Who freeholders were
Freeholders were men who either owned their land outright or who held it in a lease for the duration of their life, or the lives of other people named in the lease.
Existing freeholders' records
Freeholders' records list freeholders who were entitled to vote and those who did vote at elections. They are arranged on a county basis and comprise two main types:
- registers - details of those who had registered to vote
- poll books - lists of voters and the candidates for whom they voted
Those allowed to vote
- 1727-1793 - only Protestants with a freehold of at least 40 shillings a year could vote
- 1793-1829 - Protestants and Catholics with 40 shilling freeholds were allowed to vote
- 1829 onwards - the rate was increased to 10 pounds for everyone, stripping 40 shilling freeholders of their right to vote increasing the influence of landlords by effectively confining membership to the propertied or monied classes
Before the 1872 Ballot Act introduced the secret ballot, voters were required to stand up and declare publicly their electoral allegiance. Their fear of going against the landlords' wishes resulted in a substantial number of candidates returned being either landlords or their relations or supporters.
Freeholders' records are valuable
The scarcity of documentary sources for the 18th and early 19th centuries, partly because of the non-existence of census material and partly due to the destruction in 1922 of most of the public records of Ireland, made it necessary to seek substitutes for the destroyed records and to make them accessible for research.
Freeholders' registers and poll books are one such substitute resource and are, therefore, of particular value to historians, perhaps for analysing voting patterns or the strength of the tenant electorate on estates.
Records available on the freeholders' records application
PRONI's freeholders project entailed the digitisation of about 5,500 sheets from pre-1840 registers and poll books, and the provision of an index of names linked to the high-quality digitised images. This allows for more flexible navigation and readier access to a unique resource for family and local history.
Freeholders’ records provide a range of information about land ownership and may contain all or some of the following:
- name of freeholder
- address of freeholder
- location of freehold
- description of freehold
- name of landlord
- address of landlord
- value of freehold
- names of other lives
- date and place of freeholder’s registration
- occupation of freeholder
- religion of freeholder
Not all records survived in their original form - some are saved as transcripts, manuscripts or printed copies.