Since most Irish census records had been lost or destroyed, the documents from 1901 provide the social and economic history of Ireland in the early twentieth century, as well as the country’s oldest surviving census data.
I was given a tour of Ireland’s 1901 Census website this week – www.census.nationalarchives.ie. The records are fully searchable and provide an interesting look at life in Ireland at the time. Content is organized by name, age, religion, occupation, birth county and several other categories. If you have an ancestor who lived in Ireland at this time, they are probably in the records, and you can find their age, occupation, religion, illnesses, marital status, county of birth and the languages they spoke.
Once you find those relatives, you can take things even further and search the records of families in their area and gain a better understanding of their communities. And best of all, you can download and print a copy of the original form which includes the signature of the head of the household. Absolutely amazing and absolutely free.
Tourism Ireland provided these examples of a few of the names from the census who stand out:
- James Joyce who was a student of 19 living with his family in Fairview.
- Peig Sayers, later a famous author, returned under her married name of Margaret Guiheen, living with her husband Patrick and her in-laws on the Great Blasket Island.
- Padraig (Patrick) Pearse was at age 22 the head of his household living in Sandymount Avenue in Dublin. The return also covers his brother Willie (also executed in 1916). In the 1901 census Pearse made the return in English, however by the time of the 1911 return he makes the family return in Gaeilge.
- The return for Edward (Eamonn) deValera shows he is an 18 year old boarder student in Blackrock College in Dublin.
- Terence and Mary McSwiney, living in St. Mary’s terrace in Cork City. Elected as Mayor of Cork during the War of Independence in 1920, MacSwiney was arrested on charges of sedition and imprisoned in Brixton prison in England. His death there in October 1920 after 74 days on hunger strike brought him and the Irish struggle to international attention.
• Michael Davitt, founder of the Land League and journalist who lived in Mount Salus Road, Dalkey. His son Cahir (aged 6 on census night) later went on to become President of the High Court.
• Hanna Sheehy and her sister Mary, living in Belvedere Place in Dublin. Hanna later married Francis Skeffington, who was murdered in 1916, and Mary married Tom Kettle, who died in the British Army during World War I.
My favorite example is the census record for Irish political leader Eamon De Velera (he went by Edward then). On the form, he gives his birthplace as New York… rather than simply noting the country name as requested. And interestingly, his wife… the woman who was teaching him to speak Irish… is listed as speaking “Irish and English.” Meanwhile, Eamon is listed as “English and Irish.” Some hypothesize the designation is quite intentional.
Search the archive for yourself at www.census.nationalarchives.ie.