A manuscript-by-manuscript listing of the holdings of the office can be found at www.irishtimes.com/ancestor/browse/genealogical/list.htm.
A number of sets of manuscripts are direct products of the official functions of the office and may be termed official records. On the heraldic side, the principal records are the Visitations (GO47-9), the Funeral Entries (GO64-79), the official grants and confirmations of arms (GO103-111g) and the Registered Pedigrees (GO156-82). In addition to these, four other manuscript groups reflect duties that Ulster's office acquired over the centuries. These are the Lords' Entries (GO183-8), Royal Warrants for Changes of Name (GO26 and 149-54A), Baronets' Records (GO112-14) and Gaelic Chieftains (GO610 and 627).
The visitations were an attempt to carry out in Ireland heraldic visitations along the lines of those the College of Arms had been using in England for almost a century to control the bearing of arms. The results were meagre, confined to areas close to Dublin and almost certainly incomplete even for those areas. The following places were covered: Dublin and parts of Co. Louth, 1568-70; Drogheda and Ardee, 1570; Swords, 1572; Cork, 1574; Limerick, 1574; the city of Dublin, 1607; the county of Dublin, 1610; and Wexford, 1610. They are indexed in GO117.
The Funeral Entries, covering the period 1588-1691, make up some of the deficiencies of the Visitations. Their aim was to record the name, wife and issue of deceased nobility and gentry, along with their arms. In addition, many of the entries include very beautiful illustrations of the arms and armorial devices used at the funeral, as well as notes on the ordering of the funeral processions and ceremonies. An index to the entries is found in GO386.
One of the later effects of the lack of visitations was to make it difficult for Ulster to verify from his own records that a particular family had a right to its arms. This gave rise to the practice, peculiar to Ireland, of issuing 'confirmations' of arms, which were taken as official registrations and were dependent on an applicant being able to show that the arms in question had been in use in their family for three generations or a hundred years. The records of these confirmations, and of actual grants of arms, are found in GO103-111g, dating from 1698 and still current. Earlier grants and confirmations are scattered through the manuscript collection; a complete index to all arms officially recorded in the office is to be found in GO422-3. Hayes's Manuscript Sources for the History of Irish Civilisation reproduces this and includes a summary of any genealogical information; this is now online at sources.nli.ie.
As the right to bear arms is hereditary, the authentication of arms required the collection of a large amount of genealogical material. This is undoubtedly the origin of the Registered Pedigrees, GO156-82, but the series very quickly acquired a life of its own, and the majority of entries are now purely genealogical. It is particularly important for the collection of eighteenth-century pedigrees of Irish émigrés to France, produced in response to their need to prove membership of the nobility: admission to such a position carried very substantial privileges, and the proofs required included the signature of Ulster. The series continues up to the present and is indexed in GO469, as well as in Hayes's Manuscript Sources (sources.nli.ie). Partly as a result of difficulties concerning the status of lords who had supported King James ii, from 1698 one of the duties of Ulster became the keeping of an official list of Irish peers, Ulster's Roll. In theory, all those entitled to sit in the Irish House of Lords, whether by creation of a new peerage or by succession, were obliged to inform Ulster before they could be officially introduced to the house; in practice, the vast bulk of the information collected relates to successions, with the heirs supplying the date of death and place of burial, arms, marriages and issue. The series covers the period from 1698 to 1939 and is indexed in GO470.
To regulate the assumption of arms and titles, after 1784 it became necessary to obtain a warrant from the King for a change of name and arms. From 1795 the Irish House of Lords made it obligatory to register such a warrant in Ulster's office. The result is the manuscript series known officially as 'royal warrants for changes of name and licences for changes of name'. Most of the nineteenthcentury changes came about as a result of wills, with an inheritance made conditional on a change of name. Hayes's Manuscript Sources (sources.nli.ie) indexes the series. A similar need to regulate the improper assumption of titles produced the Baronets' Records, GO112-14. A royal warrant of 1789 for 'correcting and preventing abuses in the order of baronets' made registration of their arms and pedigrees with Ulster obligatory. The volumes are indexed in GO470.
The records of 'Gaelic Chieftains' in GO 610 and 627 are the consequence of a
revival instituted in the 1940s by Edward MacLysaght, the first Chief Herald of
Ireland. He attempted to trace the senior lineal descendants in the male line of the
last recorded 'Chief of the Name', who was then officially recognised as the
contemporary holder of the title. The practice met with mixed success, as the
collapse of Gaelic culture in the seventeenth century left an enormous gulf to be
bridged, and the chieftainships were not in any case originally passed on by
primogeniture but by election within the extended kin-group, the deirbhfhine.
Nonetheless, more than twenty chiefs were recognised, and the records of the
research that went into establishing their right to the title are extremely
interesting. Following a controversy over the recognition of MacCarthy MÓr in
the 1990s, the practice was discontinued.
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