Thursday, April 7, 2011

Ireland's Census 1813 - to date

On Sunday last every householder or the adult member of every household in the country completed a Census Form as part of the 2011 Census of Ireland.  The 24 page document included a host of questions which will keep statisticians and analysts busy for some time compiling statistical information on topics as diverse as the nation’s daily travelling arrangements and our educational standards.

It’s a far cry from the first census of the island of Ireland which was commenced on 1st May 1813.  That census was not completed by March 1815 and as a result was abandoned.  The first completed Irish census was in 1821 and every 10 years since then a census has been taken of the Irish population.

Civil and religious authorities have always been anxious to calculate the numbers of their subjects and we can go back as far as 1660 to find the first attempt to do this in Ireland on a national basis.  Sir William Petty who had arrived in this country as part of Oliver Cromwell’s army was appointed Surveyor General in 1652 and as such undertook what came to be known as the Down Survey.  This was a mapped survey of lands forfeited following the 1641 Rebellion and was used by Petty to give what was understandably a very rough estimate of the Irish population.  He would later compile population estimates based on Poll Tax Returns for 1660 and they were published by the Irish Manuscripts Commission in the 1930s under the title ‘Census of Ireland 1659’ edited by Seamus Pender.  Poll taxes were introduced following the Cromwellian campaign and provided for every adult over 15 years of age to pay a tax which varied from 2 shillings to 8 pounds, depending on one’s status.

Later population calculations were based on hearth tax Returns.  This tax, amounting to 2 shillings, was imposed on every hearth, fireplace or chimney and returns were made on a parish basis.  The civil authorities used these hearth tax returns to compile population figures and like the earlier calculations based on poll tax returns the results are now considered unreliable.

A religious census was carried out in 1731 by parish ministers to determine the number of Catholics, Church of England and other religious groupings in each parish.  Organised at diocesan level the exercise was not very successful and was repeated 13 years later with enumeration this time the responsibility of the hearth tax collectors.  The resulting returns were used to compile population estimates which however were never deemed to be other than approximations. 

The first official census on the island of Britain was in 1801 but Ireland was not included despite the earlier passing of the Act of Union.  Ireland was similarly excluded from the 1811 Census and the first Irish census commenced in 1813 was never completed.  Decennial censuses have been conducted in Ireland since 1821 but the accuracy of the earlier censuses have been called into question.  Enumerators who conducted the 1831 census were paid according to the numbers counted and understandably the suspicion arose that overzealous enumerators were less than honest in making returns.  By the time the 1841 census was taken local police were employed and the census form that year was changed dramatically to include questions relating to housing, education and other matters. 

Unfortunately many of the census returns for the 19th century were lost when the Four Courts was destroyed by fire in 1922, while other returns were destroyed by government order.  The 1901 and 1911 census returns were recently made available on the internet in what proved to be a very popular move, indeed so popular that I noted a very recent mention of the possibility of making the 1921 census returns available to the public in the near future.  If this is done it would be a break with the long established tradition that census returns are not released for public scrutiny for 100 years.  Nevertheless it would be welcomed by everyone, especially those interested in family history.

The census of 1911 showed Roscommon born Patrick Moran working and residing in Stan Glynn’s public house at 42 Duke Street, Athy.  Moran would later move to Dublin where he joined the Irish Volunteers and was part of the Jacob’s Factory Garrison under Eamon de Valera during the 1916 Rising.  He was on active duty on Bloody Sunday when British intelligence officers were shot.  Moran was arrested and was executed in Kilmainham Jail on 14th March 1921.  His body was disinterred and re-buried in Glasnevin on 14th October 2001 with others including Frank Flood and Kevin Barry.  Patrick Moran will be the subject of a lecture in the local Arts Centre in Woodstock Street on Thursday, 27th April.

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