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Tithe allotment books 1823–38

The tithe was not a tax but a charge upon land. The tithe system, which nominally earmarked one-tenth of the produce of the land for the maintenance of the clergy, was introduced in England as early as the eighth century. It was introduced to Ireland during the reign of Henry II, although it was not paid outside the area around Dublin until the reign of Elizabeth I.

In 1823 the Tithe Applotment Act was passed, which stipulated that henceforth all tithes due to the Established Church were to be paid in money rather than in kind, as they previously could have been. This necessitated a complete valuation of all tithable land in Ireland, the results of which are contained in the manuscript tithe applotment books for each civil parish.

The tithe applotment books are unique records giving details of land occupation and valuations for individual holdings prior to the devastation brought about by the Great Famine and the resulting mass emigration. They list the occupiers of tithable land and are not a list of householders, as is the case in a census. Therefore, landless labourers and weavers were omitted, in addition to all purely urban dwellers. In 1838 the tithe payment was reduced by 25 per cent and transferred from the tenant to the landowner. Tithes were finally abolished in Ireland in 1869.

The researcher can face problems in using the tithe books. In some areas, for example, the land was of such poor quality that no tithe could be levied. Other areas were tithe-free for other reasons, usually because the church owned the land outright. Another more serious complication is that the subsequent dividing-up and renaming of townlands, and the transfer of townlands from one parish to another and even from one county to another, is the cause of some confusion.

These records reproduced with kind permission of Deputy Keeper of Records, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.