Irish census returns for 1861 were intentionally destroyed by the
government some time after statistical information about the population and
Irish society had been collaged from the manuscripts. A decade later, the exercise was
Interior of an abandoned cottage in County Clare
While we may enjoy slinging mud at governments for their
mistakes, this decision wouldn't have raised an eyebrow back then when Irish
genealogy was of little interest to any other than the gentry.
Even so, these events in Ireland's census history still cause many a
genealogist to weep, not least because not one of the original paper returns survive for 1861-1871, either.
Not a scrap.
Surprisingly, earlier Irish censuses (for 1821 to 1851) have a marginally higher survival rate (and I
do mean marginal!).
From a genealogical point of view, the only glimmer of hope from the 1861-1891 censuses of Ireland lies in JUST TWO TRANSCRIPTIONS made before the original papers were
- 1861: The
only surviving record for 1861 is a transcription for one parish –
Enniscorthy in County Wexford – and even that is for Roman Catholic families
- 1871: All
that survives of the 1871 Irish census records is a transcription for the
County Meath parish of Drumcondra & Loughbracken. This can be viewed free,
courtesy of the Irish Genealogical Research Society
- 1881 & 1891:
When it came round to the Irish census returns for 1881 and 1891, the potential value of
keeping the original paperwork had, perhaps, been recognised and they were
retained after they had been analysed. Sadly, a later decision to pulp them as
waste paper was taken during the First World War and none of the originals
survive. Neither do any transcriptions for these years. In other words, there
are absolutely no surviving records available for either the 1881 or the 1891 Irish
Some statisical information was gathered from the 19th-century census
records before they were destroyed, and I've included some ad-hoc snippets
Sickness and Infirmity in 1881
The 1881 census record shows there were 71,328 persons — one in 73 of the
population — classified as sick or infirm on the night of 3 April. Enumerators
worked to the following classification:
Sick' meant suffering some form of temporary ordinary sickness (whether or
Sick' meant those afflicted by permanent and usually incurable maladies
such as deafness, dumbness, blindness, insanity and idiocy.
there was a classification for 'Lame and Decrepit' in this census, records show
that most of these persons were healthy and useful members of their
communities. They were not therefore included in the Sick and Infirm
Of the sick and infirm, 40,090 were 'temporarily diseased'. This compared
with 44,052 in 1871, reflecting, according to the official report of the time,
a considerable inprovement in the general sanitary condition of the people.
Some 31,238 were classified as 'permanently sick', up from 27,560 ten years
The numbers suffering from Smallpox were down (from 122 in 1871) to just 39,
of which two-thirds were in the province of Leinster. There were also 213 cases
of Measles, 317 of Scarlet Fever, 7 of Diptheria, 197 of Whooping Cough (more
than half in Ulster), 1501 of unspecified Fever, 377 of Dystentery, 2 of
Cholera, and 3,500 of Rheumatism.
A further 2624 were suffering from Consumption, also known as phthisis or
Tuberculosis (TB), representing a 5% increase on 1871's census record findings.
Old age or Debility was blamed on the illness of 6,632 people, while 2,338 were
recorded as suffering the effect of some kind of accidental injury.