Ireland List - Irish History

The Irish Famine
1845 ~ 1852

"Truth flourishes where the student's lamp has shown, and there alone..."

W.B. Yeats, 1921


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Table of Contents

Results of Fire and Famine: Census Records 1813-1911

The Official Publication of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, June 1995

Long March : The Choctaw's Gift to Irish Famine Relief


The map above represents pre-famine percentages of literacy and poor (4th class) housing in Ireland circa 1841. This helps set the stage for a short description of 'The Great Hunger' which began in Ireland around the Fall of 1845, continued up to 1851, and ended in the deaths of an estimated one million Irish (or one out of every nine inhabitants). To understand the Great Famine, one must realize the expanding population of early 1800's Ireland and the growing dependency on a single crop - the Potato. To realize why it lasted for five years one must understand the politics, culture and economics of the time, since full crop failures did not occur every year between 1845 and 1850.

In 1800, some four and one-half million people lived in Ireland. By the autumn of 1845, when the Great Famine struck Ireland, there were more than eight million. This was the largest increase in the population of Ireland in its history, an increase estimated at 172%. By the time of the Famine Ireland's population of poor was very high, and its population of landlords was very low (est 5000).

The "white" potato, known today as the Irish potato, originated in the Andean Mountains. In 1532 the Spanish arrived in north Peru and it is speculated that they brought the potato to Europe in the second half of the 16th century. By 1800, the potato had taken root and ninety percent of the Irish population was dependent on the potato as their primary means of caloric intake and as an export.

In September of 1845, a fungus called Phytophthora infestans was infecting Ireland's potato crops, devastating the potato population. More than half the Irish potato crop failed in 1845. This event is what began The Great Famine in Ireland.

The next year, 1846, the crop was destroyed again. By 1847 (Black '47) the impact of the famine spelled doom for Ireland. A large proportion of the population died from starvation or disease, while a great number of the people fled the country, mainly occuring in a five year period between 1846 to 1851. This event is well noted as one of the greatest catastrophes of the 19th century.

While the blight provided the catalyst for the famine, the calamity was essentially man-made, a poison of blind politics, scientific ignorance, rural suppression, and enforced poverty.

Many Irish landlords sent badly needed grain to England, instead of retaining it for the poorer classes (cottiers and labourers). With no crops the peasants could no longer pay rent, so the grain was sent to merchants for export to help the landlords offset their losses. The effects of this were multiplied by the fact that the English parliament was reluctant to send any food to Ireland. One official declared in 1846, "It is not the intention at all to import food for the use of the people of Ireland."

Although the net export of food out of Ireland actually decreased over the Famine period, shipping records indicate that 9,992 Irish calves were exported to England during Black '47, a 33 percent increase from the previous year. Irish grain was exported, while cheap Indian meal was imported to feed the peasants. What was not known at the time, however, was that this meal contained little or no nutrients and only contributed further to the spread of disease. A majority of Famine victims died from malnutrition-related diseases such as dropsy, dysentery, typhus, scurvy and cholera, rather than directly from starvation.

For many the only alternative to disease and starvation, and the only option to eviction from their tenant lands, was emigration. The Passenger Act of 1847 was passed and it granted each emigrant 10 cubic feet and a supply of food and water. Realistically captains didn't obey this act and many people starved or died of disease in cramped quarters aboard the emigrant ships. An estimated one and one-half million Irish emigrated from 1845 to 1851, upwards of 30-45% dying in the "coffin ships" on their journey or shortly after their arrival in their new home.

The overall impacts of the Famine included: the decline of the Irish language and customs (in 1835, the number of native Irish speakers was estimated at four million -- in 1851, only 2 million spoke Irish as their first language) the devastation of the landless laborer class and small tenant farmer. a treeless landscape in many parts of Ireland. the shells of homes that were rendered uninhabitable after the landlords evicted their tenants. a massive decrease in farms of 15 acres and less. The 1841 census showed that 45% of land holdings were less than five acres. Irish emigrants scattered around the globe. Today there are over 5 million people in Ireland, while it is estimated there are upwards of 70 million people of Irish descent throughout the world.

