Poor Law Union. Civil Registration District

Poor Law Union & Civil Registration District Ireland

The Poor Law Union had what was called a ‘Workhouse’ and ”in theory” the area of the Poor Law Union (PLU) spread approx 10 miles in a circle around this workhouse (not ALWAYS).

The Workhouse of the Poor Law Union (PLU) was supposed to ‘mind’ the poor people – as in take care of them medically, take them in – divide them up, try and keep them alive. Each PLU was divided into areas, these areas had people in charge of them, the PLU had a Doctor attached to it.

Civil registration of marriages of non Catholics in Ireland began in 1845. This is where people get mixed up, you see, some people who were of the Catholic faith, they married people who were not of the Catholic faith and the marriages of these Catholics are listed in there in the post 1845 pre 1864 marriages. It’s very hard to explain this to people and few think about it.

The Poor Law Union was an area of townlands around the Workhouse…….approximately a ten mile circle.The Poor Law Union and Civil Registration Districts, they don’t necessarily take in one county, they can actually take in up to 3 counties, depending on how close they are to county border. 

State registration of non-Catholic marriages began in 1845.

The Victorian public health system was based on the ‘Poor Law’ an attempt to help the very poor in some way. Between 1838 and 1852 – 163 ‘Workhouses’ were built in Ireland – each workhouse was at the centre of a land area known as the ‘Poor Law Union’

The Workhouses were usually located in a large market town (Donaghmore in Laois is literally out in the middle of ‘nowhere’ as we’d say). The Poor Law Union comprised the town and its’ catchment area and so county and parish borders were ignored.

People living in one house could be part of one Poor Law Union (PLU) and their next door neighbours might belong to a different PLU about 10 miles away. It all depended on the townlands in the Poor Law Union and their location.

In the 1850’s a large scale public health system was created based on the areas (townlands) covered by the Poor Law Unions. Each Union was divided into ‘Dispensary Districts’ with an average of 6-8 districts per Union. A Medical Officer (sometimes Doctor) was responsible for the public health in each district.

When the registration of civil records began these ‘Dispensary Districts’ became the ‘Registrar’s Districts’

So, we have Workhouses and an area of land that the workhouse was responsible for. Then we have that area of land, the Poor Law Union being broken up into districts (but the townlands are all still part of the same Poor Law Union)

Civil Registration was introduced in 1845 for non Catholic marriages but what everyone forgets is that people who were NOT Catholic sometimes married Catholics and so it’s not just non Catholic marriages cos there are Catholics thrown in to the mix.

I’m always seeing people ask if there are any records of the people who ‘stayed’ in Workhouses and I am always seeing people say there aren’t. That statement is incorrect.

The thing about a Workhouse is that it was Government operated, it did NOT break the law. Every child who was born or died in a Workhouse will have been registered with the State once civil registration was introduced. Every marriage in a workhouse will have been registered. Every death in a workhouse will have been registered. More than likely 95% of all babies you see listed in civil registers as having died at 0 years old will have been born in a Workhouse. To me, those records are ‘Workhouse’ data.

The Poor Law Unions ignored county and parish borders. This also means that the Civil Registration Districts also ignored those borders. You could be born in Co. Antrim but still have to be registered in Co. Down because you were born in a teeney weeney bit of the Poor Law Union area of Magheramesk………BUT your descendants would be looking for you in records belonging to Co. Antrim

Remember Poor Law Union area = Civil Registration District of later years.

In order to KNOW the names of all the townlands in any Civil Registration District there is one web site that I would recommend that you go to. It’s not any of these modern townland web sites.  There are some  mistakes in this index

IF you search for any townland in this database you are getting the names of townlands as spelled in the 1851 census of Ireland. It also gives you the size of the townland, the name of the civil parish that the townland was in, the name of the Poor Law Union (PLU) and the Barony that the townland was in.

Again – remember the Poor Law Union townlands became the Civil Registration townlands.

Officially Civil Registration of ALL births, marriages & deaths began (about Easter) of 1864.

My experience – and at this point I have almost finished indexing all Civil Registration Details of baptisms for one town from 1864 until the early months of 1881 for people of the town, while I have totally finished indexing the baptisms and marriages for Roman Catholic parish records of same town – I can promise you that of all the religious baptisms only 1 or 2 children of any year were not registered in the civil books.

Ireland has all her baptisms from 1864 to 1918 freely available online – THAT means that we’re not far off having our 1926 census online!!

Poor Law Unions – later Civil Registration Districts e.g. Co. Cavan
1. Enniskillen
2. Bawnboy
3. Cavan
4. Granard
5. Oldcastle
6. Kells
7. Bailieborough
8. Cootehill 

The names of Poor Law Unions can confuse people because the workhouse for some of them is actually in a different county.  Take Enniscorthy and New Ross these towns are in Co. Wexford.  Baltinglass and Shillelagh are in Co. Wicklow.

The thing about the Poor Law Unions is that the townlands that belonged to each Poor Law Union then became the townlands in each Civil Registration District once the registration of births, marriages and deaths was introduced.  This is what is then confusing for researchers because people who live in townlands that belonged to the Shillelagh Civil Registration District will have their births, deaths and marriages recorded as being part of the Shillelagh District.

