THE ROYAL IRISH ACADEMY IS IRELAND'S LEADING BODY OF EXPERTS IN THE SCIENCES AND HUMANITIES

The Royal Irish Academy/Acadamh Ríoga na hÉireann champions research. We identify and recognise Ireland’s world class researchers. We support scholarship and promote awareness of how science and the humanities enrich our lives and benefit society. We believe that good research needs to be promoted, sustained and communicated. The Academy is run by a Council of its members. Membership is by election and considered the highest academic honour in Ireland.

Read more about the RIA

Books of Survey and Distribution

The seventeenth-century Books of Survey and Distribution in the Royal Irish Academy are preserved as a set of sixteen bound, large folio manuscript volumes. These Books of Survey and Distribution were commissioned circa 1674 by Arthur Capel, earl of Essex, for the purpose of discovering concealed lands (Tallon, 109). These manuscripts were compiled by Thomas Taylor and they record changes in landownership in the decades after 1640. Taylor completed this set in 1675.

Thomas Taylor had been a sub-commissioner in the Court of Claims in the 1660s, and served in the administration of Arthur Capel, earl of Essex in the 1670s (Cunningham, 136–7; Tallon, 109). The first Court of Claims had been established to hear property claims made under the terms of the Act of Settlement. It commenced operations in September 1662. A second Court of Claims opened in January 1666 after the passing of the Act of Explanation in 1665, designed to release one-third of the landholdings of Cromwellians for restoration to Catholics. Arising from his work on Sir William Petty’s Down Survey and then for the Court of Claims, Taylor had expertise in recording data on Irish landownership.

Contents 

In the Books of Survey and Distribution, the data for each county are arranged barony by barony, and parish by parish within each barony. Each book lists the names of proprietors in 1641, the townland or other land denomination, the acreages of profitable and unprofitable land, and the names of those to whom specific lands were transferred in the later seventeenth century after the Restoration.

Royal Irish Academy ‘Taylor’ set of the Books of Survey and Distribution:

Volume          Shelf-mark     Counties

Vol. 1              G ii 2               Dublin, Wicklow, Carlow

Vol. 2              G iii 2              Wexford, Kildare

Vol. 3              G iv 2              King’s County, Queen’s County

Vol. 4              G v 2               Kilkenny

Vol. 5              G vi 2              East Meath, Louth

Vol. 6              H ii 2               Westmeath, Longford

Vol. 7              H iii 2              Tipperary, part 1

Vol. 8              H iv 2              Tipperary, part 2

Vol. 9              H v 2               Cork, part 1

Vol. 10            H vi 2              Cork, part 2

Vol. 11            I i 2                  Waterford

Vol. 12            I ii 2                 Limerick

Vol. 13            I iii 2                Kerry

Vol. 14            I iv 2                Cavan, Monaghan, Tyrone, Fermanagh

Vol. 15            I v 2                 Down, Armagh, Antrim, Derry, Donegal

Vol. 16            I vi 1                Leitrim, Sligo, Mayo

Related manuscripts

The counties no longer included in the set of the Books of Survey and Distribution held by the RIA are Clare, Galway and Roscommon. These counties are catered for however, in the published editions prepared by R. C. Simington and published by the Irish Manuscripts Commission, from the Quit Rent Office set held by the National Archives, Dublin (NAI). Four western counties – Clare, Galway, Mayo and Roscommon – have been published by the Irish Manuscripts Commission. The RIA Library holds printed copies of Simington’s edited volumes. The volume for Clare is a facsimile edition (Simington, 1949, 1956, 1962, 1967).

Simington’s editions are based on the Quit Rent Office set of the Books of Survey and Distribution in the National Archives of Ireland. He provides detailed explanations of the source in his introductions to the published editions. Some of Simington’s conclusions are modified slightly by Geraldine Tallon in her comparison of the variant surviving sets of the Books of Survey and Distribution for the county of Westmeath (Tallon, 1978).  

The Quit Rent Office set of the Books of Survey and Distribution is held by the National Archives, Dublin (NAI). The Quit Rent Office set, in twenty volumes, covers all counties in Ireland. Another set of the Books of Survey and Distribution, which had been in the Auditor General’s Office, was destroyed in the Public Record Office fire in 1922. The Quit Rent Office set are copies of those from the Auditor General’s Office.

The Annesley set of the Books of Survey and Distribution were purchased by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland from the Annesley family in 1964. (Microfilm copies are held by the National Library of Ireland.) The detail recorded in the Annesley set is closely related to the Quit Rent Office set.

The Irish Record Commissioners discovered another set in Headfort House in 1817, and these were eventually deposited in the Quit Rent Office. The data they preserve is close to that in the Taylor set in the RIA, but there are differences of detail regarding acreages, etc. The Headfort set and the Taylor set predate the Quit Rent Office and Annesley sets.

In comparing the various surviving sets of the Books of Survey and Distribution, using the evidence for Westmeath, Geraldine Tallon has suggested that it is not appropriate to suppose that one set is more correct than another. Rather, the original purpose for the compilation of each set must be considered.

