The penal laws effectively outlawed the Catholic Church and in those circumstances it was not feasible for records to be kept. The Catholic Emancipation Act 1829 put an end to the penal laws.
The Catholic Church, nevertheless required the clergy to keep records of baptisms, marriages and burials. However it was not until very late, that this was carried out in rural areas. The earliest parish registers date from the beginning of the nineteenth century and many particularly in the west, only begin after the records of civil registration.
The information available in the Catholic parish registers varies, as follows
Whether child was illegitimate
Date of Baptism
Names of parents
Residence of parents
God-parents (who were often relations)
Names of parties
Residence of parties
Fathersí names (sometimes)
Fathersí residence (sometimes)
Going through these registers is a tedious job as many of the records are faded and incomplete.
Latin is often used rather than English (or Irish).
A person should not forget to seek out the Burial Registers of the Church of Ireland referred to below.
The parishes of the Catholic church did not always coincide with the civil parishes and this should be remembered when one is preparing for a search through Catholic parish registers.
The Townlands Index to Ireland, will show the civil parish in which a townland is situated.
The Topographical Dictionary of Ireland by Samuel Lewis (1837) should then be consulted.
The Index of Surnames to the Primary Valuation and the Tithe Books prepared by the National Library of Ireland lists the civil parishes and the equivalent Catholic parishes and this is available in the principal repositories.
Most of the parish registers prior to 1880 are available on microfilm in the National Library of Ireland.
The microfilms may be freely consulted except in the case of parishes of the following dioceses : Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, Cloyne, Down and Connor, Galway, Kerry and Limerick.
In the case of theses dioceses a letter of authorisation from the Parish Priest concerned must be produced before those microfilms may be consulted.
The Catholic Directory (issued annually) lists the Catholic clergy and contains the names of the Parish Priests. This is useful if a person is seeking access to the closed registers and if one wishes to arrange access to registers locally.
It will not always be necessary to go to the National Library of Ireland to consult these registers.
A person may go along to the parish church of the ancestor concerned the registrar will without doubt be easier to read than the microfilms.
It is important to be aware that there are Catholic parish registers in the custody of the local clergy, the existence of which are not generally recorded elsewhere.
The Public Records Office in Belfast has available a list of Catholic parish registers in local custody in the six counties. This list may be found in Irish and Scotch-Irish Ancestral Research by Falley (VolumeI, at page 466).
It is advisable to contact the parish which you are interested in directly, you may find that there is no great difficulty in handling your queries.
Catholic Church History and Genealogy
Tipperary and Limerick
CMC Records Project
Return to Parish Registers