Tithe Applotment books: one

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A page from a Tithe Book

Census substitutes, the Tithe Applotment Books, part one


In this presentation we’re going to look at the following:

  • The history and origins of tithe payments in Ireland and


  • The history of tithes and the Tithe Applotment Books (TAB)

during the 19th century


Our next blog will deal with the Tithe Books as a census substitute



Origins of the tithe system

Tithing originated as a religious practice of Judaism in the Old Testament, where 10% of agricultural output was sent to the priests in the temple in Jerusalem.


The word tithe derives from the Anglo-Saxon Teotha = a tenth.


‘The faithful all lived together and owned everything in common; they sold their goods and possessions and shared out the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed’ (Acts 2: 44-5).


‘Those serving at the altar can claim their share from the altar itself’ (1 Corinthians 9: 13)


The early Christian Church required its members to donate part of their income to the Church. This probably originates from the Jewish roots of Christianity.


Eventually the Church changes from a voluntary community to a state church. The Council of Tours, 567AD, ordains payment of tithe for the religious. The first secular legal command to pay tithe was a law passed by Charlemagne in the 790s. (Charlemagne was the Holy Roman Emperor, the ruler of most of western Europe).


Tithes in Ireland

Tithes (dechmad) in Ireland seem to have been levied from very early on. These consisted of a tenth of all animals born –

except pigs – and a tenth of corn and vegetables and bread each year. These details come from the Irish canons of around

AD 700.


Tithes were then divided into three even portions, one part to the priest of the church, one part to the bishop, one part to maintain the church fabric (vestments, chalices, the building itself).


These tithes also included a tithe of male children. This is spoken of as ‘every tenth son’, but only a legitimate child, and perhaps from a kin group and not necessarily from a nuclear family qualified.It seems to mean that from age 7 or 8 the male child went to the church as a type of boarder. They were then treated as befits their social class. Well-off ‘gentry’ children were educated for the priesthood while the children of labourers became labourers but on the churches land.


(Orphans and abandoned children were also automaticaly given to the Church: such practices did not start with Magdalen Laundries)


Church councils continued to legislate for the payment of tithe from the faithful, as at the first (1100) and second (1170) councils of Cashel, and that of Kells (1152)


Tithes as an issue for modern historians

A big argument today among medieval historians is when did the parish system originate in Ireland? I have made a major contribution to this debate in a paper published in the Royal Irish Academy journal of 2019, where I show that a type of parish system was in existence in Ireland since at least the eleventh century.


Another school of thought says that tithes were introduced by the Normans in 1170. This is the traditional Trinity College view, now superseded by my own work. It is now clear that tithes were introduced by the Irish Church itself as part of reforms during the eleventh century.


While it is certain that tithes were levied by the Church after 1170 (tithes had been obligatory in England for centuries) it now also seems clear that the various references to tithes being collected in Ireland before 1170 indicates that they were always collected, but that the laity had to be reminded regularly.


Tithes in the Anglo-Norman parish system

The Normans introduced the English tithing system into Ireland.


There were three kinds of tithes:-

  • From crops, (the ‘Great Tithes’)
  • From cattle, milk, cheese and wool, eggs, hay, etc. (the ‘LittleTithes’)
  • From income from occupation or trade

10% was taken from parishioners as relevant.


These payments were normally divided between the vicar (more or less the parish priest) and rector (the parish priest in law, usually an absentee or a sinecure position). Usually the rector got two-thirds of the tithe, the vicar one-third, sometimes it was halved.


Many parishes were impropriate to monasteries, that is, they had been given to monasteries by their Norman lords in the 13th century. In these the abbot or prior was also the rector of any impropriate parishes. So in these parishes the monastery got the rectorial share of the tithe.


Tithes at the Reformation: just another tax

Between 1540 and 1600 the Protestant Reformation is enforced. The Catholic Church is disenfranchised, all churches and properties and income now go to the Church of England in Ireland.


Where monasteries were (impropriate) rectors, the gentry who were granted the possession of the monasteries got either two thirds or one half of the tithes belonging to that monastery. These were called lay impropriators. Where non-monastic rectors were present they got usually one half.


So after 1600 tithes now became just another tax on the Catholic population, as well as paying landlord’s rent and supporting the Church of England’s own clergy.


Summary: some tithes went to support Protestant clergy, the remainder

went to private individuals (lay impropriators).


Tithes and tithe books during the 19th century

Tithes had long been a source of agrarian upheaval due to the resentment of the Catholic farming population who saw tithes as merely a second rent. Secret societies were formed with terrorist agendas, including even that of assassination of landlords and tithe collectors. These ‘societies’ also resented paying a second tithe to the Catholic Church, which were also concidered to be too expensive, and payment details of which were read from the alter in order to use disgrace as a weapon to ensure payment.


The Tithe Composition Act of 1823 was an effort by the government to solve the problem, which saw tithes commuted to a cash rent based on corn prices. The tithe applotment books regulated this process by recording land quality and local corn prices in each parish. This is the record that we now know as the Tithe Applotment books, but it did not solve the problem.


Catholic Emancipation in 1829 raised farmers hopes of an end to tithes but when this didn’t happen the so-called ‘Tithe Wars’ began (1831-1838).


The first efforts at collection were made by middle-men variously styled tithe-farmers, tithe proctors and tithe collectors. Later tithes were collected by the police in the shape of livestock seizures, but many riots and deaths resulted.

In 1831 alone there were 242 murders, 1,179 robberies, 401 burglaries, 280 cattle maimings, 161 assaults, and 203 riots recorded in Ireland over tithe.


Tithes were merely a rent in many cases, some parishes didn’t even have any resident Protestants, and often the Protestant clergy were absentees. Eventually the problem was mostly solved by the Tithe Commutation Act of 1838, which saw tithes reduced by an average of one-quarter and paid to landlords as part of the rent. In many cases tithe was no longer paid after this by the farmers. Tithes were finally abolished with the Disestablishment of the Church of England in Ireland, which now became the Church of Ireland, in 1869.