The Book of Distribution and other Surveys


by Peter O'Leary



In October 1641 a great War broke out in Ireland which lasted for the next nine years. It was a very confusing period with many contestants, but eventually the main thrust was between the Confederate and the Parliamentarian Armies. The latter were those who supported the English Parliament in it’s struggle with the English King, Charles l. Although at this distance in time, this may hardly seem to have been a worthy cause for such bloodshed in Ireland, it did arouse intense passions at the time.

The English Parliamentarians, and in particular the General who eventually became their leader, Oliver Cromwell, were incensed by the reactions in Ireland, possibly fanned by much misleading propaganda coming to England in those days when communications were slow and inaccurate.

In March 1642 the English Parliament passed an Act for Adventurers which proposed the confiscation of 2.5 million acres of Irish land, to be distributed amongst Protestant investors who put money into the support of the Parliamentary cause.

The War finally came to an end after Cromwell’s lightning campaign between August 1649 and May 1650. The winning Parliamentary side then had to come to terms with putting in to operation their Adventurers Act. There were then large numbers of these Adventurers, particularly in London, who were determined to get their dividend from the money they had poured in to obtain the victory. There were also large numbers of Army officers and rankers in the Cromwellian Army who were in arrears on their pay, and were depending on the confiscation to make up this deficit.

However the first step in carrying out this barbarous and illegal confiscation, was to map the country of Ireland in a way which had not been attempted before. By July 1654 most of those who were to be transplanted to Connacht, had in fact been removed there. From a subsequent Census taken in 1659 we can see that those transplanted were the Chieftains and their families. The other Clansmen, tenant farmers, and labourers remained in their native Parishes available to serve the new Owners.

In June 1653 the Commissioners, Fleetwood, Ludlow, Corbett and Jones were given the necessary powers. A first attempt, called the Gross Survey ended in confusion due to errors and faulty surveying. During 1654 a second and successful attempt was made called the Civil Survey. This to some extent used a previous Survey made in 1636 by Wentworth. The remaining 27 counties were then examined and described in detail, Barony by Barony, and much of this written survey remains with us to this day. It lists each townland, it’s acreage, it’s ownership as it was in 1641, and much useful supporting data. The information was obtained by deposition ie. the sworn statements of local people in each area assembled and formed into Juries for this purpose.

Some of the original material from the Civil Survey was lost in subsequent fires, but that for the Parish of Inchigeelagh is extant, and provides us with a marvellous snapshot of life in our area in the mid 17th. century.



The Civil Survey (1654) was followed by the Down Survey. William Petty and Benjamin Worsley offered to carry out the mapping exercise with the use of soldiers allocated to their team. The entire island of Ireland was mapped by these crude methods in only 13 months which was a remarkable achievement. Needless to say Petty did not go unrewarded and finished up as a very wealthy landed man.

The Down Survey is interesting, but we are now used to very sophisticated and detailed maps, and those of the Down Survey seem oversimplified and inaccurate to us today.

The fourth Survey in this series was called the Book of Survey and Distribution, taken in 1665. The Cromwellian period of rule came to an end in 1660 when Charles ll the son of Charles l was invited to return from Brussels to take up the English monarchy again.

During his banishment Charles had received the support of many English and Irish monarchists, some of whom voluntarily shared his exile. He was also acutely aware of the need to keep happy the large numbers of Protestant Parliamentarians who were now, reluctantly possibly, accepting his return. The Cromwellian land settlement in Ireland had to be reversed but who was to benefit from the new redistribution of the land. In the event, the entire business was grossly mishandled, and very few of the original small landholders ever got their land back as a freehold, although many did move back into ownership under a long lease which was later to be upset following the Williamite War(1690).

The Book of Distribution (1665) shows the ownership of land as it had been in 1641 followed by the new ownership decided on in 1665. In the case of the Parish of Inchigeelagh it shows that none of the land was restored to it’s original owners, but all was given to two great Lords, Earl Clancarthy (McCarthy Muskerry) and Earl Clanrickard (de Burgo). It is doubtful if the latter ever viewed the matter in any other than a way to quick profit, and we soon find all the land in the ownership of Clancarthy. He of course, whatever the name, was none other than McCarthy of Macroom and Blarney, the family who had been scheming and plotting to obtain the freehold of Uibh Laoghaire for some 200 years. Now he had succeeded. His triumph was short lived however because McCarthys and O’Learys were to lose it all again after the Williamite War of 1690.

One page of the Book of Survey and Distribution (1665) is shown to illustrate the layout. The actual details are very much as in the Civil Survey of 1654

Inchigeelagh Parish

County Cork.


Taken from the Book of Survey and Distribution for County Cork (Stove Coll.RIA)


Proprietors Names Denominacons of Acres Acres

In Anno 1641 Land by the Downe Profitable Disposed

By ye Civill Survey. Survey. by Dow. S. By Acts.

Art O'Leary of Tirigea - 111 acres profitable - 111 acres disposed of by the Acts.

Knogher McAuliffe O'Leary, Deceased of Mellinvaradig, 4gn. - 145 acres profitable - 145 acres disposed of by the Acts.

Teige Dermod O'Leary, Irish Papist of Glassinmullogany Logh, 4gn. - 52 acres profitable - 52 acres disposed of by the Acts.

Dan McArt O'Leary, Irish Papist of Garresmurrand, 4gn. - 76 acres profitable - 76 acres disposed of by the Acts.

Auliffe McDonnogh of Killbarry, 5 gn. - 116 acres profitable - 116 acres disposed of by the Acts.

Auliffe McDonogh of South Drumcarry, 4gn. - 172 acres profitable - 172 acres disposed of by the Acts, and North Drumcarry, 4gn. - 98 acres profitable - 98 acres disposed of by the Acts, and Incheneall, 4gn. - 135 acres profitable - 135 acres disposed of by the Acts.

Knocher Mc Auliffe O'Leary, of Gortderacly, 4gn. - 87 acres profitable - 87 disposed of by the Acts.

Daniell McArt O'Leary, Irish Papist of Coolenecranagh, 4 gn. - 116 acres profitable - 116 acres disposed of by Acts.

Lissig O'Leary, Irish Papist of Inchyneneafe, 3gn. - 180 acres profitable - 180 acres disposed of by the Acts.

Donogh McAuliffe O'Leary ats Carthy dec.of East Clonshire, 1 and half gn. - 112 acres profitable - 112 acres disposed of by the Acts.

Knogher McAuliffe O'Leary, Irish Papist of Clonshire, Dewhill, 1 and half gn. - 60 acres profitable - 60 acres disposed of by the Acts.

Donnell McArt O'Leary, Irish Papist of Clasceale, half pld. - 594 acres profitable - 594 acres disposed of by the Acts.

Knogher McAuliffe O'Leary, deceased of Derriarygid, 1 and half gn. - 172 acres profitable- 172 acres disposed of by the Acts.