This Friday I wanted to show you another topic within the FREE ‘Discover’ section of our website – Catholics in the Penal

The Reformation in Ireland resulted in the conversion to Protestantism of no more than a fraction of the population. At an institutional level, however, the Catholic Church suffered considerably as a result of the disruption caused by the plantations and wars of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Legislation in the form of the Penal Laws from the late seventeenth century onwards also had a significant impact, though in spite of these laws the Catholic Church was able to operate in most areas, even if clandestinely at different times.

Here we provide an overview of the history of Catholicism in Ulster in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and identify resources that can help you research your Catholic ancestors in the north of Ireland during this era.

We have an essay on The Catholic Church in Ulster, 1600–1800 as well as a page on Places and Objects of Interest which includes photographs of Catholic churches, memorials and chalices in the province of Ulster. There are further details of the Penal Laws and how they affected Catholics in this period.

Lisbane chapel1

In addition we have information on Catholic Clergy and recommended reading which includes links to Burke’s Irish Priests in Penal Times (available through Internet Archive) and five volumes of O’Laverty’s Historical Account of the Diocese of Down and Connor (available through

Finally this section contains resources for research highlighting where you can access Catholic parish records, Convert Rolls and several other sources as well as containing four lists of names of Catholics taken from original documents:

  • A seventeenth-century record of attendance at Mass in County Down,
  • Catholics in the Diocese of Connor, 1766 Religious Census,
  • Subscribers to The Sure Way to Heaven … a book by a Co. Antrim priest, Rev. MacCary, in 1797
  • Petition of the Roman Catholic inhabitants of Lower Creggan, Co. Armagh, 1800