It’s a mild evening, a week before Easter in 1901. Constable Griffith Jones is at home in Cork Street in Passage West after a long day spent collecting census forms.
He settles into his armchair with a cup of tea and takes a gulp. “You can’t bate a good cup of tea” he pronounces and gives his moustache a thoughtful twirl. From his bag he pulls a sheaf of census forms that he has just collected from a boat in Maulbaun in Cork Harbour. He scans through the pages. There are more than seventy names on the forms, some from Ireland but a good scattering come from North America and Europe. One entry catches his eye. ‘Maluis Matins’ from Manila. “Manila, no less. That’s a quare one” says Griffith “And a Mohammedan to boot.” He puts down the forms and lights his pipe. “A quare one alright”
It’s fascinating to speculate what Maluis Matins thought of his time in Cork Harbour. It’s unlikely he would have been able to get halal meat in Passage West for example. A quick phone call to Bertie’s Butchers in present-day Passage West confirms that, thankfully, halal chicken and lamb can be sourced “no problem at all”.
It’s unlikely there was any halal anywhere else in Ireland either in 1901. One of many nuggets of information that the ‘online-ification’ of the 1901 census gives us is that there were, apparently, only two followers of the Islamic faith on the entire island. And we’re not really sure about the second. Walter Gordon Seymour of Ballymore Castle, Co. Galway also claims to be a ‘Mahomedan’. This sort-of landed gent may have been a bit of a character. Under the ‘Deaf/Blind/Dumb and Imbecile/Lunatic/Idiot’ column he has written “Fairly Sane”. By 1911, one of his four sisters has clearly prevailed upon him to stop the messing and he has reverted to ‘Irish Church’ with no further reference to his sanity.
Walter Seymour wasn’t the only one to change religion. Consider the curious case of the Swan family. In 1901, George lived with his wife Mary, their children Mary and George Junior and George’s brother Thomas in a house on Sackville Street in Dublin. For Religion in 1901, someone the house has written very forcefully “Not Roman Catholic Idolator”. Ten years later and they are “Roman Catholic”. What happened in between?
One clue might be that by 1911, the brother Thomas has moved out. Perhaps it was his little stunt with the census form that was the last straw. Did George take Thomas aside and say “look bro, this stuff with the census – hey, I’m cool with how you roll but Mary was all like ‘OMG what’s the deal with Thomas puting all that mad stuff in the census form. I’m like sooo embarassed’. ….So aaaanyway, we think you should get your own place. Maybe a nice tenement somewhere?”
Things changed for Edward Dwyer from Thurles also. In 1901 he was the only person in the country claiming to be a falconer. By 1911, he was described as a ‘lunatic’. Was being the only person in the country on whose arm falcons would land too much for his mind to bear?
The past really is another country. The four million or so people on this island who were asked to fill out the 1901 census were faced with a form which was stern and to-the-point. There were twenty instructions on how to fill out the ‘Occupation’ field. If you had no profession or trade, it simply wasn’t enough to describe yourself as a ‘Gentleman, Esquire’. You had to give a bit more detail. If you worked in the home and didn’t do anything else, the powers-that-were didn’t seem to be interested. “No entry should be made in the case of those engaged solely in domestic duties at home.” There wasn’t even a ‘Calor Cosengas Housewife of the Year in those days.’
Some went to extraordinary lengths to describe their occupation. Mr Henry Corby of St Patrick’s Place in Cork was a medical professional of some sort and BOY did he want everyone to know it. The tiny box for stating one’s occupation on the 1901 form was crammed with “Professor of Midwifery at Queens College Cork, B.A. M.D. CK Royal University of Ireland Physician and Surgeon”. By contrast, 98-year old Nora Cronan from Banteer has ominously included her occupation as “Mother-In-Law”
In about five years time we’ll have the digitisation of the 1916 edition. Given that the 1916 census would have been collected around April, a few notables would have been absent, unless someone was collecting forms from Boland’s Mills. Looking further into the future, in 2111 what will people find strange when they read the online results of Sunday’s census?
“Driving a car! LOL-bots! They didn’t even have teleporters in those days?!”
“Look, they’re asking about whether people speak Irish – that must have been before they banned it”
“And the currency is euros. I wonder how many euros in a jedward?”
“OhMyGoogle, IMFland has changed so much in 100 years!”
Census Day is on Sunday April 10th. The 1901 and 1911 forms can be viewed at www.census.nationalarchives.ie.