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Thursday 22 February 2018

Online census offers a glimpse into lives of Peig, Joyce and Pearse

Nicola Anderson

THE time for revolution and courageous patriotism still lay ahead for Padraig Pearse in 1901, who at the tender age of 21 was head of his family and a law student at the Royal University of Ireland.

In neat looping script, he diligently detailed his family's census return, noting the presence of an elderly visitor to their Sandymount home that night and the widowed status of his mother, herself just 44.

It was the year Queen Victoria died and the year Irish Nationalist Thomas O'Donnell was prevented from addressing the British House of Commons in Irish.

Meanwhile, on the Great Blasket Islands, Margaret Guiheen, otherwise known as writer Peig Sayers, as the only adult in her household able to read and write, filled out the form on census night, March 31, 1901, with an inky, flowing pen.

She was aged 30 and was living with her husband, Patrick, their three children, and her husband's parents, brother and sister, describing herself as a humble "fisherman's wife".

It would not be until 35 years later that her autobiography, a staple of the national curriculum for many years, would be written.


Now available at the click of a mouse, the online census of 1901, launched yesterday by Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport Mary Hanafin, provides an illuminating and highly intriguing snapshot of a moment in Irish history.

Over 4.5 million individual records from the returns was made by some 850,000 households on census night in 1901.

"They are a fascinating resource for genealogists, local historians and other scholars and everyone who has an interest in tracing their heritage and roots," said the Ms Hanafin.

It is the earliest surviving complete government census returns, the vast bulk of earlier census returns having been destroyed in the Customs House fire of 1922. Other materials were also destroyed due to bureaucratic carelessness over the years.

The census records outline details under the categories of first name, surname, relation to head of family, religious profession, education, age, sex, rank/profession or occupation, marriage status, where born, whether the individual spoke Irish or English or both and if an individual had a disability.

Examining some of the online records at the National Archives, Ms Hanafin described the €3.78m digitalisation of the census as an excellent source both for the history student and the genealogical researcher.

The prospect of being able to "trace your forefathers back to their home country, town, village and even street is now at your fingertips", she said.

Irish Independent

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