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Records of the Quit Rent Office
Scope and content
The Quit Rent Office developed as a result of the Cromwellian confiscations of land in Ireland following the 1641 Rising, the Confederate wars and the Cromwellian conquest of 1649-53. A vast quantity of land was confiscated from Irish Catholic landowners who were found guilty of treason by their association with the Confederation of Kilkenny. Prior to the Cromwellian plantation Irish Catholics landowners owned approximately 60% of the Ireland, thereafter they owned 8-9%. These landowners then had their lands declared forfeit and granted to English ‘adventurers’ (so called because they had adventured money to finance the English parliament during the English civil war and the reconquest of Ireland) and soldiers who had served in the reconquest. Catholic landowners who could prove their innocence were allowed to keep a proportion of their lands, but those residing in the provinces of Leinster, Munster and Ulster were to resettle in Connacht, around which a series of garrisons of English soldiers were to be deployed to discourage any future rebellions. Some restitution of lands to Catholics took place during the 1660s, bringing the percentage owned up to approximately 22%, before the Williamite war and subsequent confiscations of the 1690s reduced it to about 10% and destroyed the landed and political power of the Irish Catholic elite for a century. The sudden availability of such quantities of Irish land necessitated a process of surveying in order to determine who owned what lands in 1641, and how forfeited land could then be distributed. The Civil Survey was undertaken from 1654-6, and it determined the ownership, values, rentals and acreage of lands on a parish and barony basis for all of Ireland excluding Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo and Clare. The actual mapping of Ireland was conducted during the Down Survey under Sir William Petty, which used the information provided by the Civil Survey to produce Books of Survey and Distribution used as a basis for its parish and barony maps of the country. The records from these surveys, in the form of the Books of Survey and Distribution and the Down Survey maps, make up a major element of the Quit Rent Office Collection. Quit rents were rents due to the Exchequer from these land grants and were collected continuously from the 1660s until the 1930s. From 1669 to 1683, the collection of most government revenue, including the quit rents, was farmed out to private operators, and these collectors appointed a Clerk of the Quit Rents. After 1682 the government appointed Commissioners of the Revenue and collection of the quit rents reverted to the state, but this office was continued, and the Office of Clerk of the Quit Rents became a department of the Commissioners of Revenue, part of the revenue side of the Exchequer. During the 18th Century the office continued to collect quit rents, which were usually fairly minor sums (amounting to about £50,000 per annum in 1806). The office also collected some other crown land charges such as rents on markets, fairs, fisheries and ferries, post corn rents and plus acre rents, undisposed lands rents and composition rents. Collection of quit rents apparently proved difficult; there were many cases of arrears and in 1798 an Act for the Sale of Quit, Crown and Other Rents was passed, with many being sold during the 19th Century. The office also managed crown estates throughout Ireland, including individual estates, premises in towns and cities, and crown rights for foreshores, mining rights and suchlike. It also managed the Phoenix Park in Dublin and the Curragh in Kildare. The Clerk became a patent officer in 1761, and the office continued thus until 1827, when under the Crown Lands (Ireland) Act of that year the Land Revenues of Ireland, including the Quit Rent Office, were transferred to the Commissioners of Woods, Forests and Land Revenues, wherein the Quit Rent Office continued as a department. In 1866 responsibilities for managing foreshores was passed from the Commissioners of Woods and Forests to the Board of Trade, but from 1903 the Quit Rent Office acted as agent for the board in their management, and so most of the records remained with the office. In 1923 the ever-diminishing revenues (about £8,000 by 1933) of the Quit Rent Office were transferred to the Irish Free State. By the 1930s the obscurity of the office, along with its whiff of colonial overlordship, led to much denigration and some humour in the Dáil, exemplified by the comment of Fianna Fáil TD HV Flinn in 1942 that the Quit Rent Office ‘seems to be gradually dying of inanition, thank God … Do not ask me any more about quit rents. It is the only thing on which I ask for mercy’. The functions of the office were transferred to the Irish Land Commission in 1943.
Quit Rent Office