Over the years I’ve been researching my family and the surname Heenan I’ve encountered a wealth of records. None have been more unusual than those documenting Irish dog licenses.
Who would have imagined that I would get to know what dogs my long lost cousins in County Limerick used on their farm? They had a distinct preference for collies just like the one in the photograph. That isn’t surprising since this is a breed intended for working and herding livestock, especially sheep. Collies are considered highly intelligent, extremely energetic and very obedient. Perfect working dogs for a farmer.
Dog licences were introduced into Irish law in 1865. The intention was to make it easier to identify the owners of dogs that were causing problems, for example by worrying sheep or damaging property, The first licences were issued in 1865. It cost 2 shillings for each dog but the applicant had to pay an extra 6 pence in administration costs.
In the first year more than 350,000 licences were issued across the Republic though this dropped to an average of 250,000 licences in subsequent years. The majority of these were for working dogs – collies used as sheep dogs, mastiffs as guard dogs and terriers as hunters. But there was also a growing fashion for owning a pet so the records also show licenses issued for lapdogs and some toy breeds.
Many of the licence applications record the name of the dog. In one part of County Offaly (known at the time as Queens County) Prince was a popular name in 1866, as was Captain, Jess and Watch.
Looking at the records for the whole of the Republic, the majority of the applicants with the surname Heenan were in Tipperary, Cork and Waterford counties. Within Cork, many of these applicants to the court at Michelstown were from individuals who actually lived just over the border in County Limerick, either at Knocknascrow or Coolattin (the place where my own Heenans had their land).
If you’re interested in finding out whether your Heenan ancestors had dogs, take a look at the Irish collection on Find My Past.