In Ireland the Roman Catholic Church is a private institution. The historical church records of the Catholic church in Ireland document the sacraments – mainly baptism and marriage.
Although the Church observes the anointing of the sick or dying as a sacrament, most Catholic parishes in nineteenth-century Ireland never kept registers relating to the death or burial of parishioners. Of course there are some remarkable exceptions to this rule of thumb, including County Longford, where by the mid-1800s all Catholic parishes kept death or burial registers.
The Catholic Church observes other sacraments including communion and confirmation, and it also kept other administrative records for the parish. While some of these records survive at parish level, they were not systematically microfilmed by the National Library and are not in the public domain.
Significantly, the National Library’s digital collection includes over 60,000 records that offer a glimpse of other types of information kept by Catholic parishes. These records include separate baptismal registers for converts; registers of “churchings” (blessings of a woman on the first occasion she returned to the church after giving birth); names of parishioners who gave donations or subscriptions towards the upkeep of the church; names of parishioners who received food distributed by the parish in the Famine (Parish of Mountshannon, also known as Whitegate or Clonrush, County Clare); and a few rare parish censuses taken by parish priests.
In 1866 the priest of Kilfenora, County Clare, recorded a parish census to track his parishioners from the start of the Famine to the mid 1860s. The priest as enumerator made marginal notes to indicate relations within the family eg: (H for husband, W for wife, C for children). He recorded if the named parishioner had died or was “gone” (emigrated) from the parish. In some instances he even noted where his former parishioners had settled, such as Australia. Interestingly, the priest observed a pre-Famine custom whereby he identified all wives by their maiden names, but all children by their family surname. The priest also recorded the ages of all children aged twelve and under.
These records can be searched separately as “Roman Catholic Parish Congregational Lists” on Ancestry and Findmypast.