International Institute of Genealogical Studies


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Irish Landed Estate Records:  Piepowder, Anyone?

By Deborah Dale, Student

My binder, full of material from the course, Irish: Land Administration Records  felt somewhat heavy after eight weeks of studying.  I carried it to my desk, to the open spot between several stacks of files, along with some just brewed coffee.

Parkes Castle Ireland. Courtesy of

Parkes Castle Ireland. Courtesy of

At the window I paused to look at the gray sky and wondered if it resembled the color over County Waterford — on what was perhaps a cool January morning in 1851 – when my 3rd great grandfather Michael Higgins, a Roman Catholic tenant farmer, could have walked the length of the land he occupied.

I opened my binder to the module about Irish landed estate records (Module 4), which had been for me the most interesting, not only because these records include lists of tenants, but also because I had been suddenly, but enjoyably, catapulted into the history of a word I knew nothing about:  piepowder.

I will explain in a few moments.  First, a couple of things about landed estate records:  1) they can be used as a substitute for Ireland’s nineteenth century census returns, which were mostly destroyed in the Four Courts fire of 1922, and 2) even though Module 4 gives a description of the most common estate documents, it does not fail to mention the difficulties a researcher may encounter during the search process.

The module also mentions the right of Irish landowners to hold manorial courts.  In Ireland, these consisted of the court-baron, the court-leet and the court of piepowder.

Piepowder?   At first reading, my eyes scrolled to the footnotes for an explanation.  Who knew that a French term meaning “dusty feet” was associated with the word piepowder and the trying of cases involving travelers from out of town (mostly merchants)?

A series of questions emerged: did traveling merchants in Ireland often trespass estate boundaries?  Were Irish courts of Piepowder named after English courts of piepowder?  If so, how did the English courts, which had been associated with markets and fairs, become associated with Irish estates?  Did Irish estates hold markets and fairs?  Did my ancestor Michael Higgins attend them?  These and other questions were sparked simply by reading the material from the Irish: Land Administration Records course.

Now, the morning is long over and I feel some sense of accomplishment:  the assignments for this course have all been submitted and I will take the exam shortly, my first at the intermediate level in the Irish records program.



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