The Mass Graves of Ireland, 1845 to 1850
Click on the map for a larger image"

The source of this map is supposed to be:

The Department of the Army Records Office
London, England

The British Military and the Irish Famine

In an earlier famine, ca. 1770, the ports were closed to food exports and the food stuffs of Ireland remained in that country. In the mid 1840s when the famine hit again, no restrictions on food exports were put in place and the outcome was disasterous for the Irish people.

Instead of closing the ports and keeping the Irish Food Stuffs at home in Ireland, the Military was sent it to help guarantee the safe passge of the Irish food stuffs. Depending on the sources you use, anywhere from 12,000 to well over 200,000 British Troops were assigned to the "Irish Problem".

Now before anyone gets excited at the comment above, please remember that is not being sid that there were definately over 200,000 Troops in Ireland during the Famine Years. The Fact is that no one really knows how many Troops were there and the "Experts" themselves argue over the exact figures. However it is known that 71 Regiments were in Ireland at one time or another during the Great Hunger.

The Map below is clickable. You can click on it to go to a larger version. On this maps are some of the Regiments used to safe guard the food shipments.

The following is a message concerning the Military and the Famine. The Numbers can get to be pretty astounding. With out further adeiu, let's see what it says:

Military Occupation of Ireland

The following information was submitted by Myles Goddard, a teacher and history professor:

In "A Military History of Ireland" (History of the British Armed Forces in Ireland), by Thomas Bartlett, Keith Jeffrey, Cambridge University Press, 1996, there is a map on page 362 which locates 215 British Regiments and Battalions in Ireland during the years of the famine.

In addition, pp. 282 - 300: these regiments were supported by 30,000 militia, and 60,000 - 70,000 armed Protestant yeomanry; 12,000 - 17,000 police augmented the force.

For comparative purposes in regard to the number of men in the regiments, in the "History of the Scottish Regiments", the number of men belonging to regiments was as follows: Black Watch: 552; 79th: 1,460; Loudin Height: 750; Montgomery 77th: 1,460; Johnson 101st: 1,870; Frasers 71st: 2,340; 1st Battalion Highlanders: 2,200 or an average of 1,518 men per regiment.

- Figuring two battalions to a regiment and four companies to a battlion:

215 British Regiments x 1,518 = potentially 326,370 armed men - on the high end.

Figuring 120 men per company and four companies per battalion = 480 men per battalion; 480 x 215 regiments/battalions = 103,200 armed men on the low end.

Plus over 100,000 militia, police, and yeomanry.

Total armed troops in Ireland during the Famine: 200,000 - 426,000 potentially; we would need to know specifics regarding regiment size, timing of deployment and length of service to know more accurately the number of armed men in Ireland at any specific time.

Any insights to better understand these numbers will be appreciated. Please note that the Irish were largely unarmed.

Also, in the "Famine Diary" - Gerald Keegan (a school teacher in Mayo) gave an eyewitness report,

pp. 14 and 15: "Thousands of tons of the best food are being shipped out under armed guards out of every port in Ireland."

p. 16: "there is corn, wheat, meat, and dairy products in abundance. For putting his hand on any of this food a peasant is liable to a prison sent ence, execution or exile."

p. 25. "A third measure that should be adopted is the removal of thousands of police and militia who are here to imprison, execute or send into exile anyone suspected of a vaguely defined offense called treason including stealing a cob of corn destined for export."

p. 37, March 10th 1847: "News has leaked out that England intends to add 20,000 more troops to the already formidable number billeted in Ireland."

In the "History of the Irish Race", Seamus MacManus: "Our town presents nothing but a mass of military and police conveying to and from the court house crowds of famine culprits.

