Roll on 2027, when I can have a good snoop at 1926 census!

We can look forward to having a good rummage through the past of our great-grandparents and grandparents when the 1926 census returns will be released for public inspection in January, 2027, so says Kathriona Devereux
Roll on 2027, when I can have a good snoop at 1926 census!

A female piper performing at a Feis at the Mardyke, Cork, in July, 1926. The census that year was the first in Ireland since 1911.

I LOVE a census - a snapshot of a population and exercise in future planning, or an opportunity to nosy at the lives and living arrangements of our ancestors.

One thing we can thank the British empire for was rigorous note-taking. The census of the Irish population was taken every 10 years from 1821 until 1911.

Unfortunately, very few of these returns survived, most being destroyed in the fire at the Public Record Office at the beginning of the Civil War in 1922. 

Imagine what wealth of information was lost; if, instead, we were able to search digitised archives online and trace our relatives back to before the Famine!

No census was taken in 1921 during the War of Independence, the nascent Irish state was preoccupied with getting the machinery of society up and running once the British left, so the work of census-taking didn’t resume again till 1926.

In that 15-year gap between 1911 and 1926, Ireland had changed utterly; endured the Great War, rode the wave of nationalism and republicanism, fought the War of Independence, and suffered the Civil War. The trauma of those years is hard to fathom.

To date, 15 censuses have been taken since the founding of the state, initially every ten years and then roughly every five years since 1946.

The census due in 1976 was cancelled as an economic measure and the census due to take place in April, 2001, was postponed due to foot and mouth disease.

A different disease postponed last year’s scheduled census; the Central Statistics Office believed that undertaking the huge logistical effort of a census was too difficult during pandemic restrictions and might not deliver the robust returns needed.

The 1901 and 1911 censuses are available online and we can look forward to having a good rummage through the past of our great-grandparents and grandparents when the 1926 census returns will be released for public inspection in January, 2027. The internet and digitisation of records has made exploring (or snooping) on the lives of others so much easier. With much talk of 1922 commemorations and previous censuses, I decided to look up notable political figures living in Cork in 1911.

Tomás MacCurtain was living with his wife Eilís at 19, Nicholas Street, with their two-year-old daughter Siobhán and son Pádraig who is noted as “under 1 month”.

Terence MacSwiney filled in the census in Irish as Toirdhealbhach Mac Suibhne and he was at a house on the Blackrock Road with his sister Máire and his brother on the night of Sunday, April 2, 1911.

Back then, did either of those two men or their families have any idea of what lay ahead in the next nine years, and how their entwined future destinies as ill-fated Lord Mayors of Cork and their premature deaths through murder and hunger strike would change the course of Irish history forever?

But what about people closer to home? My current house was built in 1938 so I’ll have to wait until 2046 to find out who lived in it back then, but my first house was a tiny cottage built for workers from the distillery and brewing industries and I was interested to find out who was living in the terrace more than 100 years ago.

Alas, there was no return for the address in 1911, but there was a married couple, Edward and Julia, living in the house in 1901. He was 50 years old and she was 35. What happened to them in the next ten years? Did they move?

They had very distinctive surnames, but I couldn’t find any record of either of them anywhere in Ireland in 1911. Did they die? I didn’t find any record of their deaths either. Perhaps they were among the tens of thousands of people who emigrated?

I guess I’ll never know what happened to Edward and Julia, but I was very interested to see their next door neighbours, a married couple in their twenties, lived with four children under the age of six and also managed to squeeze in a 25-year-old ‘boarder’ into what would have been a two-room cottage. Where did he sleep?!

It makes my reason for moving to have ‘more space’ laughable. How our ancestors from 111 years ago would wonder at the comfort we live in!

Cork City Libraries currently have an interesting exhibition called Ordinary Lives 1922. It describes various aspects of life, from sport, to school attendance, to newspaper ads for Ford cars costing £170! It shows the 50,000 strong crowd at the Grand Parade to support Michael Collins’ pro-Treaty speech and includes pictures of children in laneways, and details how over-crowding and impoverished living conditions were part of the city’s housing crisis.

“In the 1920s, efforts had been made by the City Corporation of Cork to address this housing crisis through the Cork Housing Scheme. Contemporary newspapers are awash with calls for tenders for the building of new housing”.

So, while life in Ireland has changed completely since 1922, Corkonians are again dealing with a housing crisis.

One hundred years ago, Irish people were reeling from the revolutionary years and dealing with the economic and social hardships of early 20th century life.

It’s important to recognise the great strides taken by the country, while acknowledging the founding ambitions of the early republicans to “equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens” is still to be realised.

It’ll be interesting to see what the next 100 years brings, and what our ancestors will be saying about us in 2122 when this year’s census results are revealed.

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