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Dogs have been prized companions in Ireland since ancient times. They feature in our mythology and earliest laws. In the medieval period dogs were expected to earn their living, as hunters, herders and guards. Pet dogs were also kept, usually by the lady of the house.

The same pattern repeats in some unique Findmypast records, dating from the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Dog Licence Registers. Most of the dogs licenced in the registers are working dogs: collies, terriers, pointers, mastiffs, spaniels and sheep-dogs. But there are some ‘pet’ breeds: poodles and pomeranians and of course the beloved mutt of questionable parentage, the mongrel, or ‘cur’ as they are usually referred to in these records.

The Dog Licence

The dog licence (tax) was introduced to Ireland in 1865 and first collected in 1866. Licences cost two shillings per dog. Licences were purchased at the same courts that held the Petty Sessions and licensees were charged an additional 6d administration fee. To put this into context consider that two shillings six pence could represent half a day’s wage to a farm labourer in 1866. The annual licence today is €20 per dog.

Over three hundred and fifty thousand dogs were registered in the first year of the tax generating over £35,000 in revenue. After that numbers fell off to about 250,000 a year. The information contained in the registers is very similar to that recorded on modern day licences:

Owner: name and address

Dog: colour, sex and breed

Unfortunately neither the old nor new licences require the dog’s name to be recorded.

Dogs & the Law – Picking up after your dog is nothing new!

These were not the first Irish laws around the control of dogs. Early medieval laws stated that dogs could roam freely on a person’s property at night and that anyone attacked by a dog at night had little or no recourse to the law as they were considered to be trespassing. During the day dogs had to be kept tethered for the protection of people and livestock.

Although there was no licencing of dogs in the medieval period there were strict laws around their straying, attacking livestock, damaging property and defecating. If a dog defecated on someone else’s land the owner not only had to remove the offending deposit but also remove soil it sat on which was considered tainted and give the landowner a gift of butter, curds and dough. A baggie and the nearest bin don’t seem so onerous now!

In the late nineteenth century dogs also had to be muzzled to prevent the spread of rabies, or hydrophobia as it was called at the time. This legislation was rigidly enforced and Ireland has been rabies free since 1903.

Dogs & Genealogy

The large number of dogs licenced every year makes the Dog Licence Registers a valuable resource for tracing your Irish family history, particularly in the pre-census years 1866-1900. With upwards of 250,000 entries a year these records could be the key to knocking down your brick wall.

Start searching for your four legged family members (and their humans) on Findmypast now.

For more stories on tracing your Irish heritage from Findmypast click here.