Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland

Cromwellian Surveys of the Seventeenth Century

On 23 October 1641, Sir Phelim O’Neill, an Ulster nobleman, triggered a widespread revolt by Irish Catholics against English rule in Ireland. So began a period of upheaval and confiscation which ended with the defeat and exile of King James II in 1688. In the space of a generation, the Irish Catholic landowning élite was stripped of their estates, titles and privileges. To facilitate this extensive seizure and redistribution of land, Ireland was surveyed and mapped with greater intensity and regularity than any other country in Europe. The Cromwellian Surveys Gold Seam provides unprecedented access for anyone researching land ownership in Ireland throughout the early modern period. The maps and books presented here are extraordinarily rich in detail and provide a window into the world of the Irish Catholic nobility and the mainly Protestant ascendancy that replaced it.

Underpinning the land confiscations were the Cromwellian surveys of the 1650s. These surveys led to the creation of the most detailed maps of any country during the early modern period. 

At the core of this resource are the Books of Survey and Distribution, which were held in the Surveyor General’s Office collection in the Public Record Office of Ireland. The Surveyor General’s copy was destroyed in 1922. The digitized version available here is a duplicate copy held by the National Archives (Ireland). This duplicate was digitized and transcribed in partnership with the Irish Manuscripts Commission.

They provide, in effect, an index of every landowner in Ireland in the mid-seventeenth century. Across 20 volumes, which have been fully digitized and transcribed here, the Books of Survey and Distribution list more than 13,000 land owners and describe 48,000 parcels of land. 

The key to each entry is mirrored on the 2,000 Down Survey maps also presented here, enabling researchers to identify precisely each parcel of land and put an owner’s name to it. The landowner names and most of the places in these sources are also found in patent rolls, inquisitions, and many other documents now in the Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland

These pages provide detailed descriptions of the documents in the Gold Seam, together with historical background and archival context. The information here is aimed at all researchers who want to delve deeper into these fascinating collections.

What can I find here?

This Gold Seam consists of three interlinked collections: (1) The Books of Survey and Distribution, (2) The Civil Survey, (3) The Down Survey of Ireland.

The Books of Survey and Distribution
  • Compiled in the 1670s with additions up to 1703
  • Records in tabular form the story of rebellion and confiscation
  • Lists over 13,000 land owners and describes 48,000 parcels of land
  • Survives as 20 volumes of manuscript material held by National Archives (Ireland)
  • Digitized and transcribed at Trinity College under the auspices of the Irish Manuscripts Commission

The Civil Survey
  • Describes land according to surveys conducted 1654–6
  • Published by the Irish Manuscript Commission in 10 volumes

Down Survey of Ireland
  • Made during and after the Civil Survey, in the late 1650s
  • Hand-drawn parish and barony maps
  • Approx. 1,150 maps of provinces and baronies
  • Map collections cover all of Ireland, apart from county Galway

Stories from the Cromwellian Surveys