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1766 religious census

Freeholders' records search screen Example of an online index available on the PRONI website Researching the records

About the 1766 Religious Census Returns

The Penal Laws introduced from 1691 onwards were designed to ensure that the Established Church of Ireland retained its monopoly of power in Ireland.  Although they were gradually relaxed throughout the mid to late 18th century, nevertheless the Irish Parliament retained a keen interest in religion.  In Mach 1766, Church of Ireland clergy were ordered by the Irish House of Lords to compile complete returns of all heads of households in their respective parishes:
Resolved, that the several archbishops and bishops of this Kingdom shall be and are heavily desired to direct the parish ministers in their respective dioceses, to return a list of the several families in their parishes to this House on the first Monday after the Recess, distinguishing which are Protestants and which are Papists, as also a list of the several reputed Popish priests and friars residing in the parishes’
The returns were made in March and April 1766 and sent in alphabetical order by diocese to the House of Lords.  They were eventually deposited in the Public Record Office of Ireland in Dublin.  Although the original returns were lost in the destruction of the Public Record Office of Ireland in 1922, fortunately extensive transcripts survive, thanks to the transcription work of Tenison Groves, an antiquarian and genealogist working in the Public Record Office of Ireland before 1922.  Groves’ handwriting is not the easiest to decipher and as we are reliant on his interpretation of the original returns there is no guarantee of the accuracy of the information in the database.  The surviving fragments of the 1766 religious census returns held by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland constitute an 18th century census for just over 30 parishes in Ulster as well as for some parishes in what is now the Republic of Ireland.  
The returns show religion as between Roman Catholic (referred to in the census returns as ‘Papists’) or Protestant.  Protestants were sometimes distinguished between Church of Ireland and Dissenters who would have been largely Presbyterians.  The returns also give an account of any Roman Catholic priests operating in the parish and their names.   
Some of the more diligent rectors listed every townland and every head of house, but many drew up only heads of houses by parish and others only numerical totals of the heads of houses of each religion either by parish or by townland.  
There is often more than one person of the same name listed in a townland/parish but we have no way of knowing whether this was in fact the case or if names were duplicated in transcription.
The 1766 religious census returns are not only of value to the family and local historian but to those interested in Irish surnames and how they have been anglicised.
The returns are available under the PRONI Reference T808/15264, 15266 and 15267, T283/C, T664, T3709 and T3901.  Copies of the T808 items are available on the shelves in the Search Room in PRONI.  

1766 Religious Census Returns - What’s on Name Search?

The following parishes are covered:

Northern Ireland

Co. Antrim:  Ahoghill, Ballintoy, Ballymoney and Ballynure
Co. Armagh:  Creggan
In the returns for the part of Creggan Parish which is in County Louth, ‘The ‘Five Towns’ may refer to five townlands in County Louth.
Co. Down:  Inch, Kilbroney and Seapatrick
Co. Fermanagh:  Derryvullan, Devenish, Kinawley (partly in Co. Cavan) and Rossorry  
Co. Londonderry:  Artrea, Ballynascreen, Banagher, Bovevagh, Cumber,   Desertlyn, Desertmartin, Drumachose, Dungiven, Moneymore and Magherafelt
Co. Tyrone:  Aghaloo, Artrea, Carnteel, Clonfeacle, Derryloran, Donaghenry, Drumglass, Errigal Keerogue, Kildress, Tullyniskan, Magherafelt and Dungannon Town and Corporation
[Drumglass and Tullyniskan with Dungannon Town were commonly called the Parish of Dungannon in 1766]

Republic of Ireland

Co. Cavan:  Kinawley (partly in Co Fermanagh), Lavey, Lurgan and Munterconnaught
Co. Cork:  Youghall
Co. Donegal:  Inch (Island of), Leck
Co. Dublin:  Castleknock, Clonsilla and Tawney (Taney);
Co. Kildare:  Ballymore Eustace, Tipperkevin
King’s Co:  Ballycommon
Co. Limerick:  Clonagh, Croagh (Crough), Doondonnell, Killscannell, Nantinan and Rathkeale
Co. Longford:  Abbeylara
Co. Louth:  Carlingford
In the returns for the part of Creggan Parish which is in County Louth, ‘The ‘Five Towns’ may refer to five townlands in County Louth.
Co. Meath:  Ardbraccan, Churchtown, Liscartan, Martry, Rataine
Queen’s Co:  Lea, Mountmellick (no present day parish of Mountmellick)
Co. Tipperary:  Burgess (Burgesbeg), Ballingarry and Uskane
Co. Wexford:  Ballynaslaney, Clonmore, Edermine,
Co. Westmeath:  Russagh (Rossough)
Co Wicklow:  Dunganstown, Rathdrum and Wicklow (no present day parish of Wicklow)

Notes on the database


  • Where the entries record ‘Protestant’ it has not been possible to distinguish between ‘Established Church or ‘Church of Ireland’ and Dissenters.   
  • In the case of Bovevagh Parish in Co Londonderry, the heads of Protestant householders are distinguished between Protestant Church Of England and Protestant Church of Scotland – this is taken to mean Established Church/Church of Ireland and Dissenter respectively.  

Personal Names

Sometimes Groves abbreviated Christian names to the extent that makes it impossible to correctly guess what the name is eg in Drumachose Parish ‘Da’ could be ‘David’ or ‘Daniel’.  Because ‘Dan’ is also used it could be assumed that ‘Da’ is David.  Another example in Drumachose Parish is ’Ma’ which could be ‘Mary’ or ‘Martha’ or ‘Margaret’.

Placename spellings used in the 1766 Religious Census Returns on Name Search

The attached table of spellings used in the 1766 Religious Census Returns Index on Name Search (60KB) provides a list of the modern and original placename spellings used in Name Search as an aid to using the ‘location’ search option.
Where the modern spelling of a townland recorded in the Religious Census returns could be identified, this has been used in Name Search and should be used in a ‘location’ search.  Where a modern spelling could not be identified (i.e. where a question mark appears in the table), the original spelling from the Religious Census returns has been recorded in the database and should be used for location searching.