Editor’s Note: The post below has been adapted from a post by the late Carolyn L. Barkley. The topic of Northern Ireland Genealogy is extensive, and what we attempt to address in three parts is merely brushing the surface. We aim to provide a foundation in the history, records, and resources to assist those looking for their roots in Northern Ireland Genealogy.
Some may find Irish research more difficult than other immigrant-related genealogy. It is not enough to know the unique record categories of Irish genealogy – Title Applotments, Griffith’s Valuation, and the Spinning Wheel Premium Bounty List – to name only a few. Instead, to do Irish research well requires an understanding of its history and jurisdictions as well as its records.
To help you delve into your own Irish-related genealogy, let’s take a brief look at the history of the Northern Ireland, the various jurisdictional divisions effecting Irish records, and a few of the more unique record types. Obviously, these topics are more extensive than we have space allowed here. Even so, the information will be presented in three parts. (Please see Part II to learn more about jurisdictions and records, and Part III for resources to assist your research.)
Ireland – A brief look at the historical perspective
Ireland’s history is characterized by invasion: the earliest arrivals in 6500 B.C., the Danes and the Vikings in the eighth and ninth centuries, the Normans in the twelfth century, and the mid-sixteenth century “reconquest” begun by England’s Henry VIII. As might be expected, these invasions ran into severe resistance and the subsequent uprisings seemed continual. In Ulster, the O’Neills and the O’Donnells fought back unsuccessfully during the Nine Years War (1594-1603), resulting in the “flight of the Earls” in 1607. Their defeat opened the door for the “planting” of English and Scottish families in the northern counties – the Ulster Plantation. Another wave of rebellion occurred in 1641, but was finally extinguished in 1649 following Cromwell’s victory in the English Civil War.
With the advent of a degree of peace, much of the land was removed from the indigenous Catholic ownership and redistributed to individuals in favor with the new government in London. Following the return of the Stuarts to the throne, James II invited many settlers into Ireland, particularly Protestants, in an attempt to stifle rebellion and to gain firmer control over the island. When James was himself defeated in Ireland by William of Orange in 1690, the resulting rent increases, wide-spread emigration of Catholics, and imposition of the Penal Laws not only restricted Catholic rights, but often applied to Presbyterians as well, prompting their emigration to North American and Canada.
While the beauty of the Irish countryside suggested a bucolic peacefulness, such an image was misleading. In 1800, under the Acts of Union, the Kingdom of Ireland was combined with the Kingdom of Great Britain forming the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Following the abolition of the Irish Parliament and the transfer of representation to Westminster, unrest became more frequent and vocal.
The rising in 1916, known as the Easter Rebellion, led to twenty-six counties choosing independence and eventually, five years later in 1921, to the creation of the Republic of Ireland [or “The Irish Free State” for those of us who went to school at a certain time]. Six counties, however, – Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Derry, and Tyrone, chose to remain within the United Kingdom and became known as “Northern Ireland.” Modern history attests to the fact that struggle, often violent, remains a part of life in Northern Ireland. Sectarian feelings remain strong and a fragile co-existence has been achieved only within the past decade.
Please visit Northern Ireland Genealogy – Part II which includes civil and ecclesiastical jurisdictions, and Northern Ireland Genealogy – Part III Research Resources (coming soon) to learn more.
Image Credit: Andy Hay, via The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). Please visit their website to see the image in context and learn more about RSPB work in Northern Ireland: .