Civil and Down Surveys

Published in Early Modern History (1500–1700), Features, Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2012), Volume 20

Like other losers across Ireland, and now doubly tainted as ‘Irish’ and ‘papist’, the lords of the Pale faced their punishment under the Cromwellian administration. Widespread changes in land ownership, involving land forfeitures and yet another settlement plantation, were pushed in the interest of promoting a new political and social order. To implement these measures, two great surveys, the ‘Civil Survey’ and the ‘Down Survey’, were made during the mid-1650s. Covering large parts of Ireland, they established the proprietors and boundaries of the land, and also indicated its use, quality, value and principal contents. Assembling such information was a prerequisite for the effective sequestration and redistribution of large estates. For historians and geographers today, the resultant records offer unique insights into local life and landscape at a crucial juncture in Irish history.
The Civil Survey of 1654–6 is an inventory of the proprietors and their property as it had been prior to the 1641 rebellion, with the proprietors identified by religion (the essential data). Organised by parish, barony and county, the records of this survey have survived for most parts of ten counties. In a remarkable exercise of sustained scholarship, Robert C. Simington edited all of these records and oversaw their publication by the Irish Manuscripts Commission between 1931 and 1961. The Down Survey, masterminded by Dr William Petty, complemented the Civil Survey and involved the compilation of over 2,000 parish and barony maps outlining the location of the lands (those held by ‘Irish papists’) likely to be forfeited. Most of the barony maps survive and printed versions were produced in 1908. The survival of the manuscript parish maps is patchier, but copies exist covering all or most of at least fifteen counties.

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