Downshire Papers

Repository: Public Record Office of Northern Ireland

Identity Statement

TitleDownshire Papers
Archive ReferenceGB 0255 PRONI/D671
Web Link to this Entry
Creation Dates1523-1960
Extent Mediumc 50,000 documents + volumes


Creator(s): Hill family, Marquesses of Downshire

  • Administrative History ↴

    ... A hundred and twenty years ago - when a parliamentary enquiry established the ownership of the country's land - Lord Downshire's property, amounting to some 115,000 acres in Ireland and a further 5,000 in England, was among the most extensive in the United Kingdom. By far the greater part of it was situated in Co. Down, in scattered groups of townlands which stretched from the outskirts of Belfast in the northern part of the county to Newry in the south and Dundrum in the east; the area around Hillsborough, however, known as the Kilwarlin estate, was the core. North of Belfast, there was another estate in and near the town of Carrickfergus in Co. Antrim. The remaining Irish property was at Blessington in Co. Wicklow and at Edenderry in King's County (Offaly). Blessington was about twenty miles by road from Dublin, Edenderry twice that distance from the capital by the Grand Canal. Not only was the property extensive, and located within fairly easy reach of major centres of population, but it was also comparatively productive, unlike some estates of similar acreage in the western part of the country. Co. Down, though not the most fertile, was certainly one of the best cultivated areas in Ireland; and though almost half of the land at Blessington was mountain, and much of that at Edenderry was bog, there was a sufficient quantity of good land at both to yield a good return in rent. At its greatest, in the 1870s, the income from the Irish estates was not far short of £80,000 a year. The founder of the family's fortunes was Moyses Hill, who came to Ireland as a landless adventurer in the following of the 1st Earl of Essex, during the reign of Elizabeth I. After service under the 2nd Earl of Essex and then under Mountjoy in the wars against Hugh O'Neill, he attached himself to Sir Arthur Chichester. The first land he acquired - a grant from the crown in 1592 - was in the vicinity of Larne in Co. Antrim. In 1608 the corporation of Carrickfergus granted him some land within the liberties of the town, and he had an interest in the customs of the port until 1619. In addition, he leased land from Chichester in Islandmagee and at Malone on the river Lagan, building forts in both places. The Carrickfergus property, augmented by two substantial purchases in the early nineteenth century, became an estate of just over 5,000 acres. The family's connection with Co. Down began in 1607 when Moyses Hill bought the manor of Castlereagh and eight townlands from the unfortunate Con O'Neill. Later, Hill and Sir James Hamilton acquired a larger tract in the same area from O'Neill; and in 1622 he was one of the parties in a legal conflict over O'Neill's property. The lands thus obtained, with some small additions at a much later date, formed an estate of some 13,000 acres. Hillhall was the site of the bawn which marked its southern extremity. From another native family, the Magennises, Hill acquired in similar fashion the beginnings of the Kilwarlin estate, which was to be the largest and most important of the family's possessions. Brian Oge Magennis in 1611 sold seven of his forty-three townlands to his new neighbour. By the time of his death in 1630 Moyses Hill had achieved the ambition of every landless younger son. Source: W. A. Maguire (ed.), Letters of a Great Irish Landlord: A Selection from the Estate Correspondence of the 3rd Marquess of Downshire, 1809-1845 (PRONI, 1974) -Extracted from a full account of the Downshire Papers in the PRONI catalogue:
  • Archival History ↴

    Received from the Marquis of Downshire, London
  • Immediate Source Acquisition ↴


Content & Structure

  • Scope & Content: Hill family, Marquesses of Downshire ↴

    The Downshire papers basically consist of family, political and general correspondence, 1707-1868, and estate correspondence and legal and financial records, 1523-c.1953, relating to all the Irish estates (and some of the English) of the Downshire family, which were managed from the Irish seat and estate office at Hillsborough, Co. Down.
    The collection consists of a large amount of correspondence, estate records including deeds, leases, rentals and accounts, maps and plans and musical scores.

    -Extracted from a full account of the Downshire Papers in the PRONI catalogue:

  • Appraisal Destruction ↴

    Permanent Retention
  • Arrangement ↴

    The collection is arranged as follows:
    D671/A Accounts books
    D671/C Correspondence
    D671/D Deeds
    D671/H Musical scores
    D671/L Leases, post 1750
    D671/LE Leases, pre 1750
    D671/M Maps
    D671/O Official records
    D671/P Plans
    D671/R Rentals
    D671/V Vouchers

Conditions of Access & Use

Access Conditions The collection can be consulted in the reading room in PRONI in accordance with PRONI's rules and regulations.
Conditions Governing ReproductionItems may be copied for personal research use only. If a researcher wishes to publish any documents from this collection, a request must be submitted in writing to the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.
Creation Dates1523-1960
Extent Mediumc 50,000 documents + volumes
Material Language ScriptEnglish
Finding Aids A descriptive list is available to search online at: Archive Web Link →

Allied Materials

Publication NoteLetters of a Great Irish Landlord: A Selection from the Estate Correspondence of the 3rd Marquess of Downshire, 1809-1845, edited by W. A. Maguire (PRONI, 1974).

Descriptive Control Area

Archivist NotePRONI Archivist
Rules/ConventionsISAD(G): General International Standard Archival Description. 2nd ed. Ottawa: International Council on Archives, 2000. National Council on Archives: Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names. Chippenham: National Council on Archives, 1997. UK Archival Thesaurus (UKAT)
Date of Descriptions41699