Did your Kerry Ancestor pawn a coat, own a wandering pig, or ‘commit a breach of the Sabbath’?  While Genealogy in its purest form is defined in the English Dictionary as ‘a line of descent of a person or family from earliest known ancestor’, my training in Family History and Genealogy goes much further.  We don’t just concentrate on the dry details of date of birth, marriage and death without trying to find out how the person lived, in what circumstances, what was going on in their lives around their Kerry location at the time they lived and/or emigrated.   And lots more – if we can get a flavour of their personality, all the better.

One way of doing this is checking the Petty Session Registers.

The Petty Sessions handled the bulk of lesser legal cases, both criminal and civil. They were presided over by Justices of the Peace, who were unpaid and often without any formal legal training. The position did not have a wage, so the role was usually taken by those with their own income – in practice usually prominent landowners or gentlemen. Justice was pronounced summarily at these courts, in other words, without a jury.

Even if you do not find your particular ancestor featuring, the details contained will give you an understanding of life as it was lived in Kerry at the time.  For instance I was researching a Robert Spring of Tralee recently.  On the ‘dry facts’ Robert Spring lived in the townland of Clounalour, Civil Parish of Ratass,  at the time of Griffiths Valuation 1853.   He appeared to be an eminently respectable pillar of the community and I am sure he was, but by his appearances at the Petty Sessions, you get an entirely different perspective.  He was usually the Complainant, taking cases for assault and defending counter assault, summoning neighbours for causing a  ‘nuisance’ and on two occasions taking actions against servants who did not ‘fulfil their agreements’ to work for him.

Your ancestor does not even need to be ‘eminently respectable’ to be mentioned.  Anyone and everyone seem to have had the ability to take a case and if they weren’t taking it, they may have been drunk and disorderly, ‘used language likely to lead to a breach of the peace’, or just trying to get back an item they had pawned, so they are a really worthwhile source of background information to your Kerry Ancestor or Kerry Genealogy search.  

1854  Frederick Malcolmson of Clounalour summoned Thade Spring and Robert Spring for assault at Clounalour on 27th August. The case was postponed to the Quarter Sessions.

1856 Robert Spring, Clounalour Complainant against Jeremiah Clifford Defendant: ‘the Defendant unlawfully kept one Julia Sughrue, in his Service, she being employed by the Complainant as Servant upon an agreement which she did not fulfil and you being cautioned not to keep her’.  The Defendant did not appear.


1855 Robert Spring, Clounalour, Complainant against Hastings Peet, Araballa, Defendant: ‘The Defendant allowing a quantity of Water and nuisance to remain on the road at Clounalour for some time past, the Defendant being Contractor for the repairing of same’.  Referred to the County Surveyor.


1854 Alexander Thompson of Tralee, Sanitary Inspector  summoned Thade Driscoll, Shopkeeper, for ‘ two pigs, property of the defendant, wandering around Tralee’   Mr. Driscoll was fined two shillings and one shilling and sixpence costs’.

1854 John Scollard, Tralee, Labourer was the complainant against John Ruttle, Tralee, Pawnbroker alleging that the defendant was ‘detaining a coat which was pawned in your office around Nov 12. Mr. Scollard won his case ‘without costs.

1855 Lucy McCarthy, Taillavideen, Widow, Complainant against John O’Sullivan, Lohercannon, Labourer:  ‘Five Geese and one ass, Defendant’s property committed trespass and damage on Complainant’s grass at Tallavideen on the 19th and 20th inst.’.  Defendant party not appearing.

1870 Sub-Constable Matthew Moloney Complainant against Michael Lawlor of Baltygarron, Tralee Defendant: ‘The Defendant committed a breach of the Sabath by allowing his horse and cart to be employed at the Spa drawing seaweed’.  Dismissed without costs.

1893 Mary Mullins, Moyderwell, Married Woman, Complainant against Bridget O’Connor, Boherbue, Widow, Defendant: ‘That Defendant on 1st June 1893 at Tralee, County Kerry, did use towards Complainant abusive and threatening language, Complainant seeks to have Defendant bound to keep the peace and be of good behaviour’.  Defendant to keep the peace and be of good behaviour towards all of her Majesty’s Subjects and particularly towards the Complainant for the space pf twelve months and to enter into recognisances to that effect. Fined £10 and two sureties of £5 each, in default to be imprisoned in the County Kerry Gaol at Tralee for the period of one calendar month.

1854 Rev. Anthony Denny, Complainant against William Glavin, Tralee, Defendant: ‘The Defendant did disturb and annoy the Clergyman when performing the Church service and also disturbed the Congregation on 5 Feb at Tralee Church.’  No appearance.

All Petty Session Records from FindMyPast.ie