History counts

IT’S a pity that neither President Barack Obama nor Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II will be on southern Irish soil until next month.

If either of them had decided to risk April showers and come next weekend they would have stood a good chance of being included in the 2011 census for the Republic of Ireland.

By law, anyone staying overnight on Sunday must be included on the Census. Like all residents of the Republic on that night, they will have to complete a detailed form that includes questions on gender, marital status and religion.

For historians, the results of Census 2011 will form a neat comparison with one taken 100 years ago. Ireland is unusual in that our original household manuscript returns survive. These are the forms filled out and signed by the head of each household on census night. Most other countries only have enumerators’ books, where family details were transcribed by the person charged with collecting the census information.

The 1911 Census covered the whole island of Ireland, being part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. It was taken on Sunday, April 2 of that year. The form sent to each household was known as Form A. This was completed and signed by the head of household, in most cases the husband and father.

Filling in the form was compulsory and failure to do so could result in a fine. A refusal to fill in the forms was occasionally used to signify an act of defiance, as used by the Suffragettes to highlight the denial of votes to women.

The information demanded for each individual staying in the house included name, age, sex, relationship to head of household, marital status, occupation, literacy level, religion and county of birth (or country, if born outside Ireland).

There was no Irish-language version of the form available at the time. However, the native tongue was given at least tacit recognition. Although filling out the form demanded a certain fluency in English, an individual’s ability to speak Irish was also recorded. While, for instance, the Dingle peninsula embraced a culture where Irish remained the language of the people, the 1911 Census shows a growing command of English, with many households bilingual. In some cases, where forms were filled out in Irish, the name of the head of household appears in English on the back of the form.

Political correctness was a long way off in 1911 and a number of disabilities were crudely noted on the form, revealing a less than sensitive attitude. The designations were: “deaf, dumb, blind, idiot, imbecile and lunatic”.

These were not considered offensive terms at the time, says Dr Catriona Crowe, head of special projects at the National Archives of Ireland and manager of the Irish Census Online Project, which has placed the 1901 and 1911 Censuses online free of charge over the last four years. “We still have health questions in modern day censuses, but they are more sensitive. The phraseology used in 1911 was not seen as insulting at the time and, in any case words like ‘lunatic’ had very precise meanings,” she said.

Three additional questions were asked of married women in 1911: the number of years they had been married to their current husband, the number of children (born alive) and the number of surviving children.

Given the harsh conditions experienced by the poor in Ireland at the time, it was not unusual for there to have been a high mortality rate among young children. Dublin tenements, in particular, housed tens of thousands of extremely poor families who lived in appalling circumstances.

While the census returns do not give the full picture, they offer a revealing snapshot of the lives of inhabitants in the early part of the 20th century and a glimpse of the social conditions. In particular, they show the contrast between urban and rural, rich and poor.

For instance, the census return for the Marquis of Waterford, which he completed himself as head of the household, shows that there were 15 people residing at his ancestral seat, the Curraghmore Estate near Portlaw, on April 2, 1911.

Under the column “Rank, Profession or Occupation” the Marquis put “Peer” while his wife and two youngest children are returned as having no occupation, rank or profession. The return also reveals the presence of one nurse and five servants, all able to read and write.

The 1911 Census also shows that 14 people stayed the night at the Dublin home of Martin and Annie Forristal in Nottingham Street. It shows that the couple, originally from Waterford, had been married for 13 years and had seven children, all of whom had survived infancy.

Martin, a railway clerk, moved the family to Dublin in 1905-6. Their seven children were Margaret, Kathleen, James, Annie, Ellen, Joseph and Thomas. Living with the Forristals were Thomas and Joseph Goulding. Both bakers, they were probably Annie’s brothers, though this is not stated. Joseph was a recent widower with three young children so it looks as if he moved in with his sister and her family.

In rural Ireland, the primary occupation recorded was farming and some of the holdings were very small indeed. The land was the sole source of income for the Moriartys from Ballyferriter, Co Kerry. James and Mary Moriarty had three sons and a daughter. James, who filled out the form, designated himself as a farmer and at first recorded Mary as “farmer’s wife” but that description is crossed out in ink, either by James or the census enumerator.

