.), Restoration Ireland: Always Settling and Never Settled (Farnham: Ashgate, 2008).J. G. Simms, The Williamite confiscation in Ireland, 1690-1703 (London: Faber and Faber, 1956).