Find your ancestors in 1831 Tithe Defaulters

This collection records the main evidence that survives about the people involved in the infamous Tithe War. All agricultural households were required by law to pay an annual tithe (or religious tax) of 10% of the produce they produced. All landholders had to pay this tax to the official state church, the Anglican (Episcopalian) Church of Ireland, regardless of their religion. Roman Catholic farmers were also required to pay a tithe to their own priests and as a consequence deeply resented this official tax.

In 1830 and 1831 the situation escalated so that many people refused to pay this tithe. Over the following years there were several “battles” between farmers, clergy and police, resulting in many casualties including deaths. It is remembered as the Tithe War, and the people most affected by this conflict are precisely those most affected by emigration and the famine in the next generation.

The names in these records are of those who refused to pay the tithe and whom were recorded by the Church of Ireland clergy. There are 1,061 pages of names of Tithe Defaulters, and 29,027 names. This is a unique record of these people at the time that the various Schedules were compiled, namely, in June, July and August, 1832. Since the 1831 census was almost completely destroyed in 1922, this is a doubly important source for these areas.

What do the index records include?

This collection is a detailed index to the original records. In contains the following:

For each defaulter:

  • Name
  • Occupation
  • Address, Parish, Barony, County

For each Parish:

  • Parish name and original spelling as recorded on the Affidavit
  • Union of parishes as most clergy served several
  • Number of defaulters
  • OPMA reference at the National Archives
  • Affidavit text or summary (see below)
  • Additional 1831 or 1841 census information: year, number of occupied houses, number of families (households)
  • Link to List of Defaulters for the parish in order they appear (see below).

The census information is useful as it allows a researcher to see what proportion of a district did not pay their Tithes. The percentage is often over 50%, and in a few instances there are more households who did not pay, than there are households recorded in the census.

The List of Defaulters page gives the full list of defaulters recorded for a parish in the order they appear on the original document. This is an important tool as names are often grouped together for a reason. eg. An entry states that a person is the 'rep.' of the next entry (i.e. the representative of, being most commonly the executor). Men as sons of the previous entry. Women are recorded as the 'widow' of the following entry, and so on.


As non-payment increased during the 1830 and 1831, many Church of Ireland clergymen found themselves in serious financial conditions. The Dublin Government established the “Clergy Relief Fund 1831”, by statute in 1832, to alleviate their hardship. But clergymen could only claim for the arrears of 1831, on condition they followed a prescribed process. One consequence of this Act was that the Government then had the job of collecting the arrears of tithes in each parish rather than the clergymen.


If the clergyman wished to seek assistance under the terms of the Act, he had to:

  • Swear an Affidavit setting out the methods he had employed in attempting to recover the arrears of tithe for 1831.
  • To accompany the affidavit he had to write out a Schedule, 'hereunto annexed', setting out the 'Names, Descriptions, and Places of Abode of the Persons, Occupiers of Land' within his Parish or the 'Representatives of such of them as are dead'. This schedule also had to state how much tithe was due from each tithe payer and how much each tithe payer was in arrears.

The affidavits and the schedules then had to be sent to Dublin Castle for a decision as to whether relief would be granted or not under the terms of the Act, which set up the Clergy Relief Fund.

The Affidavits

These are the most colourful of the records, and consistently convey the united resistance to the payment of tithes. These conspiracies or collective refusals were called 'Combinations', often organised around the pretext of hurling matches (hence the term “Hurlers”). The majority of the affidavits deal with violent resistance to the payment of tithes. The Reverend John French wrote:

"That in consequence of the general resistance to the payment of Tithes.... no proceedings were taken to enforce payment....and also from a Notice being posted up in said Parish (Grange Silvia, Co.Kilkenny) that if John Lane, who was employed in collecting said Tithes, did not quit said parish, to prepare his Coffin."

The affidavits can also be quite dramatic. For example, the affidavit of the Rev. Alexander Staples of Gowran Parish, Co Kilkenny reads:

Memorialist drove at various times for the amount of Tythe due. When the cattle were locked up two horns sounded as signals from hill to Hill. One is left wondering what happened next. What agitation did the sounding horns initiate?