According to the return, they were all “Catholic religion” and could all read and write, even the youngest, James Jnr, aged 10. The whole family was bilingual, speaking both Irish and English.

Despite the growth of tourism in the county, there was no escaping the reality of poverty in Kerry. In the 1911 returns it was evident everywhere — in the number of families who lost children in early life, in low levels of life expectancy and the numbers who emigrated.

An unlikely exception to this poverty was Valentia Island. After the laying of the first trans-Atlantic telephone cable between Valentia and Newfoundland in Canada, more followed and the cable company there drew in highly-skilled operators who sent and received messages between Europe and America.

The returns also show regional differences. Galway was a city of shopkeepers, never having the industrial base of Cork nor the tourist draw of Kerry and by 1911 the traditional Claddagh fishing industry was declining as a result of the increase in the number of trawlers. It was very much a city of tribes, many of them merchants.

A return for the McDonaghs of Flood Street records Martin McDonagh, aged 40, as head of household with him, his two brothers and two sisters all unmarried. It also records the presence of one live-in shop assistant and five “domestic servants” — a common description at the time but unlikely to be found in the 2011 Census.

Compared to the rest of the country, Belfast was a boom town and attracted people from all over the island, quickly growing to become the biggest city in Ireland.

Among the migrants was Neal Gallagher from Donegal, who filled in the census form for himself, his wife Mary Ellen and their children Columba, Daniel and Kathleen.

Mary Ellen was from Armagh, the oldest child was born in Cavan and the other two were Belfast-born.

The migratory pathway traced out by the family, one shared by many in Belfast, is evident in the return.

Jobs and economic prosperity were the big draws to the large urban centres and Belfast was the largest at the time. Despite the relative prosperity enjoyed by those living in the city, child mortality was still a fact of life. Mary Ellen, though aged only 30 in 1911, had already lost two children. She was married at the age of 19, not unusual for the time.

Neal was a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary, was Catholic and rented a red-bricked terraced house on a mainly Protestant street off the Shankill Road. He was also an Irish speaker.

Along with other historical census results, the household returns and ancillary records for the 1911 Census are in the custody of the National Archives in Dublin, although the Central Statistics Office, headquartered in Cork, is now tasked with conducting modern-day censuses as part of its statistical brief.

The original set of returns was lost during the Civil War in the Four Courts fire in Dublin in 1922 but many transcripts survive.

Areas well represented in the surviving copies are north Cork, Limerick, Derry, Louth and Wicklow.

Some of these have been printed, some are in the Genealogical Office in Dublin, others in the National Archives and the Representative Church Body Library. The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland in Belfast also has copies.

In addition to returns for every household in the country, the 1911 Census contains returns for police and military barracks, public and private asylums, prisons, hospitals, workhouses, colleges, boarding schools and industrial schools.

* For more on the 1911 Census, see www.census.nationalarchives.ie


THE Humanist Association of Ireland and its Northern counterpart, the Humanist Association Northern Ireland, have urged people of no religion to tick the “No Religion” or “None” boxes on census forms in both jurisdictions. It is also claimed that the religion question in the Republic’s census form is “outrageously biased in favour of religion” and online discussion forums fret that there is no way to express “lapsed Catholic” or similar.

These concerns resonate with past censuses where determining religious affiliation was considered an essential component. In 1766, the Irish Parliament instructed all Church of Ireland ministers to prepare a list of householders and their religious affiliation (Church of Ireland, Catholic or Presbyterian) in their respective parishes. The ministers were required to include information about any Catholic priests or friars active in the area. This was at a time when the Penal Laws were at their height.

The work was done in the spring. Some ministers made a numerical summary only while others took greater care to show names of each householder and his religion.

Poverty, fashion and even canine residents recorded

FOR Dr Catriona Crowe, head of special projects at the National Archives of Ireland, getting the Irish Census Online Project up and running wasn’t just a job, but a passion, as it helps reveal the prevailing social conditions.

“For instance, one of the poignant things that both the 1901 and the 1911 Censuses reveal is the appalling level of child mortality,” she said.

“It was worst in the cities because even the poorest people in the countryside were able to grow fresh food and many kept pigs even on very small holdings. The situation in Cork, Dublin and Belfast was often much worse. Child mortality in those cities at the time was running over 50% in some families.

