Ireland Occupations (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Research: Irish Ancestor  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

For most Irish the Penal Laws restricted access by Catholic native Irish to government positions and the trades, thus the use of trade directories and apprentice and freemen’s records is limited to the small Protestant minority.

Trade directories can be found through the FamilySearch Catalog and through several of the websites listed on Irish Websites (National Institute). Grenham lists sources for apothecaries, artists, army and militia, attorneys and barristers, bakers, barbers and surgeons, booksellers, Board of Ordnance employees, bricklayers, carpenters, clergymen, clockmakers, coastguards, convicts, cooks, doctors, goldsmiths, linen workers, masons, members of parliament, merchants, millers, navy personnel, plumbers, police, post office employees, printers, prison warders, publicans, railway workers, seamen, silversmiths, smiths, stonemasons, teachers, vintners, watchmakers, and weavers.

One common road out of proverty in Ireland was to join the British Army, the Royal Navy or the police. Many others went to England for stints of work as railway labourers or in other civilian services. On the English census the enumerators were only required to state their country of birth if outside England, but you will sometimes find a county and occasionally a parish. Howerver if they had a job which could ultimately lead to a government pension, such as the army or police force, then it is probable that a record was made of their date and place of birth at the time they joined up or attested.

The Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) records are at The National Archives in HO, CO and T classes with details in The National Archives research guide D54. The most useful records are on 25 films starting at 0856057 and these have a comprehensive index on fiches; 1816-1882 is on 6344743 (8)*, and 1882-1921 is on 6344782 (7)*. These index fiches give the GSU film # but are non-circulating; Records of the activities of the Black and Tans are held in WO 35.

An example of the details given in a police record of employment is shown in Chart 24. Note that this man was born before civil registration started in Ireland and that it gives his exact date and place of birth, a physical description, last known address, next of kin and a synopsis of his career.

Chart: London Metropolitan Police Staff Record

John Dolan joined the Metropolitan Police on 23 February 1880. He was given the Warrant Number 64322. He retired from E Division on 5 March 1906 and had the Divisional Number 366 and was awarded a pension to the value of £58 5 shillings and 4 pence per annum. The following information is available from his pension record:

He was aged 56 years on resignation. He served 26 years 10 days in the Force. He was paid £1 13 shillings 6 pence per week. His height was 6 feet and ¼ inch. Hair was grey; eyes brown; complexion fresh. He had a scar on his forehead. He was born at Glendalough, County Wicklow, Ireland on 19 September 1849. He joined the Police at Leman Street Police Station and remained a constable for the whole period. He was transferred to E or Holborn Division on 7 March 1901. His next of kin was Richard George Dolan. His last known address was No. 2 Tankerton House, Tankerton Street, London WC.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Research: Irish Ancestor offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

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