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Ireland's 1926 census

The 1926 census of Ireland has been approved for early release by the Government

The 1926 Irish Census

1926 census: Latest news on the release

The release of Ireland's 1926 census returns was approved by the Irish Government, according to a statement by Heritage Minister Jimmy Deenihan on 9 March 2012 (see below). While there are still some hoops to jump through (not to mention some behind the scenes crossing of fingers), it was initially considered likely that the process to release this wonderful resource to the public would continue. However, by mid-2013 most genealogists had reluctantly accepted that an early release was becoming less and less likely.

1926 census of Ireland, examples

Example from the Irish 1926 census
Click image to download full-size view

22 April 2013

Time marches on and still there's no sign of the legislation being in place anytime soon. At the recent Clare Roots Society Conference 'Gathering the Scattering', the concensus seemed to be that progress had not just stalled, it was almost in retreat. The issue of the CSO (see 16 November update, below) rumbles on. Realistically, if the legislation is not in place by the end of this year, it is difficult to see the 1926 census of Ireland being available for public consumption by 2016, the date originally set for release.

16 November 2012

The legislation is still not in place, although the Minister continues to say that the Government is behind the plan to release the records before 2016.

With no sign of progress, concerns began to be expressed during the summer that the plan had stalled. Some were of the opinion that the issue of 'redaction' (see right hand column) was the likely cause of the delay and could possibly bring the entire plan to a standstill.

On 1 November, Minister Deenihan assured representatives of the Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations (CIGO) that redaction is not an obstacle to the release of Ireland's 1926 census. He confirmed that he would still like to see the project on course for release in 2016.

Mr Deenihan did, however, indicate that one of the unresolved issues – of itself not directly related to the 1926 census – relates to an ongoing court case involving the Central Statistics Office and access to census data. He indicated that it is still his intention to bring a memo to Cabinet about the 1926 census in the near future. He added that, in the meantime, he would be keen to find ways of funding the preservation, cataloguing and digitation of the original records.

9 March 2012

Responding to a question raised in the Daíl, Mr Deenihan said: ‘The legislation [to digitise the census] has been approved by the Cabinet. Following its enactment, I will have to come up with the resources to implement it. I cannot start the process until the enabling legislation has been passed. It is hoped it will be ready in June or July.’

Steven Smyrl, CIGO’s executive liaison officer, was delighted to learn of the Minister’s statement. ‘This is terrific news and more than justifies the long campaign which CIGO had led to convince those responsible that the 1926 Irish census returns are an invaluable source for the history and genealogy of the Irish people.

‘The returns, compiled 86 years ago, amount to a ‘family snapshot’ taken just after a succession of tumultuous events in the history of this island. First the Great War, then the 1916 Rising, quickly followed by the War of Independence, partition and the creation of the State and then the fateful civil war!‘

Free online access xxx
is expected to be
part of the package

Exactly where family historians will be able to access the returns remains to be seen although it is thought unlikely that free online access won't be part of the package.

As to timescale, the Minister has previously said he'd like the resource to be online by 2016, in time for the anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Whether or not any redaction of information (to obscure personal data of people who were children when enumerated) will be insisted upon, is another detail yet to be confirmed.

What is important right now is that plans to release these records have shifted from the ‘wish list’ towards enactment.

What information will these census returns reveal?

As in all the earlier censuses, the 1926 census of Ireland required that name and surname, relationship to head of household, marital status, language, age, religion and profession, be provided for each member of a household. However, this census also collected the following:

  • Age in years and months
  • Town or townland of birth
  • ‘Orphanhood’ ie whether a child had lost one or both parents
  • Name and address of employer
  • If unemployed, normal profession/trade plus period of unemployment
  • Present marriage duration (both men and women to answer)
  • Total number of children born in present marriage (both men and women to answer)
  • Number of living children and step children under 16 for all marriages (both men and women to answer)
  • Size of the household’s landholding, if any, in acres.

Obviously, questions like these help provide us with fabulous detail about our ancestors and may well help many Irish genealogists break down brickwalls or solve family mysteries.

This page will be updated as the 1926 census progresses to release.

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1926 Irish census – the background story

After the foundation of the State, the first census compiled was in 1926. Subsequent enumerations were also compiled in 1936 and 1946. After this time, the census year was moved to 1951 and each decade thereafter, up to and including 2011. So-called 'Short Censuses' were also compiled in 1956,1966, 1979, 1986, 1996 and 2006.

The Statistics Act 1926 made no provision for the eventual release of historical census records. However, neither did the Westminster Acts which related to the 1901 and 1911 censuses, but this didn't stop them being 'officially' made available for public perusal in 1961.

And then in 1993, a new bit of legislation – The Statistics Bill 1993 – slapped a 100-year embargo on census data and made provision for it then to be released to the National Archives. This was done without any consultation among interested parties or stakeholder groups.

Through effective lobbying led by the Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations (CIGO), an amendment via the Seanad (Upper House of Parliament) to the 1993 Bill reduced the embargo to 70 years. The Dail (Lower House) reversed the amendment.

Quoting no clear or firm evidence, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) argues that if census returns are not closed for 100 years it will be difficult to ensure that the public will comply wiht future census campaigns. The flaw in this argument is that while all censuses compiled since 1993 automatically carry a 100-year embargo, no such commitment was given under the earlier 1926 Act.


The CSO is convinced that the Irish public cannot easily differentiate between a 100-year closure and a similar policy that closes data until, say, 100 years after an individual's birth. The obvious compromise is to redact!

Census records compiled under the 1926 Act, which includes all censuses to 1991, could be opened to the public after 85 years in a redacted form, with all so-called 'sensitive' information removed.

It's worked elsewhere!

UK: The UK introduced an embargo of 100 years in 1961. However, as no promise had been made about everlasting privacy in England and Wales when the 1911 census was taken, the Information Commissioner decided in 2006 that the public had a right of access. From that date the census data began to be released — in redacted form.

The above is a slightly edited version of CIGO's 1926 Census Briefing Document and is reproduced here with the kind permission of CIGO.

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