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'Malicious injury to a bicycle': Archive details 19th century crime in Ireland

Over a million Irish Petty Session Records are now available to search online, providing a new resource for searching your family history.

File photo
File photo

A NEW ONLINE archive allows users to search the records of over one million cases before the Irish Petty Sessions Courts in the 19th and early 20th century and potentially trace their family roots.

Described as one of the “greatest untapped resources”, some of the Petty Sessions Order Books from 1850 to 1910 go online today at findmypast.ie and allow you to search through some 1.2 million cases before the lowest courts in the country at the time.

Everything from allowing the trespassing of cattle to people being drunk while in charge of a donkey and cart came before the court which dealt with most legal cases in Ireland, both criminal and civil at the time.

The National Archives holds most Petty Sessions Court Books for the period between 1858 and 1924. The courts were abolished in the then Irish Free State under the Courts of Justice Act 1924. Their power was transferred to the modern day Circuit Court.

The first batch of entries numbers around 1.2 million with another 15 million cases to be put up online through the rest of this year.

The records contain the name of complainant, name of defendant, names of witnesses, cause of complaint, details of the judgement and the punishment passed down.

According to findmypast.ie, the first batch of records will be useful for areas such as Connacht and Donegal where family history records are sparse.

“These court records open up a unique window into Irish society in the 19th century,” Brian Donovan, director of findmypast.ie, said.

“Most families interacted with the law in one way or another, being perpetrators or victims of petty crime, resolving civil disputes, to applying for a dog licence.

“The records are full of the trauma and tragedy of local life, as family members squabbled, shop keepers recovered debt, and the police imposed order.”

According to the records, the most common offence was drunkenness, which accounted for a third of all cases. After that came tax offences (21 per cent), assault (15 per cent), local acts of nuisance (5 per cent) and destruction of property (4 per cent).

For example, the records list the case of Michael Downey from Athlone who was charged with being “drunk while in charge of an ass and cart in a public area“.

Then there is five men and and one woman who were all convicted of “tippling in a sheebeen” on Queen Street in Athlone and given fines of between £1 and £5.

“These records help fulfil our mission to provide more than just names and dates, to get to the stories of our ancestors’ lives,” Donovan added.

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