The affidavits make constant reference to 'the affair at Carrickshock'. This incident terrified the Church of Ireland clergymen and put an end to their attempts to recover the arrears of tithes. What was this 'affair'? Carrickshock is a townland near Hugginstown in County Kilkenny, in the parish of Knocktopher. On Wednesday, 14th December, 1831, a crowd of five hundred people followed a party of thirty-eight police under the command of the chief constable, Captain Gibbons, and a process server, named Edmund Butler, whom the police were obviously protecting. The crowd wanted Butler to be handed over to them. The confrontation eventually turned nasty. A hail of stones rained down on the police and Gibbons and fourteen of his men were killed. So also were Butler and twenty-five to thirty local people (see "The Tithe War in County Kilkenny" by Michael O'Hanrahan in, Kilkenny: history and society, (Dublin, 1990, pp 481-505) ed. W. Nolan and Kevin Whelan).


The surviving Affidavits and Schedules are contained in the Official Papers Miscellaneous Assorted (OPMA for short) files in the National Archives of Ireland, Bishop St, Dublin. The specific OPMA reference number for each Schedule is given with each parish record.

To help users understand the source a little better, below you will find examples of the various components that made up a clergyman’s submission to the Relief Fund. The examples all relate to the submission of John Orr, Rector of Aglishmartin in the Diocese of Ossory and County of Kilkenny.

About the author – Stephen McCormac – In his own words

I was born in Dublin in 1942, am married with three adult children, Stephen, Timothy and Eileen, and two grandchildren, James and Matthew. I was educated in St Patrick's Primary School, Drumcondra. My Secondary Schools were Plas Mhuire and Colaiste Mhuire. I graduated in Arts from UCD in 1963. I was married in 1964. My wife's name is Anne (nee Bowler). I taught (Geography) in Nigeria from 1964 to 1966 and (English) in Australia from 1971 to 1983. At present I teach in St Conleths College, Ballsbridge. I have never taught history. I would not know how.

I was fed on the same Irish diet of history as everybody else. Books and notes were the main course, but primary sources were not on the menu. I have always read history, everyday. I have always seen time as a continuum. I see the present as merely the latest stage of the past and as the beginning of the future. My favourite historian is Lord Acton, probably because he never wrote a history book. I read Toynbee a great deal. I like the notion of "civilisation". It is a pity that so many people do not. Probably the best history book I have ever read is Jacques Barzun's "From Dawn to Decadence." (2001).

I was always interested in my family history. This was probably because I was told I had a Spanish ancestor. I finally decided to do some work on my origins, thus I enrolled in an evening class in Genealogy given by Sean Murphy in UCD. Thus armed I went to the National Archives and saw primary sources, in the flesh as it were. I was captivated.

During my research I discovered that an ancestor of mine had been given "a garden by Thomas Power for his trouble as herd and caretaker at No 21." This was in 1847, in Shangarry Townland, Ballingarry Parish, Co Tipperary. I had read enough history to know of "reliable tenants" and what they got up to. Needless to say, I was beginning to have doubts about my ancestor (these were not diminished when I later discovered he was not a Tithe Defaulter). I went to the "outrage books" for County Tipperary, which led me to a call number, which led me to the "Official Papers Miscellaneous Assorted" (OPMA) records. The call number was for a tithe defaulter schedule. Thus started my work on the tithe defaulters. Along the way, I was sidetracked, many times, by primary source material. For example, on the Famine in Co Tipperary. I did some work on this material. I also did some work on the OPMA record as an entity in itself. All the while I was recording my family's historic tracings. These I put in book form and gave a copy to all of my siblings and some American cousins. Researching and recording my family's genealogy was a very interesting lesson in how to find and "read" original sources. I was learning, all the time.

In January 1998 I was asked to organise the Archives of the Royal Hospital Donnybrook. I was given an Archive Room and the use of the Boardroom. I am the Hospital's Voluntary Archivist. The archives are a constant source of discovery both of the wider social history of Ireland and of the more personal individual lives of the Hospital's patients. And it is all Primary Source material! I have recorded a great deal of material from the Archives. I have been given permission to publish the names of all of those associated with the Hospital from its foundation (1743) up to the end of 1900. All of these names are now recorded. I read and record in these archives almost every day, especially in the quiet time of night when the Boardroom is alive with memories.

My greatest love in spite of the above is classical music.