Monthly Archives: January 2010

Where Were You in 1911?

The massive success of the digitization of the 1911 census records of Ireland is testament to the endeavour of the critically underfunded National Archives of Ireland.

The project has seen the full Census of 1911 made available free of charge on the National Archives website. ( The documents include A Form, which was the basic household return, filled in and signed by the head of the household. There is one for each household in the country. The information sought was: name, age, sex, relationship to head of the household, religion, occupation, marital status, county or country of birth.

The census also records an individual’s ability to read or write and ability to speak the Irish language, and whether deaf, dumb, blind, and before the age of political correctness or even understanding of mental health, idiot, imbecile or lunatic.

The B1 form contained details of the buildings and their class and inhabitants in an area or townland. The B2 form was a register of out offices, farm steadings and other buildings in possession by the family.The form (Enumerator’s Abstract) and other institutional reports (hospital population, asylum and mental home populations, shipping returns etc.) complete the survey of the Irish population and demography.

The 1901 census is  in the process of being digitized and will be available in 2010. These are the only two surviving complete census returns for Ireland. Following the shelling and destruction of the Four Courts, Ireland’s previous public record office, by Pro-Treaty forces in 1922 during the Civil War, which basically equates to a war crime, the entire census records for Ireland from 1821, 1831,  1844 , 1851 were destroyed and with it the archival evidence of the Irish population and its evolution.

Census records of 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891 were destroyed by the British authorities — apparently in the belief that copies had been made.  These actions and deliberate onslaught on the culture and identity of the Irish people have served to horrendously limit what we know of Irish life, demographics, industry, customs, language and memory. Thankfully today, with the aid of digital surrogates, and with the efforts of the National Archives, a loss such as was suffered should never happen again.

The last few years has seen a huge surge in people in Ireland and the U.K. in particular seeking to trace their familial past and discover how they came to be in their particular place in life, owing from the actions of their ancestors. The popularity of programs Who Do You Think You Are by R.T.E. and B.B.C. has helped bring genealogical history into the mainstream. When I delved into this practice, I, like thousands of other Irish people, found my great-grandfather travelled to New York at the turn of the twentieth century. has an incredible online database of those far-flung immigrants who crossed the treshold in New York seeking a new life.

From the Ship Manifest of my great grandfather’s ship I know he was a farm labourer in Limerick, he boarded at Cobh (Queenstown) he had $3 in his pocket, he could read and write and was travelling to meet his sister in the States. While I can’t confirm his literacy levels I can confirm there was no sister! So, theat lie enabled his passage through customs, out of Ellis Island and into a new life in America.

On a visit to the Ellis Island museum a few years ago, I read some testimonies of those who travelled to America seeking a new life but who instead  were met with a very different reality and eventually returned to Ireland, like my great-grandfather.

One such story was from an immigrant from Kerry who returned home after travelling to New York. He said, “Before we left we were promised the American streets were paved with gold. Having been there I can tell you three things: 1) The streets are not paved with gold. 2) The streets are not paved at all and 3) they want the Irish to pave them.”

Have a look and see where your family past can bring you.

RMS Lucania, the ship my great-grandfather emigrated aboard.

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Posted by on January 12, 2010 in Culture, Diaspora, History


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Buried Treasure!……in Templebar.

Working in Dublin City Centre, I often find myself passing a dreary lunch hour (it is January after all and currently resembling a scene from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road) browsing around different book shops in town. While all the usual big names and established stores are fine, especially when I am armed with vouchers from Christmas!, It’s well worth checking out charity bookshops. A particular favourite is the Oxfam bookshop on Parliament Street, just off Templebar.

It really is well organised and well stocked and is mercifully all arranged which eliminates the rummaging through piles of rubbish which other stalls and shops have. I have found plenty of great reads for a couple of euro that otherwise I would be shelling out a hell of a lot more for. The real beauty of these shops is that not only are you doing your good deed for the day but also getting something back other that good karma!

Also, you just never know what you will find. In that shop on Parliament Street alone I have bought for just over 50 euro the Collected Works of Padraic Pearse  – Complete Political Speeches  and the Collected Plays, Poems and Stories. Even as a student I could never afford to buy these volumes, if I was lucky enough to even find them! A couple of editions are currently for sale online for about 200-250 euro

With the centenary anniversary of the Easter Rising fast approaching, these and all 1916 material will skyrocket in value. Just look at the items sold at the Adams’ Independence auctions in Dublin for the last few years. However, I can categorically state that the Pearse volumes are NOT FOR SALE!

Another lucky find was a late nineteenth century edition of the memoirs of Susanna Cibber, the daughter of the celebrated actor and director Colley Cibber, he being one of the famous names at Smock Alley theatre during the early eighteenth century. The price….2 euro!

It just shows, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure!

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Posted by on January 12, 2010 in Culture, History, Theatre


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Theft of Auschwitz sign

The theft of the sign at the entrance gate to Auschwitz in December was a contemptuous effort, for whatever reason, by those who tried to remove a potent symbol of our failed humanity. “Arbeit Macht Frei” which translates as Work Will Set You Free has remained in place at the entrance to the Nazi camp since its liberation in 1945. This sign has represented the memory of more than just the atrocities carried out within its barbed fences and dilapidated huts, it has represented the strength of spirit of those who entered the camp, died in the camp and also those who survived the camp. For anyone who has walked into Auschwitz with the famous sign cast in iron over your head, it is truly is a haunting experience. What is a much more unique experience is walking back out again, by your own choice. I had the opportunity to do just this as a visitor to the Auschwitz site, seeing “Arbeit Macht Frei” looming on the horizon, I can simply say it chills you to the bone.
The theft of this sign is an attack on the memory of those whose lives, identity, culture and nations which were  destroyed and scarred by the operations so dutifully carried out at Auschwitz. Though the sign once signified entry and life within this work camp, with freedom coming only by way of death, “Arbeit Macht Frei” has since stood in place to remind the world to never stand by and let such atrocities happen again.

 The slogan reminds all people of the collective memory and responsibility we share to always remember, understand and learn from Auschwitz. Camp survivor and author Primo Levi said, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in numbers to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are…the functionaries ready to believe and act without asking questions.”
Levi also put it: “Human memory is a marvellous but fallacious instrument. The memories which lie within us are not carved in stone; not only do they tend to become erased as the years go by, but often they change, or even increase by incorporating extraneous features”. Auschwitz and similar sites of horrific abuse and enslavement need such symbols of liberation. They stand in place of our own failings and blindness and ensure documented record and artefacts of the past lie in place for future generations to learn from where we have failed.

Image courtesy of


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