An online database of 1.2 million Irish court records, for petty crimes, is now available online. New online records are seen as an untapped resource of Irish family history.
The new database at findmypast.ie, which will have another 15 million cases added during 2012, lists court Petty Sessions order books from 1850 to 1910.
Although drunkenness is the most common offense, accounting for one-third of the cases, other cases such as trespassing of cattle, tippling in a sheebeen (unlicensed pub) and disturbing a divine service will make for interesting reading.
The records are full of the minor incidents which are representative of the vast majority of cases which were brought before the Resident Magistrates. For example. Michael Downey of Athlone, County Westmeath, was charged with being “drunk while in charge of an ass and cart in a public area” and Pat Curley of Cloonakilla, County Westmeath was charged with causing “malicious injury to a bicycle”.
There was also five men and women all convicted of “tippling in a sheebeen” (drinking in an unlicensed premises) on Queen Street, Athlone and given fines of between £1 and £5. The records also show five men who were charged with disturbing the Reverend J.W. Davidson as he was “ministering a divine service” in Bundoran, County Donegal.
Brian Donovan, Director of findmypast.ie, said, “These court records open up a unique window into Irish society in the 19th century.
“Most families interacted with the law in one way or another, being perpetrators or victims of petty crime, resolving civil disputes, to applying for a dog license.
“The records are full of the trauma and tragedy of local life, as family members squabbled, shop keepers recovered debt, and the police imposed order. These records help fulfill our mission to provide more than just names and dates, to get to the stories of our ancestors’ lives."
The original Petty Sessions records, held at the National Archives of Ireland, cover all types of cases, from allowing trespass of cattle to being drunk in charge of an ass and cart. These were the lowest courts in the country who dealt with the vast bulk of legal cases, both civil and criminal.
This first batch of entries contains details of 1.2 million cases, with most records giving comprehensive details of the case including: name of complainant, name of defendant, names of witnesses, cause of complaint, details of the judgment, details of a fine, if any, and details of a sentence passed down, if any.
This first batch of records is particularly useful for areas of the country where family history records are notoriously sparse, such as Connaught and Donegal.
The reasons for cases being brought before the Petty Sessions Court are incredibly varied, but unsurprisingly, the most common offence was drunkenness, which accounted for over a third of all cases.
The top five offences tried before the courts were:
1. Drunkenness - 33%
2. Revenue/Tax offences - 21%
3. Assault - 16%
4. Local acts of nuisance - 5%
5. Destruction of property - 4%
The nature of these cases was significantly different from those in England. Figures show that the rate of conviction for drunkenness was three times greater, four times greater for tax offences, 65 percent higher for assault, and twice as likely for “malicious and willful destruction of property” than that of our nearest neighbors.
For more information visit www.findmypast.ie.