A window into life in 1901 was opened recently with census records going live online, including family details of some of the greatest Irishmen and women.
The National Archives has put 4.5 million individual returns, from 850,000 households across the 32 counties on the night of Sunday March 31, 1901, free on the internet.
It is the earliest surviving complete population record creating an invaluable tool rivalling demand for the 1911 census among the 70 million-strong curious diaspora.
The name, age, sex, place of birth, religion, occupation, education, marriage details, disabilities and language spoken of millions of ordinary folk sit side by side with intriguing details of some of history’s better known names.
James Augustine Joyce, a 19-year-old student, lived with his three brothers and six sisters in Fairview, north Dublin, while Margaret Guiheen, better known among Leaving Certificate students as Peig Sayers, was living with her husband Patrick and her in-laws on the Great Blasket Island.
Patrick Pearse was only 22 but the head of his household in Sandymount Avenue, south Dublin.
Living with his two bothers and sisters, including Willie, who was also executed after the Easter Rising, the patriot, later known as Padraig, filled in the form in English.
His return for the 1911 census was as Gaeilge.
Another of the rebel leaders, Eamon de Valera, was at the time an 18-year-old boarding student, named Edward, at Blackrock College.
The site was launched by Mary Hanafin, Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, who said the records were a fascinating resource.
“These records, conserved and held in the National Archives, represent an extremely valuable part of the Irish national heritage,” she said.
“They are a fascinating resource for genealogists, local historians and other scholars and everyone who has an interest in tracing their roots.”
The census is the earliest population record available after the vast bulk of returns were destroyed over time, with many lost in a fire at the Public Records Office during the Civil War in 1922.
Others were classed as surplus and pulped to make new paper during shortages in the Second World War.
Catriona Crowe, with the National Archives, said many older census records were also lost unnecessarily.
“We managed to destroy, in various ways, our wonderful 19th century collection, half in the Four Courts in 1922 during the Civil War and the rest due to bureaucratic stupidity later,” she said.
Other famous and searchable names include Terence and Mary McSwiney, Micheal Davitt and Hanna Sheehy, later Sheehy-Skeffington.
Both the 1901 and 1911 records contain information on citizens’ ability to read or write. The head of the household filled in the form or, if they could not write, they marked the form with an X, witnessed by the census enumerator.
Together the massive volumes of records, available on the National Archives website give an insight into life at the turn of the century from information on people living on city streets, in townlands and in Dublin tenements.
by Ed Carty