Resources for Research

Catholic parish records for Ulster

In the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Catholic Church was able to establish new parochial structures. Since they were often based in the main on local demographics rather than on traditional boundaries, Catholic parishes do not necessarily follow the same pattern as civil and Church of Ireland parishes, and it is important for researchers to take this fact into consideration.

Very few Roman Catholic registers for Ulster pre-date 1800. Among the earliest are those for Clonleigh and Camus, straddling the border between counties Donegal and Tyrone, and Castlerahan and Munterconnaught, Castletara, Killinkere, Lurgan and Mullagh, all in County Cavan, all of which have registers starting before 1780 (but no earlier than 1750).

Unlike the records of other denominations, Catholic registers will often be in Latin, though this will generally only apply to forenames and a number of standard phrases. Baptismal registers record the names of the sponsors of the child who might be siblings of the parents or other close relatives.

Baptism register

Marriage registers may include the names of witnesses who, again, might be related to either bride or groom.

PRONI and the National Library of Ireland hold microfilm copies of nearly all Catholic registers down to c. 1880. These have now been superseded by the online availability of these registers via the NLI website ( Most pre-1900 Catholic registers for Ulster are available on the Roots Ireland website ( as well as other online providers.

It is important to make the point that Catholics can appear in the registers of other denominations, especially the Church of Ireland, which was the Established Church in Ireland prior to 1871. This is especially true of marriage and burial registers.

Other helpful resources

A selection of potentially helpful sources for researching Catholic families in Ulster in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is presented below.

Fuller information on sources for this period can be found in William Roulston, Researching Ulster Ancestors, 1600-1800 (2nd edition, 2018). An analysis of Catholic records can be found in P.J. Corish and D.C. Sheehy, Records of the Irish Catholic Church (2001).

Franciscan Petition Lists

The religious census of 1766

In the spring of 1766 the Irish House of Lords issued instructions to Church of Ireland clergy to prepare returns of all householders in their respective parishes, indicating the religion of each householder, and giving an account of any Roman Catholic clergy active in their area.

Most of the parish returns consist simply of numerical totals of the householders. However, some of the more diligent clergy submitted lists of names of householders, occasionally alongside the townland of residence.

The Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland hosts an invaluable compilation of the documents of the 1766 census, including original returns and transcripts, as well as maps showing the extent of the coverage of this census across the island. Names of some Catholics in Connor diocese are listed here.

A major study of this source is The Irish Religious Censuses of the 1760s: Catholics and Protestants in Eighteenth-century Ireland, edited by Brian Gurrin, Kerby A. Miller and Liam Kennedy (Irish Manuscripts Commission, 2022).

HIP Dublin

Convert rolls

The Convert Rolls list those converting from Roman Catholicism to the Established Church (i.e. the Church of Ireland). Following the ‘Act to prevent the further growth of popery’ of 1704, a Catholic converting to the Church of Ireland had to provide proof of conformity.

By conforming to the Established Church a Catholic was freed from the legal disabilities affecting property rights and membership of certain professions, etc. in force under the Penal Laws. By 1800 over 5,000 enrolments had taken place, most of them in the period 1760–89.

The available information was brought together in a volume titled The Convert Rolls (revised edition, edited by Eileen O’Byrne with additional information edited by Anne Chamney (Irish Manuscripts Commission, 2005).

The details available for each convert include typically the place of residence (generally the county or parish) and the dates of conformity and enrolment; the status or occupation of the individual is sometimes given. The website of the National Archives of Ireland includes a searchable database of the names in the Convert Rolls.

Catholic Qualification Rolls

The gradual relaxation of the Penal Laws was enshrined in law through the passing of a series of acts of parliament. These included, in 1773–4, An Act to enable his Majesty’s subjects of whatever persuasion to testify their allegiance to him.

There was little initial enthusiasm for taking the oath. Subsequent legislation, however, made taking the oath much more advantageous and so the numbers doing so increased substantially.

The original Catholic Qualification Rolls were lost in 1922, but indexes to the rolls for 1778–90 and 1793–6 are available in the National Archives of Ireland and can now be searched via the institution’s website.

Generally speaking, they provide the name, residence and occupation of the individual concerned, as well as when and where the qualification oath was taken.

Catholics departing from Ulster in 1795–6

Due to considerable sectarian unrest in Ulster, and in particular in north County Armagh, in the mid 1790s many Catholic families were forced to leave Ulster. While some sailed to Scotland or across the Atlantic, the majority travelled westwards to the province of Connacht, especially to County Mayo.

Estimates of the numbers leaving Ulster vary, but it would appear that the figure was perhaps upwards of 5,000.

Some 1,350 names were supplied to the Dublin administration in a series of lists, which have been reproduced in a number of publications.

See in particular the articles in Seanchas Ard Mhacha by Patrick Tohall, ‘The Diamond fight of 1795 and the resultant expulsions’; and Patrick Hogan, The Migration of Ulster Catholics to Connaught, 1795–96’ and ‘The migration of Ulster Catholics to Connaught, 1795–96: an addendum’.