Fortune and misfortune – the landed estates of Ireland

Staircase in abandoned house

Just as documents are the records of past deeds and thoughts, the old landed houses dotting the Irish landscape leave an imprint of past fortunes and misfortunes. Often handed from generation to generation or sold to other landed gentry these properties now represent a silent history. Many are no longer viable or structurally sound but were once grand dwellings, as well as estates that provided employment. Where records of these estates can be found, they provide a rich source of information about a locale, often containing legal papers such as deeds, leases and conveyances as well as correspondence, accounts and other manuscripts that can show how estates were managed.

In 1837 for example, Samuel Lewis listed Tintern, Co. Wexford as the property of Caesar Colclough, Esq., whose agent J. W. Goff, Esq resided at the family mansion. The property was said at that time to have been ‘beautifully situated’ and the cottages of the farmers and peasantry ‘exhibit a considerable degree of neatness and comfort’. A search of the 1901 Census shows that many people in the area worked on the estate including Mary Fitzgerald who was a Parlour Maid and Robert Power who was a Coachman.

Abandoned room

Those estates subject to the Encumbered Estates Court and later the Landed Estates Court were part of a process that created important records. These can potentially hold additional information about the people in an area, those working on the estates and those leasing lands. The Courts facilitated the sale of bankrupt estates as by the middle of the 19th Century many estates were stretched beyond their means and had to be sold to pay family debts run up over many years, sometimes over many generations. Part of the records of the estates for sale include rentals, maps and details of leases. The process was a little like the sale of a house today, and produced a type of sales catalogue that aimed to tempt perspective buyers. Once the estates creditors were paid the new owners could take possession of the property.

The lots intended for sale in the various estates were listed by townland. In addition, details of the tenants, length of lease, amount of land leased, and description of the lands were recorded along with a map. What is important is that the names of people who may not be listed in any other records are recorded. Church records may not begin until the later 1800s for example and so these rental details can be very useful. Many researching the records will be unlucky but where people are named and a family connection made, it can be a fascinating addition to family information. The records are available online at Find My Past or offline at the National Archives, Dublin.

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