George Clooney's direct Irish ancestor, Nicholas Clooney, was "systematically victimised" by the authorities and prosecuted under a long forgotten law for working on the Sabbath, according to newly uncovered court records.

Nicholas Clooney was one of many cottiers in Windgap in Kilkenny in the 1850s who fell foul of "middlemen" who tried to force framers off the land so they could amalgamate small holdings into bigger farms.   

Speaking on Morning Ireland this morning (July 3), genealogist Fiona Fitzsimons said she had uncovered previously unavailable court records which showed "systematic harassment" of the Clooney family in 1852 by middlemen in the aftermath of The Famine.

"There were two court records that show that Nicholas Clooney had been forcibly stopped from planting oats in a field and that his implements had been thrown over a ditch." said Fitzsimons.

Three months later, a second court record showed that Clooney was prosecuted for working on the Sabbath, an old law which the authorities usually ignored but which remained on the statute books.

"Suddenly we saw in late August 1852 the authorities systematically prosecuting all these people in this one parish for breach of the Sabbath," said Fitzsimons. "And when I went back and made a cross comparison with the land records, I realised that all the people being prosecuted were cottiers."

George Clooney no longer has any blood relatives in Windgap but there are remaining members of the extended Clooney family living in the area. Fitzsimons also said that she did not think anyone had told Clooney of these recent revelations about his ancestors 

A free genealogy advice centre has opened in The National Library in Dublin and will run up until the end of September.

Click on the audio link above to hear the full Morning Ireland report.