"In "The Great Hunger", Cecil Woodham Smith:

pp. 120. To people desperate with hunger the sight of food streaming out of the country was once more unbearable, and serious riots took place . . . . The British Government now took strong steps to defeat anti-export disturbances, and Trevelyan arranged for the provisioning with beef, pork and biscuit of 2,000 troops, formed into mobile columns "to be directed on particular points at very short notice." Provisions for six weeks were sufficient wrote Trevalyan because,"food riots are quite different from organized rebellion and are not likely to be of long duration."

p, 337: "the government has now poured 10,000 troops into Dublin and during the summer of 1848 17,000 stand of arms with 1,500,000 rounds of ammunition were sent to Ireland. The Inniskilling Dragoons were brought up from Newbridge the Castle garrison was strengthed by two squadrons of Light Dragoons, quartered in the riding school in Lower Castle Yard, two pieces of ordinance were brought into the Castle and the fleet, which had been off Lisbon was ordered to proceed to the Cove of Cork.

p. 338: Five companies of the 52nd and 57th and the Regiment of the Carabiners, were added to the Dublin garrison and two ships of war were detached from the fleet anchored at the Cove of Cork and brought round to Kingstown.

p. 347: In Waterford, three warships: the Dragoon, Merlin, and Medusa were capable of knocking the town to rubble in and hour."

p. 346: 500 men were encamped in Waterford, 400 Killkenny and the 75th Regiment bivouacked in Phoenix Park, Dublin. Formations 'called movable columns' prepared to 'scour the country'; one, which left Dublin for Thurles consisted of 800 infantry, two companies of Rifles, a demi-brigrade of Artillary, and two troops of calvary , and the City of Cork was described by Routh as being "occupied". The troops, however, were not entirely reliable, largely because a high percentage of the soldiers of the British Army were Irish.

p. 347: the Young Irelanders had no organization, no general, no military command, no central authority, no headquarters, no specific plan of insurrection, no treasury, no store of munitions or arms, no accurate information as to the strength of the Confederate clubs. However when William Smith O'Brien was joined in Wexford by the other leaders he too agreed that the only honourable course was to fight, and the Young Irel anders, set about raising the country.

p. 349: There were, however, only 300 rifles and muskets in Carrick-on-Suir, and though the clubs claimed they could turn out about 3,000 men, they were armed only with pikes. British troops in or near Carrick had recently been reinforced and there were now 1,200 men with artillery, two howitzers and two field-pieces, either in the town itself or within an hour's march. The local Young Irelanders refused to attempt a rising - it would be "drowned in blood".

p. 353: All attempts to raise the country had failed and under the suspension of Habeas Corpus Young Irelander after Young Irelander was being arrested by the Government . . . . .The British Government was still convinced of the serious nature of the rising and the wildest rumours circulated in Dublin. William Smith O'Brien was said to have raised 20,000 men and to be marching on Kilkenny, and the Duke of Wellington advised that 10,000 troops should be concentrated in Kilkenny, Waterford, and Carric on Suir to catch any rebel troops in a bag. Something like a panic occurred on Thursday, when The Times reported that Thurles, Clonmel, Carlow and Kilkenny were in the hands of the rebels, railway lines had been torn up and Thurles station was in flames. The report received by "electric telegraph" from Liverpool, proved to be a hoax.

written by Kathleen on Tue Apr 10, 2001
concerning the:Military Occupation of Ireland

Wrong Culprit Blamed for Irish Potato Famine
By Patricia Reaney

LONDON (Reuters) - In a nifty piece of detective work American researchers have discovered that scientists have blamed the wrong culprit for the Irish potato famine that killed a million people and prompted mass emigration in the 1840s.

DNA taken from leaves that had been preserved from the Irish famine showed no signs of the strain of the fungus-like organism scientists had thought caused the catastrophic crop failure that changed the course of history.

Instead the DNA fingered three other strains of the pathogen Phytophthora infestans which had not even been considered.

By identifying the real culprit researchers from North Carolina State University hope to develop better control methods to prevent future famines and grow sturdier plants to resist the pathogen.

"The theory was that the 1b haplotype was the strain that had caused the famine but that work was all based on studies of modern, 20th century DNA from modern isolates (samples)," Dr. Jean Beagle Ristaino told Reuters.

"We went back to the original cultures, or specimens, from the famine. Our work refutes the modern-day work," the plant pathologist and epidemiologist added.


Ristaino developed a diagnostic test using DNA, similar to DNA fingerprinting used to catch criminals. She and her team were the first to use potato leaf specimens dating from 1845-1847.

Their findings, which are reported in the science journal Nature, not only point to a different strain of pathogen but question the accepted theory of where it came from.

Scientists thought the pathogen had originated in Mexico but Ristaino and her colleagues believe the source was more likely to be South America.

