Gavelkind in Ireland

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Under Brehon Law Gavelkind, also known as partible inheritance,[1] was a species of tribal succession, by which the land was divided at the death of the holder amongst his sons. Sons of concubines, but not daughters, were included in the division. The Normans gave this Irish inheritance law the name Gavelkind due to its apparent similarity to Saxon inheritance in Kent.

Often the father prescribed the division before his death. A variant occurred whereby the youngest son divided the land into equal parts. The eldest chose first, followed by the second and so on until the youngest received the remaining land.

In 1703, in the reign of Queen Anne, a law was enacted (2 Anne c6 (Ir)), which is commonly known as the Gavelkind Act.[2] The aim was to ensure that, when a Catholic died, his estate was divided equally among his sons, unless the eldest son converted to the Protestant faith whereby he could inherit all the land. The law was intended to reduce the size, and therefore influence, of Catholic landed estates.[2]


  1. ^ Connolly S.J (1998). The Oxford Companion to Irish History. Oxford University Press. p. 219. ISBN 0-19-211695-9. 
  2. ^ a b Andrew Lyall; Land Law in Ireland; ISBN 1-85800-199-4
  • Robinson, On Gavelkind
  • Digby, History of the Law of Real Property
  • Pollock and F. W. Maitland, History of English Law
  • Challis, Real Property.

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