Tag Archives: petty sessions

Irish Court, Prison and Transportation Records

Petty Sessions Court Records (1842-1913)

http://www.findmypast.ie/articles/world-records/full-list-of-the-irish-family-history-records/institutions-and-organisations/petty-sessions-order-books-1842-1913, accessed on August 28, 2013.

The Petty Sessions order books are one of the great untapped resources for Irish genealogy. They are one of the most extensive sets of records about the general population of Ireland in the nineteenth century with many millions of cases. These court records date from 1842 to 1913.

What was the Petty Sessions Court?

These were the lowest courts in the country, which dealt with the vast bulk of lesser legal cases, civil and criminal. The Court was presided over by two or more unpaid Justices of Peace, or by a single paid (stipendiary) Magistrate. Judgements were made summarily by the JPs or Magistrate. In other words there was no jury. Each Court met daily, weekly or monthly, depending on the volume of cases to be heard. Every Court had a Clerk who kept the registers that are published here, and collected fees from those involved in cases.
This system is still in place in Northern Ireland and Britain and usually referred to as the Magistrates Court. In the Republic the courts were replaced by the District Court in 1924.

Who were the Judges?

As Justices of the Peace were unpaid they were invariably local landowners who were untrained and often more interested in their own private gain. It was for this reason that over the course of the 19th century the government slowly replaced the use of JPs with paid and trained Magistrates.

Origins and development of the Petty Sessions Court?

From the medieval period the government appointed Justices of the Peace in each county to act as judges and arbiters of legal cases that were not of the most serious nature (i.e. murder, treason, rape, insurrection, etc.). In practice the JPs set up Quarter Sessions (courts held 4 times a year) to deal with cases that had to be tried by jury or summarily (without a jury). JPs were given rights to try and convict people summarily at different dates and for different reasons from the 1500s onwards. Because of the volume of cases it was considered more efficient to deal with the lesser matters at local courts called sessions more commonly called petty sessions.
The system governing how Petty Sessions worked was only set out by statute (despite centuries of operation) in 1827 with the “Act for the better Administration of Justice at the holding of Petty Sessions by Justices of the Peace in Ireland, 2 July 1827” (7 & 8 George IV c.67). This specified that the Grand Jury in each county (the forerunners of modern county councils) should set out petty sessions districts in a formal manner. It also required proper registers to be kept, trained clerks, and regular courts. The system was overhauled again in 1851 with another act, “Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act” which sought tighter regulation of the keeping of records and meeting of courts.

What records survive?

There are very few registers which pre-date 1851, and none for Dublin city, Dun Laoghaire (Kingstown), and some other districts either because they were excluded in the 1851 act, or because the records do not survive.Most surviving records for the Republic are held by the National Archives of Ireland. This is the source for most of the records that currently appear on this site, and will do in the future. Other records are held privately or by local libraries and we hope to include them as well. The records for Northern Ireland are either held by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland or still reside in the court houses. We hope to digitise these too.

How are the records structured?

The structure of the petty sessions registers was set out by statute and includes the following columns of information for each record:

These columns cover two pages, but if there is no information in the second page it has not been captured. Between 4 and 8 cases can appear on each page.



Name of Justice(s)
Complainant(s) The person or persons who bring the charge (often police)
Defendant(s) The person or persons charged with an offence
Names of witnesses
Cause of Complaint
Particulars of order or dismissal The judgement
Act under which order made The statute governing sentence
When and how amount ordered to be paid The fine payment details
Imprisonment Details of custodial sentence
Name etc. of person receiving compensation If ordered by the magistrate/justice
Name of defendant against whom order made Name of defendant sentenced
Amount to be paid
Stamps and Signature Stamps for court fees and Judges signature.

What’s on site now?

County of Court Court Year
CORK MICHELSTOWN 1853-56, 1860-73, 1878-80, 1884-1908

Irish prison registers 1790-1924

http://search.findmypast.ie/record?id=ire%2fprisr%2frs00018280%2f4492677%2f00911%2f021&highlights=%22%22, accessed on August 27, 2013.

Irish Prison records are a key source for tracing family history because they record such a huge volume of prisoners, their relatives and in many cases their victims. This dataset is compiled from the collection housed in the National Archives of Ireland and cover most surviving records for prisons in the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland. In total there are 2.7 million records, with information on over 3.5 million people.


Currently users can search all names appearing in the registers (prisoners, relatives and victims), and can limit this by selecting a specific time frame, or prison. Users should bear in mind that the “county” option, is the county of prison which is not neccessarily where the prisoner lived or was born.


