With the recent news that FindmyPast has been awarded the contract to digitise the English & Welsh 1921 census, my thoughts have turned again to the next Irish census. We were busy having a War of Independence in 1921, so skipped the census.
The next one was taken in 1926, the first census of the Irish Free State. 15 years had passed since the previous return, during which time we’d seen massive social change, a world war, the Easter Rising, the Spanish flu pandemic, and become our own sovereign nation. To say that this census is important is a massive understatement.
Normally a census is sealed for 100 years so we might have to wait until 2027 but there is precedent. Both 1901 and 1911 were released in the 1960s, initially paper returns were made available, then microfilm, and later online and for free. Further precedent can be seen in the UK’s early release of their 1911 census and the 1939 Register, which redacts information on people born in 1915 or later, if their subsequent death has not been recorded.
There have been several commitments by previous governments to release 1926 early but no work has actually been done. It seems the Central Statistics Office has other priorities. Their website only shows the statistical data for 1926. You can read much more about the background on CIGO’s website and on Claire Santry’s Irish Genealogy Toolkit.
I would argue that the fire in the Public Records Office in 1922, which caused the destruction of so much 19th century census material has actually made the CSO complacent. In other countries, corresponding bodies prepare and release census material every decade or every 5 years depending on how often they were conducted. Because our 19th century records were lost, the CSO is not in the habit of this. 1901/1911 wasn’t in their remit. Even if they are to release it on time in 2027 (never mind early) work needs to be done, extra staff need to be hired. The returns are still paper in boxes. They need digitisation and transcription. Furthermore, from 1926 onwards, there will be a census to release every 10 years until 1946, when we went to 5 yearly censuses.