A fascinating resource is the Petty Court Session records. These are on microfilm at the Family History Library (FHL): www.familysearch.org and now online and indexed as “Petty Session Order Books, 1851-1910”: www.findmypast.ie The originals are at the National Archives of Ireland: www.nationalarchives.ie for the Republic of Ireland only. This archive of records covers some 5.2 million cases. The goal of Findmypast is to also digitize the court records for Northern Ireland.
I know it is difficult to find social history for a given townland, which leaves gaps in trying to write about the lives of your ancestors. The Petty Sessions Court records tell the townland the parties were residing, the accusation, and the sentencing. This means you can piece together a very intimate history of your townland by exploring the court cases involving the residents. Remember, townlands are small, and everybody knew everything. Your ancestors would have known about a court case involving the neighbors! Whether it’s theft, violence, or any other seedy activity, the Petty Sessions Court can give you details found no place else.
An area was served by a court seated in a town. A list of the towns can be found on the Findmypast website. You can use the “County” field in the search which brings up everybody with the name you are looking for. At that point, it will give you the details andyou can purchase the entry or look at the FHL microfilm. The index will give you the names of witnesses, defendants and complainant.
In conclusion, these records are worth your time, not only when looking for a particular person or case, but also when trying to reconstruct the social history of a townland and its people. These are a truly amazing if not seedy source!