Prisons were originally developed as holding cells until a trial or sentence could be carried out. Until the late 18th Century sentences usually were corporal or capital punishment, or transportation for a term of years or life depending on the seriousness of the crime. The Enlightenment generated radical new ideas about the proper government and rule of society. Amongst the new ideas now put forward was the notion prisoners could be reformed and rehabilitated and then sent back to society as productive members. A leading voice in this process was the English radical Jeremy Bentham who was a strong opponent of the death penalty, and believed a new rehabilitative process for prisoners was in the greater interest of society at large. He advocated a “panopticon” solution for jails, where a small number of warders could oversee a large number of prisoners. His views influenced the design of Kilmainham “new” prison built in 1796 and the Richmond, Grangegorman and Mountjoy penitentiaries in the 19thcentury. All used a semi-circular model, and became the standard plan for prisons thereafter. Paradoxically it was because of this zeal to “reform” offenders that so many people were imprisoned (rather than whipped, fined or executed), and why we have so many surviving prison records for Ireland from the 1790s onwards.


By 1822 there were 178 prisons in Ireland. The bulk of this vast number were privately run “black holes” or dungeons attached to manorial courts or urban debtors jails. These were a “hang-over” from the medieval system of justice. Prisoners were held in “black holes” until their families or friends paid their bills. In 1823 the newly established Prisons board remarked of these places:“There is no instance of the defective state of the prison system of Ireland more melancholy, or which calls more loudly for the interference of the government, than the case of the debtors confined in these prisons under private charters to individuals.”

The remaining prisons were made up of local “bridewells” attached to police stations or court houses for prisoners awaiting trial, or county jails.

Over the course of the 19th century most of the “black holes” were shut down, but the number of state run bridewells increased. By 1849 there were 112 bridewells throughout Ireland processing 88,000 prisoners in the course of one year. The same year (1849) a further 13,000 prisoners went through the county and city jails. It should be noted that in 1849 overall numbers were high as those worst affected by the famine, sought refuge within the prison system.

By 1882 there were only 33 bridewells still open, but 40 “modern” penitentiaries like Mountjoy, Richmond and the county jails. In total the Irish prison system dealt with 35,000 prisoners during this year.

Full list of prisons and dates:

These are the prisons and covering dates of registers for Co. Cork and Co. Limerick on this site. Please be aware that other prison register may survive locally with county libraries or archives. Only one prison was national (it took prisoners from all over the island of Ireland) which was the short lived Reformatory for Alcoholics in Ennis. Some of the principal jails in Dublin had a national character, but on the whole prisons housed inmates on a local basis.

CORK CORK 1819-1924


Ireland-Australia transportation records (1791-1853)

http://www.nationalarchives.ie/genealogy1/genealogy-records/ireland-australia-transportation-records-1791-1853/ – Accessed August 11, 2013.

The fire in the Public Record Office complex in the Four Courts during the Irish Civil War (1922-1923) resulted in the severe damage and destruction of records. Although not all records from the Chief Secretary’s Office in Dublin Castle survive, especially from the period before 1836, sufficient material has survived to make the transportation records held in the National Archives a major source for Australians researching Irish convict ancestors. Penal transportation to Australia (and later to Bermuda or Gibraltar) covered the years 1791 until 1853 when the sentence of penal transportation was commuted to a prison sentence in Ireland.

For information on transportation sources, please consult the following pages on our site:

Transportation records of interest include the following:

  • Transportation Registers (1836-1857)
  • Prisoners’ Petitions and Cases (1788-1836)
  • State Prisoners’ Petitions (1798-1799)
  • Convict Reference Files (1836-1856: 1865-1868)
  • Free Settlers’ Papers (1828-1852)
  • Male Convict Register (1842-1847)
  • Register of Convicts on Convict Ships (1851-1853)

Microfilms containing full copies of the the above records are available in the Reading Room and the index and microfilms are also available in libraries in Australia. If the search of the microfilms has been successful, there may be enough information to pursue the search in other National Archives’ sources such as the Chief Secretary’s Office Registered Papers and Outrage Reports or in newspapers held in the National Library of Ireland.

See John Allen, Limerick and Patrick Allen Limerick in the Irish prison and transportation records.

There is evidence that Patrick Allen was from the City of Limerick – and so seems less likely to be related to the Allen family living in Galbally/Knocklong. There is no suggestion of John Allen’s place of residence.