Saturday, 13 December 2014

Using Dog Licence Registers to find an elusive Great-Grandfather

Michael Byrne (c.1868 – 1927), Yellow Walls, Malahide
Michael Byrne (c.1868 – 1927)
In most countries, genealogists rely on decennial census returns to locate their ancestors’ whereabouts, but, in Ireland, these records have mostly been lost and we've had to adopt other means of research. One of the few facts I know about my Dad’s paternal grandfather, Michael Byrne, is that he owned a ‘prizewinning greyhound.’ I've even seen a photograph of him with the dog and from the time Findmypast (subscription web-site) promised to index the Irish dog licence registers, I have hoped they would contain a clue as to my great-grandfather's origins.

Last week Findmypast published the registers for the Swords’ Courthouse, in north County Dublin, near where my great-granddad lived. He was sure to have been included!

Concerned with the number of stray dogs roaming the country, the government passed the Dog Regulation (Ireland) Act in 1865, the same decade my great-grandfather was born, and the indexed registers for Swords are now available from then until 1914.  Dog owners were required to pay a fee of two shillings per animal, plus a six pence registration fee. The registers list the number of dogs each person owned, their sex, colour and breed. In 1914, Michael Byrne of Yellow Walls owned three female dogs, two black and white greyhounds and one red Irish fox terrier.  

Irish terrier in left foreground

Michael first obtained a licence for the Irish terrier in 1912. Up until then, he only ever had one dog, or at least only one dog licence. It was always for a greyhound, usually a black and white or blue one. He purchased the licence in Swords, during the last few days of March, every year from 1892 to 1914, except 1906. It was the licence granted in 1892 that was most interesting.

Michael Byrne, Dog Licence Register, Swords courthouse, 1892
Michael Byrne, Dog Licence Register, Swords courthouse, 1892

On 29 June 1892, Michael Byrne married my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Mahon, the only child of James and Margaret (McDonnell) Mahon from Yellow Walls, Malahide. Michael’s address at this time was also Yellow Walls. At some point, around the time of his marriage, he moved into the Mahon family home, and the Byrne family have lived there ever since. Their marriage certificate was the very earliest document, so far found, relating to my great-grandfather’s existence. The dog licence, purchased in 1892, was dated three months prior to their marriage - only three months - but prior to their marriage nonetheless. Michael’s address was shown as the Swords Road, the road leading from Malahide to Swords, partly running through the townland of Yellow Walls. Although he did not purchase a dog licence in Swords in 1891, or earlier, this proves Michael owned a greyhound before his marriage. 

It means: either, Michael did not own a licenced dog prior to 1892, irrespective of when he moved to Malahide and nothing else will be learned from the country’s dog licence registers.  Or, it means, he purchased his dog licences elsewhere, prior to 1892, and the dog licence registers of another courthouse might yet hold the key to his origins. The search is on...

This story is continued further at Just another brick-wall.

Source: ‘Ireland Dog Licence Registers, 1866 – 1914’, index and images, Findmypast (subscription site).  

Dog image: From paintings by Louis Fuertes in Ernest Baynes, The Book of Dogs, National Geographic Society, Washington D.C., 1919, The Internet Archive. 

Previous posts about Michael Byrne:  Terrazzo Byrne! and Black Sheep Sunday ~ an obtuse crime 

© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy


  1. It never ceases to amaze me how ingenious the Irish must be, in order to trace their family history. The paper trail there is certainly a challenging one! Who would have thought to rely on dog license requirements to find one's ancestors?!

  2. Needs must, Jacqi, it certainly makes it interesting though.

  3. Isn't it interesting how we have to pursue all sorts of "weird" records to unearth ancestral information. I'll have to see what's on FMP for my Clare rellies.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!