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Find out if your ancestor was a registered voter in 19th Century County Clare. Search more than 300,000 records to find relatives, who owned or leased property worth at least £10 between 1860 and 1910. Male owners or leaseholders of property worth at least £12 a year were entitled to vote in parliamentary elections, while female property holders of the same value could vote in local elections. You can find both in the Electoral Registers.
Each record contains an image and a transcript of the original document. The transcript will tell you the details of where your ancestor was entitled to vote, and where they were registered and the image can give further details including how your ancestor qualified to vote and whether their right to vote was objected to.
Under the Reform Act of 1850 every man with total property of 12 pounds was entitled to a vote on parliamentary candidates. Both property owners and leaseholders were entitled to the vote, as were those whose liability to pay Poor Law rates was also over the allotted threshold. Clergy could claim a vote on the house and so-called glebe land attached to their church and, in cities, there were hereditary “freemen” – a system that began in the trade guilds.
Under the terms of the 1850 Act, around 16% of the adult, male population qualified to vote. Various amendments to the law increased that proportion to around 30% but the lower incomes and wages in Ireland meant that suffrage lagged far behind England’s 60%.
In 1898 the franchise in local elections was extended to all householders or occupants of a portion of a house. This opened that vote to women, who were acting as heads of household. Until 1872 both registering and casting your vote was a very public business, but the introduction of the secret ballot meant that tenants could finally vote without fear of reprisals from their landlords. The registration on the electoral rolls, on the other hand, continued to be proved in open court, reported regularly by the press.
The Revision Court, as it was known, often took place during September and October, the months when the regular courts were on holiday. It initially sat at every Quarter Session but, partly because of the interest the hearings attracted, sittings were reduced to once a year. It was presided over by the revising judge and barristers, and attended by both the sitting candidate and the prospective candidate with their own legal representation. All those wishing to be added to the current list must have written to the County Clerk before this sitting and had to attend the hearing to prove their claim. Once you were registered you would stay on the electoral roll for eight years but each year the existing list of voters had to be checked and objections could be raised against those who there was reason to believe, no longer qualified for the vote.
Objections were usually upheld on the grounds that the voter had moved from the qualifying property but they could also be objected to if they had not paid their Poor Law rates or had a criminal conviction.
Voting rights were not necessarily granted on the place of residence. Business premises were also counted, as were various lands and properties. For the purposes of the electoral roll, the county was broken up into Baronies, within which were smaller subdivisions of Registration units. This was to enable the electoral roll to be broken into manageable sections. Clare had 11 baronies:
- Bunratty Lower
- Bunratty Upper
- Ibrickan or Ibrickane
- Tulla Lower
- Tulla Upper
Voters would also have a Polling district, where they would cast their vote. Registration unit and Polling district are usually the same but will occasionally differ.