The automatic jailing of debtors wasn’t abolished until 1864. So it is no surprise that debtors are found in great numbers in the general prison registers of nearly all Irish county jails. They consistently make up 8 -12 percent of the jail population from the 1820s-40s. This essay examines what sort of detail these records provide for genealogists and historians. Debtor records chart many tragic and irreversible personal struggles and they also reflect the swinging pendulum of economic conditions in Irish society.
The only surviving debtor prison register for Dublin from the 19th century belongs to Kilmainham Gaol, the county jail . This list of debtor names and details is an unbroken source spanning the chaotic Famine years when debtor numbers soared, right up to just after the time when the automatic jailing of insolvent debtors was abolished in Ireland in 1864. As such it is an invaluable resource for historians and genealogists. The list includes men and women, merchants, churchmen and politicians.
Although they made up only one percent of the total prison population in Castlebar Jail in the late 19th century, the Travelling Community featured more prominently here than in any other Irish jail studied. The following essay presents some findings and insights about this unique population.It forms part of a larger study of Irish Nineteenth century prison records.