Poor Law Unions individual counties – Scroll down to find ‘search’ page
Antrim : Coleraine – Ballycastle – Ballymoney – Larne – Ballymena – Antrim – Belfast – Lisburn – Lurgan
Armagh : Dundalk – Castleblaymey – Newry – Banbridge – Armagh – Lurgan

Carlow : Baltinglass – Shillelagh – Carlow – Enniscorthy – New Ross

Cavan : Enniskillen – Bawnboy – Cavan – Granard – Cootehill – Bailieborough – Oldcastle – Kells
Clare : Gort – Ballyvaghan – Ennistimon – Corrofin – Tulla – Scarriff – Limerick – Ennis– Killadysert – Kilrush
Cork : Bandon – Bantry – Castletown – Clonakilty – Dunmanway – Kanturk – Kilmallock – Kinsale –Macroom – Mallow – Millstreet – Mitchelstown – Fermoy – Cork – Youghal – Middleton – Kinsale – Lismore ––Skibbereen – Skull

Donegal : Ballyshannon – Donegal – Dunfanaghy – Glenties – Inishowen – Letterkenny – Londonderry – Milford – Strabane – Stranorlar
Down : Banbridge – Belfast – Downpatrick – Kilkeel – Lisburn – Lurgan – Newry – Newtownards
Dublin : Balrothery – Celbridge – Dublin North – Dublin South – Dunshaughlin – Naas –Rathdown
Fermanagh : Ballyshannon – Clones – Enniskillen – Lisnaskea –

Galway : Ballinarobe – Ballinasloe – Clifden – Galway  – Glennamaddy – Gort  – Loughrea – Mountbellew – Oughterard – Portumna – Roscommon – Tuam
Kerry : Cahersiveen – Dingle – Glin – Kenmare – Killarney – Listowel – Tralee

Kildare : Athy – Baltinglass – Carlow – Celbrodge – Edenderry – Naas

Kilkenny : Callan – Carrick on Suir – Castlecomer – Kilkenny – New Ross – Thomastown – Urlingford – Waterford
Leitrim : Ballyshannon – Bawnboy – Carrick on Shannon – Manorhamilton – Mohill
Laois (Queen’s Co.) : Abbeyleix – Athy – Carlow – Donaghmore – Mountmellick – Roscrea

Limerick : Croom – Glin – Kilmallock – Limerick – Mitchelstown – Newcastle – Rathkeale – Tipperary
Londonderry (Derry) : Coleraine –Ballymoney – Londonderry – Magherafelt – Newtown Limavady
Longford :  – Ballymahon – Granard – Longford
Louth : Ardee – Drogheda – Dundalk 
Mayo : Ballina – Ballinrobe – Belmullet – Castlebar – Claremorris – Killala – Newport – Swineford – Westport
Meath : Ardee – Celbridge – Drogheda – Dunshaughlin – Edenderry– Kells – Navan – Oldcastle – Trim
Monaghan : Carrickmacross – Castleblayney – Clogher – Clones – Cootehill – Dundalk – Monaghan
Offaly (King’s Co.) : Edenderry – Mountmellick – Parsonstown – Roscrea – Tullamore Roscommon : Athlone – Ballinasloe – Boyle – Carrick on Shannon – Castlereagh – Glennamaddy – Roscommon – Strokestown – Swineford
Sligo : Ballina – Boyle – Dromore West – Sligo – Tobbercurry

Tipperary : Borrisokane – Callan – Carrick on Suir – Cashel – Clogheen – Clonmel – Nenagh – Parsonstown – Roscrea – Thurles – Tipperary – Urlingford
Tyrone : Clogher – Dungannon Lower – Dungannon Middle – Dungannon Upper – Omagh East – Omagh West – Strabane Lower – Strabane Upper
Waterford: Carrick on Suir – Clogheen – Clonmel – Dungarvan –  Kilmacthomas – Lismore – Waterford – Youghal
Westmeath : Athlone – Ballymahon – Castletowndelvin – Granard – Mullingar – Tullamore Wexford  : Enniscorthy – Gorey – New Ross  – Shillelagh –Wexford

Wicklow : Baltinglass – Naas – Rathdown – Rathdrum – Shillelagh

‘Search Page’ the IrlAtlas Townland Search form. When you go to this page you will find a form into which you place names and then learn more about these places at the time of the 1851 census of Ireland.  You do not have to fill out every column of the form, BUT if you are interested in the townlands of any county that belonged to the any poor law Union in that county in 1851 then fill in the name of the Poor Law Union and name the county

The web page to which you are being directed above is hosted by the Leitrim Roscommon Genealogy web site.  The book from which the list of placenames was created was based on the townlands listed in the Irish 1851 census and a man who we all knew as John Broderick a.k.a. Sean Ruad (R.I.P.) was responsible for having the whole book typed up by helpful individuals over a number of years.  This book the ‘General Alphabetical Index to the Townlands and Towns, Parishes & Baronies of Ireland’, which was printed by Alexander Thom & Co. of Dublin, gives you the size of a townland, the barony that the townland was in, the name of the civil parish, and the name of the Poor Law Union. 


Counties of Ireland: Counties : return to

AntrimArmaghCarlowCavanClareCorkDerryDonegalDownDublinFermanaghGalwayKerryKildareKilkennyLaoisLeitrimLimerickLongfordLouthMayoMeathMonaghanOffalyRoscommonSligoTipperaryTyroneWaterfordWestmeathWexfordWicklow

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