2. Administrative Divisions in 19th Century Ireland

When beginning family history research, it is important to understand how key records are organised in order to access the correct ones for your family.  Below are brief descriptions of each administrative division and how they relate to County Wicklow:


County Wicklow is in the province of Leinster – Ireland in the present day is made up of four provinces; Ulster in the north, Munster in the south, Connaught in the west and Leinster in the east.  These areas have their origins in the original ancient realms of Ireland from which their modern day names are derived: Uladh, Mumha, Laighean, and Connaught.  A fifth kingdom called Meath was integrated into the province of Leinster.  Less familiar ancient kingdoms such as Oriel and Aileach were amalgamated with Ulster from the 17th century.


The first counties created in Ireland were Kildare, Dublin, Louth, Carlow, Kilkenny, Wexford, Kerry, Waterford, Cork, Limerick, Tipperary, and Meath.  The latter was later divided into east and west.  These present day counties were formed in 1210 during the reign of King John.  Other counties were established during the reign of other monarchs.  King’s and Queen’s counties were established during the reign of Queen Mary; Longford, Galway, Clare, Roscommon, Sligo, Mayo, Armagh, Leitrim, Tyrone, Donegal, Derry, Cavan, and Fermanagh in the course of Elizabeth I.  The events that led to the formation of Down and Antrim are uncertain. The final county to be formed was Wicklow in 1605.


Irish Baronies are regional divisions that have their origins in the great Gaelic family holdings of antiquity.  The English turned these into civil divisions for the land valuations carried out in the 19th century, e.g. Griffith’s Valuation.  County Wicklow is made up of eight baronies in total.  These are Rathdown, Talbotstown Lower, Talbotstown Upper, Ballincor North, Ballinacor South, Newcastle, Arklow and Shillelagh.  There are three hundred and twenty-five baronies throughout the country as a whole.

Poor Law Unions:

In 1838 Ireland was divided into a series of administrative districts called Poor Law Unions.  These Unions were individual districts in which the people of each area were responsible for the care of all the poor or “paupers” in their Union.  Each individual Union area was made up of a number of townlands within an average of ten square mile radius.  A market town was normally at the centre and the Poor House or Workhouse was often located there.  Many of the buildings that once were used as Poor Houses are still in existence.  In County Wicklow there were five Poor Law Unions: Naas, Rathdown, Baltinglass, Rathdrum and Shillelagh.


Irish parishes fall into two categories, civil and ecclesiastical.  The civil parish was used in the land valuations that various 19th century administrations carried out.  Ecclesiastical parishes were usually larger than their civil counterparts and it was not unusual for two corresponding parishes to differ in name.  At the moment there are approximately two and a half thousand ecclesiastical parishes in Ireland.  In County Wicklow there are twenty-seven parishes for the Roman Catholic Church and fifty-seven for the Church of Ireland (Anglican).  Records are available for many of these.  Methodist, Quaker and Presbyterian records also exist for some areas in County Wicklow but to a far lesser extent than the Catholic and Anglican records.

Map of Roman Catholic Parishes of County Wicklow (19th Century)

Map of Civil Parishes of County Wicklow


The parishes were divided into smaller areas called townlands.  These usually consisted of small areas of land that were approximately three hundred and fifty acres in size.  Townlands were numerous throughout the country.  The 1901 census of Ireland stated that there were sixty thousand four hundred and sixty-two townlands.

As the Church of Ireland was the established church, other 19th century administrative records used by family historians, such as Griffith’s Valuation and the Tithe Applotment Books, are organised by civil parish, which generally correspond to Church of Ireland parish divisions.  You can check which civil parish your townland is located in by searching the website  http://www.thecore.com/seanruad.

List of County Wicklow Roman Catholic parishes in the 19th Century and their corresponding Civil parishes:

Roman Catholic Parish

Civil Parishes contained

ArklowArklow, Ballintemple, Killahurler, Inch
AvocaCastlemacadam (part), Redcross (part), Ennereilly, Kilbride
Ballymore EustaceHollywood
BaltinglassBaltinglass, Ballynure, Rathbran
BlessingtonBlessington (part), Kilbride, Burgage
BrayBray, Powerscourt, Kilmacanogue, Delgany (part), Calary (part)
ClonmoreLiscolman, Crecrin, Aghowle, Mullinacuffe
Dunlavin/DonardDunlavin, Donard, Crehelp, Rathsallagh, Freynestown, Donaghmore
Glendalough/RoundwoodDerrylossary, Calary (part)
HacketstownHacketstown, Moyne, Kiltegan (part)
Killaveney-AnnacurraPreban(part), Kilpipe(part)
Kilbride-BarndarrigDunganstown, Castlemacadam (part), Redcross (part)
Kilquade/KilmurrayKilcoole, Delgany (part), Calary (part), Newcastle Upper, Newcastle Lower
Rathdrum (included Aughrim)

Note: Aughrim became a separate parish with its own register in 1879


Rathdrum, Knockrath, Ballinacor, Ballykine
Tomacork (or Carnew)Carnew, Kilcommon, Preban (part), Kilpipe (part), Liscolman (part), Crosspatrick
Wicklow RC (included Rathnew, Ashford, Glenealy)Kilcommon, Kilpoole, Killiskey (part), Drumkay, Rathnew (part) and Glenealy
Note: Ashford became a separate parish in 1864, with its own parish register.

Information obtained from the Surnames Index to Griffith’s Valuation and the Tithe Applotment Books, County Wicklow. (National Library of Ireland, 1960).


Comments about this page

  • Thank you, I am glad you are finding our genealogy guides useful!

    By Catherine Wright (21/08/2023)
  • Best explanation I have read so far.

    By Debbie Alfano (18/08/2023)
  • This is so interesting to me as I have not done research into Ireland where I have ancestors from Rathdrum in Wicklow, Londonderry and Leitrim and there is so much to see on this site, it is wonderful for a beginner into Ireland.  Regards,

    By Janeece Stoker (23/02/2017)

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