‘The interest of the earlier group [Taylor/Headfort] seems to be in survey, forfeiture, and, of course, the earlier settlement data, and that of the later group in settlement data (including unforfeited lands) and financial liability. The weight of emphasis in the earlier group therefore falls on the 1641 situation, and in the later group on the 1670s and ‘80s. Each of the five Books is a reflection of its administrative context, and while the varying needs of the administration over a period of time cannot explain the origin of the differences in the Books, it can go far towards rationalising their presence and affirming their value.’ (Tallon, 114–15).

Tallon also suggests that there may have been two versions of the Down Survey in use in relation to the land settlement. The Down Survey was conducted by Sir William Petty in 1656–8, and surveyed the extent, value and ownership of land in most Irish counties. Maps were prepared to accompany the data gathered, with Thomas Taylor serving as Petty’s chief cartographer. The surviving evidence from the Down Survey has been made available online by Trinity College, Dublin.

Provenance

The Taylor set of the Books of Survey and Distribution now in the RIA survived in Arthur Capel’s library. They remained in the possession of successive earls of Essex down to the early nineteenth century (Tallon, 109). Each volume in the Taylor set has a bookplate of ‘Rt. Hon. Algeron Capell, Earl of Essex’, dated 1701. These volumes were later acquired by the Duke of Buckingham and were sold to the earl of Ashburnham in 1849. They were part of the collection of Stowe/Ashburnham manuscripts of Irish interest purchased by the British Government and deposited in the Royal Irish Academy in 1883.

Further reading and editions of sources:

  • Andrews, J. H., Plantation Acres: an historical study of the Irish land surveyor and his techniques (Belfast: Ulster Historical Foundation, 1985)
  • Cunningham, John, Conquest and land in Ireland: the transplantation to Connacht, 16491680 (Woodbridge: Boydell Press for Royal Historical Society, 2011)
  • Healy, William, History and antiquities of Kilkenny (Dublin, 1893), I, appendix 1: ‘Book of Survey and Distribution, Kilkenny. Copied from original MS in PROI’
  • Lyons, J. C. (ed.), The Book of Survey and Distribution of the estates in the county of Westmeath forfeited in the year MDCLII (Ledestown, 1852) [transcript of document from Auditor-General’s office destroyed in 1922]
  • McKenny, Kevin, ‘The seventeenth-century land settlement in Ireland: towards a statistical interpretation’, in Jane Ohlmeyer (ed.), Ireland from independence to occupation, 16411660 (Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp 181–200
  • McKenny, Kevin, ‘The Restoration land settlement in Ireland: a statistical interpretation’, in Coleman A. Dennehy (ed.), Restoration Ireland: always settling and never settled (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), 35–53
  • Ó Siochrú, Micheál & David Brown, ‘The Down Survey and the Cromwellian land settlement’, in Jame Ohlmeyer (ed.), The Cambridge history of Ireland. Volume II: 15501730 (Cambridge University Press, 2018), pp 584–607
  • O’Sullivan, William (ed.), Strafford inquisition of County Mayo (RIA, MS 24 E 15) (Dublin: Irish Manuscripts Commission, 1958)
  • Simington, Robert C., Books of Survey and Distribution, being abstracts of various surveys and instruments of Title, 1636–1703. Vol. 1. County of Roscommon (Dublin: Stationery Office [for Irish Manuscripts Commission], 1949)
  • Simington, Robert C., Books of Survey and Distribution, being abstracts of various surveys and instruments of Title, 1636–1703. Vol. 2. County of Mayo (Dublin: Stationery Office [for Irish Manuscripts Commission], 1956)
  • Simington, Robert C., Books of Survey and Distribution, being abstracts of various surveys and instruments of Title, 1636–1703. Vol. 3. County of Galway (Dublin: Stationery Office [for Irish Manuscripts Commission], 1962)
  • Simington, Robert C., Books of Survey and Distribution, being abstracts of various surveys and instruments of Title, 1636–1703. Vol. 4. County of Clare (Dublin: Stationery Office [for Irish Manuscripts Commission], 1967)
  • Simms, J. G., The Restoration, 1660–85’, in T.W. Moody, F.X. Martin and F.J. Byrne (eds), A new history of Ireland, vol. iii, early modern Ireland, 1534–1691 (Oxford, 1976), especially pp 426–7
  • Tallon, Geraldine, ‘Books of Survey and Distribution, Co. Westmeath: a comparative survey, with reference to their administrative context and chronological sequence’, Analecta Hibernica, no. 28 (1978), 103–15
  • Waters, Anne, ‘Book of Survey and Distribution, Cork: a distribution of forfeited land in the county of Corke, returned by the Downe Survey. Transcribed by Anne Waters from RIA MS’, in Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society [published in sections through vols 37–41 (1932–6)]
  • www.sources.nli.ie

Stay up to date with the Royal Irish Academy newsletter

Sign up now