Monday 23 April 2012

IGRS lecture illustrates value of LEC records

Family commitments prevented me from attending the Irish Genealogical Research Society's Lecture at the Dublin City Library & Archives on Saturday, but local genealogist Claire Bradley was kind enough to send in the following report:

Lecturer Aideen Ireland is Senior Archivist at the National Archives of Ireland (NAI), and she delivered her talk about the Landed Estates Court Rentals (LECs), also known as the Encumbered Estates Court Rentals. These are now digitised and available to subscribers on

I admit that, even with a UCD Certificate in Genealogy under my belt, I knew remarkably little about these records before the lecture and it was great to hear someone so knowledgable explain them.

The LECs date from 1849 and are essentially a product of the Famine because, in its aftermath, the State needed a way to dispose of estates and other properties belonging to bankrupts. In that sense, the Landed Estate Court was a bit like NAMA*, except that, in many cases, tenants got to purchase the land they had been working.

The records are what we'd today call sales brochures. They feature details of the properties, maps and engravings, the latter often made to look prettier than the reality! The maps and engravings have proven particularly important because they show details no longer present. For example, Mount Heaton, now the Cistercian College in Roscrea, once had an aviary and hothouses. The original 'brochures' are in colour, but they're in black and white on FMP because they were digitised from microfilm.

Aideen went through some examples relating to a gentleman called William Perry, on whom she has done particular research. She found references to him in several places. She read out what she admitted was some very dull legalese because she wanted to show how many references to past leases were included in this 'sale brochure'. Much like today, details had to be provided of sitting tenants, how they were entitled to their leased land and for how long.

Armed with this sort of information, you might be able to go into the Registry of Deeds and reference the original lease.

Aideen highlighted one specific LEC record that referred to a lease that had started in 1749 (some 111 years prior to the sale of the property), and names were given. If these names related to your ancestors, you might immediately have leapt back a generation or more. Of course, you'd have to use these records in conjunction with the Registry of Deeds and the parish registers to be sure.

One of the most important things I learnt from Aideen's talk is that the digitised collection is the O'Brien set of records. Some background: a master set of records for the LEC rentals does not exist. Even the NAI is not clear that it ever existed; if it did, it didn't survive the dreaded 1922 fire.

The full NAI collection includes a number of accessions donated by individuals who were in some way involved with the LEC. Octavius O'Brien, a solicitor who sat on the board, donated the largest set. Several other sets of records were donated by Mr Justice Liam Price and Hamilton Craig, including the Quit Rent Office records. These records are not necessarily all the same but duplicates may exist.

Collections of LEC rentals have also turned up in the National Library and PRONI. To date, no attempt to correlate these collections has been made. Apart from the O'Brien set, all the other collections can be accessed on manuscript in their various locations. Aideen is not aware of any plans to digitise the others.

She referenced a couple of books that have been written about these records, including Encumbered Estates Ireland, 1850-1905 by Mary Cecilia Lyons, 1993, which includes many beautiful engravings of properties reproduced from the originals.

During the question session at the end of the talk Steven Smyrl mentioned that the FMP collection cannot be searched by place. It is necessary to search by surname or at least by the first letter of the surname, plus asterisk.

(Thanks, Claire. You're a star.)

*NAMA is the National Asset Management Agency, set up by the Irish Government in 2009 to take over assets held in negative equity by their owners. This is a simplified explanation. No letters, please!