Find your ancestors in Ireland, 1775 Dissenters' Petitions

What can these records tell me?

The petitions consist of dissenters' names categorized by parish, congregation, town, neighbourhood, or, in one case, barony. Occasionally, members of the Established Church also signed. The lists typically specify whether signatories were dissenters or Established Church members. In cases where no denomination is indicated, the list contained names of both dissenters and Established Church members without differentiation.

The petitions, originally part of the records of the Irish Parliament and transferred to the Public Record Office of Ireland (PROI) in 1870, were unfortunately lost in the 1922 PROI destruction. However, Tenison Groves, an antiquarian and genealogist at the PROI before 1922, had copied some, and these transcripts are accessible in PRONI under T808/15307. While available for all Northern Ireland counties except Fermanagh, they are most extensive for areas in Counties Antrim and Down. Due to reliance on transcripts for the names index, accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed.

History of the dissenters

The Penal Laws, enacted primarily by the Irish Parliament after 1691, aimed to curb the religious, political, and economic activities of Roman Catholics, ensuring they lacked the means to challenge the Protestant (Anglican or Church of Ireland) dominance. Consequently, Roman Catholics faced exclusion from political power at both local and national levels, were barred from long-term land leases, various professions, and the armed forces. However, the Penal Laws also impacted dissenters, non-Church of Ireland Protestant groups, particularly the substantial Presbyterian population in Ulster. The Church of Ireland considered them a threat comparable to Roman Catholics, subjecting them to religious and political discrimination. For instance, until 1782, Presbyterians could only marry legally in a Church of Ireland church, officiated by a Church of Ireland clergyman.

Discrimination against dissenters was reinforced in 1704 when the Irish Parliament enacted a law to curb the growth of popery. This law introduced a 'sacramental test' for public offices, applying to all Protestant dissenters. The test mandated communion at the Church of Ireland, leading many dissenters to refusal and subsequent exclusion from political, civic influence, and professions requiring oaths. This test persisted until 1780.

Efforts to restrict dissenters' powers persisted throughout the 18th century. In 1774, the Irish Parliament passed a law barring them from voting at Church of Ireland vestry meetings. This provoked strong opposition from Ulster Protestants, who petitioned Parliament in October and November 1775, resulting in the repeal of the law in 1776.

Available Locations

  • Antrim Borough (probably First Antrim Presbyterian Church)
  • Old Antrim (probably Antrim Unitarian Church)
  • Ardstraw and Newtownstewart, County Tyrone
  • Armagh parish, County Armagh
  • Ballee congregation, County Down
  • Ballyclare town and neighbourhood, County Antrim
  • Ballymena town and neighbourhood, County Antrim
  • Ballynure town and neighbourhood, County Antrim
  • Bangor town and parish, County Down
  • Belfast parish and town
  • Benburb town and neighbourhood, County Armagh
  • Carnmoney parish, County Antrim
  • Carrickfergus town and county, County Antrim
  • Clare congregation, County Armagh
  • Coagh, County Tyrone
  • Coleraine and Killowen parishes, County Londonderry
  • Comber parish, County Down
  • Cookstown congregation, County Tyrone
  • Donegore, Kilbride and Nilteen parishes, County Antrim
  • Dundonald parish, County Down
  • Dromore parish, County Down
  • Dromara congregation, County Down
  • Drumballyroney and Drumgooland parishes, County Down
  • Dungannon barony, County Tyrone
  • Dungannon town and neighbourhood, County Tyrone
  • Dunmurry congregation, Drumbeg parish, counties Antrim and Down
  • Killyleagh parish, County Down
  • Larne, Raloo, Carncastle, Kilwaughter, Glenarm and Ballyeaston parishes, County Antrim
  • Lisburn town and neighbourhood, counties Down and Antrim
  • Londonderry city, County Londonderry
  • Newry parish, County Down
  • Rathfriland congregation, County Down
  • Seapatrick, Tullylish and Donaghcloney parishes, County Down
  • Strabane town and neighbourhood, County Tyrone