“Many large families also lived in very crowded circumstances. Children didn’t just share a bedroom, but often a bed and you will find large families living in a single room.”

The returns also give an indication of the everyday lives of people, even revealing a passion for fashion among the better- off. “People tended to follow the fashions worn in Britain and, of course, that meant that fabric was very important. If you do a search in the archives for dressmakers, say, in Cork, you will find quite a lot.”

It has taken years to get the 1901 and 1911 Censuses fully digitised and that might not be a bad thing, says Dr Crowe.

“If we did this 20 years ago, I think we would have got a different reaction. Back then many people would have felt ashamed to learn that they had poor ancestors. Nowadays, people feel far less ashamed of, say, having a granny who reared a large family in poor circumstances. Now she would be regarded as heroic.”

Censuses often throw up odd facts, among them one Dr Crowe found in the return for a Dublin family. “The Cullen family of Blessington Street put their dog on the census return. He was called Tatters, named after the dog in The Shaughraun by playwright Dion Boucicault.”

Cities and the census

DUBLIN: Dublin in 1911 was a mass of contradictions, says the National Archives research team. Regarded as the second city — after London — of the British Empire, Dublin was also the first city of nationalist Ireland.

“This was a city of genuine diversity, its many complexities defying easy explanations. Rich and poor, immigrant and native, nationalist and unionist, Catholic, Protestant, Jew and Quaker, and so many more, were all bound together in the life of the city,” the research team says.

Dublin was also a port city, though not in the grand manner of Belfast, Liverpool or Glasgow. On April 1, 1911, the Titanic was launched from the Harland and Wolff Shipyards in Belfast; no project of this scale could be undertaken in Dublin. “There was no major ship-building industry, no vast industrial sector, no sense of a place driven by the impulses of manufacturing entrepreneurs and their workforce.”

In parts, Dublin was also incredibly poor. A notoriously high death-rate was attributable, at least, in part to the fact that 33% of all families lived in one-roomed accommodation. The slums of Dublin were the worst in Britain and Ireland.

BELFAST: Belfast in 1911 had an Ulster Tiger economy and was enjoying the greatest boom in its history. Whereas wealth in Dublin and other Irish cities was usually rooted in trade, land or lineage, wealth in Belfast was the product of industry.

“The transformations of a century of industrialisation had entirely redrawn its scale and style. In 1808, only around 25,000 people lived in Belfast; by 1841, this number had increased to 70,000; and by 1911, it had reached 385,000. That was an increase of 10% from the previous census in 1901. It was now, and by a considerable distance, the largest city in Ireland.”

Linen mills and shipbuilding were its most significant economic activities. By the start of the 20th century, more than 35,000 people worked in textiles in Belfast.

“The iconic Belfast industry, however, was shipbuilding. By 1900 Harland and Wolff employed 9,000 people. In 1911 they launched the Titanic, then the largest ship in the world, which sank so dramatically on its maiden voyage.”

The people of the city were divided by religion and the influx of tens of thousands of Catholics brought increased tensions. In 1784 Catholics had constituted just 8% of the population of Belfast; by 1911 that figure had risen to 24%. By contrast, 34% of the population was Presbyterian, 30% was Church of Ireland and 7% was Methodist.

CORK: Cork in 1911 was the largest county in Ireland, with a population of 392,104, but the city did not dominate Cork in the same way Dublin city dominated Dublin.

“It was also an extraordinarily diverse county: Catholic, but with a significant Protestant presence; rich in the quality of its agricultural land, but with a rugged landscape in the west of the county; and wealthy in parts, but with a large relatively impoverished majority. Indeed, there was much about Cork in 1911 which suggested disunity, rather than unity.”

Cork was divided in 1911 between a small but powerful unionist community, a broadly nationalist majority, and a small number of radical republicans.

The story of Cork in the second half of the 19th century and in the first decade of the 20th century is, in many respects, the story of Irish emigration. It was from the port of Queenstown (now Cobh) that many Irish emigrants left for the United States. Between the end of the Great Famine of the 1840s and the 1911 census about 550,000 Cork people emigrated.

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