The destruction of Ireland Census Records
Most of Ireland’s early census records were lost due to a number of separate actions and incidents.
The 1861 Ireland Census and the 1871 Ireland Census were destroyed shortly after they were taken for confidentiality reasons, and the 1881 Ireland Census and the 1891 Ireland Census were pulped during the First World War.
Then, during the Irish Civil War of 1922, a major explosion and fire at the Four Courts Building in Dublin, which housed the Public Record Office of Ireland, destroyed most of the remaining archives of Ireland including some records that dated to medieval times. This fire destroyed the majority of the returns for the 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851 Ireland Censuses.
As a result, the 1901 and 1911 Ireland census records are the only pre-partition census records to survive in a good state and mostly intact.
Where to search?
Ireland census records can be searched free of charge on the National Archives of Ireland website. You can also view what survives of the 1821-1851 Ireland census records.
The search facility on the National Archives of Ireland website is very useful and you can search the actual census images by place by choosing the Census Year, County, District, Townlands/Streets and finally by House Number or Surname. You can then view the original census form as a PDF image. Very useful if you want to look up details of nearby properties and neighbours of your Irish ancestors. Here are the relevant National Archives of Ireland census search pages:
Whilst Great Britain has conducted a nationwide census every decade since 1801, Ireland started a little later in 1821.
In the 20th Century, no Irish censuses were held in the following ‘census years’:
- 1921 census: no All Ireland census due to the War of Independence.
- 1931 census: no Northern Ireland census.
- 1941: There was no UK census.
These are the additional censuses held in Northern Ireland after partition:
- 1926 census: this census was held in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State. North and South diverged from each other in subsequent censuses. Unfortunately, the 1926 census records for Northern Ireland were destroyed. The 1926 census records for the Irish Free State are due for release in January 2027.
- 1937 census: Northern Ireland held another separate census. Northern Ireland then converged with the rest of the UK from the 1951 census onwards. The release date for the 1937 census records for Northern Ireland has not been fixed.
Ireland census returns – system of collection
Unlike the rest of the UK, Ireland census returns were always completed by the householder, whilst the enumerator simply completed statistical information. So where census returns do survive, they are always in the hand of the householder. This was a system not adopted in England and Wales until the census of 1911.