They are hoping that by studying the genetic type of the pathogen that occurred 150 years ago they will be able to identify the strain of the organism and its origin and understand how it evolved over time.

That knowledge could be put to good use in prevent future epidemics and in breeding more resistant varieties of potato.

"If we figure out where it came from. Potentially we could help target developing resistance in host plants," Ristaino explained.

Apart from its historical significance, the research has important modern-day implications because the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine is still a threat in many countries in the developing world and new strains are resistant to pesticides.

"Because of this disease more pesticides are applied to potatoes than any other food crop. It's a modern-day problem," said Ristaino.

Potatoes are one of the world's leading food crops. The pathogen is currently harming potato crops in Russia and smaller infestations occur regularly in Mexico, Ireland, Ecuador and the United States.

Nicholas Money, of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, described Ristaino's research as a "remarkable piece of molecular detective work."

"The new findings mean that some ideas about the origin of historical plant disease epidemics will need to be re-evaluated," he said in a commentary in Nature.

Food for Thought!

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!" he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

From the poem:

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809 - 1892)

This poem was written to memorialize a suicidal charge by light cavalry over open terrain by British forces in the Battle of Balaclava (Ukraine) in the Crimean War (1854-56). 247 men of the 637 in the charge were killed or wounded.

Since this is a site for "The Ireland Mail List" and a page on "The Irish Famine", the first logical question would be something like:

"What's this have to do with Ireland and the Irish?".

The Answer to this question is quite simple, the "Charge of the Light Brigade" has virtually "Nothing!" to do with Ireland and the Irish -- however it has a lot to do with British Military Strength ca 1850.

The term "Light", when used in conjunction with Military Terminology, means the Military Unit does not have a full compliment of Manpower.

The "Light Brigade had about 600 men, this means that more men were required to make up a Full Brigade (A full brigade was about 800 to 1000 men on the average).

The English Military in Ireland

During the Famine Years, it is important to know a fairly good estimate of the number of British Troops in Ireland and their purpose for being there. Once again a little bit of knowledge about the military is required.

From 1845 to 1851, the 46th (South Devonshire) Regiment of Foot, the 35th Brigade, and the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry had somewhere between 1952 to 2670 Troops (See Chart below). This is an average of about 2311 Troops per Regiment.

Since the Military works off round numbers, to round up to 2400 Troops as an average is acceptable, for Regiments are rarely fully manned and an increase of 89 troops is not far out of line.

It is said that England had around 215 Regiments in various places through out Ireland. This means that as many as 516,000 troops could have been in Ireland during the years of 1845 and 1851. Remember, the key word here is COULD. :) However, there are other factors to be considered.

The Main Factor is that, most probably, detachments of certain regiments were sent to Ireland. It is a very common practice for the military to deploy smaller sections of it's groups into an area for a "Tour of Duty", or "Temporary Duty". The Troops left at home are used for reserves, to relieve those sent away after a period of time.. this is known as a "Rotation".

So, to cut this 516,000 Troops Figure in half would be a fairly safe step to do (since we lack the actual figures). This takes our figure down to about 258,000 Troops in Ireland, as an estimate.

In the Notes Section, below the chart, it states:

"The British Regiments sent to Australia had a nominal strength of between 800-1000."

Using only 1000 Troops per regiment, you still come up with 215,000 Troops for 215 Regiments.

LOoking at the facts given to us by Kathleen and Mr. Myles Goddard, Myles figured that the number of troops ranged from 103,200 to 326,370.... or an average of 214,785 Troops in Ireland. However, obviously Mr. Goddard did not see the table below, otherwise I am sure the man would have incorporated the figures into his calculations.

In summary, it seems the number of Troops in Ireland during the famine ranged from 103,000 to 516,000 Troops... plus the 100,000 "Support Forces" that were in Ireland which were not actually a part of the military.

Regimental numbers from 1830 to 1857
Regimental NumberDate of issue
1 to 547 before 20/9/1833
548 to 646before 23/10/1833
647 to 768before 23/2/1834
769 to 853 before 8/7/1834
854 to 948before 20/1/1835
949 to 1033before 6/10/1835
1034 to 1179before 15/2/1837
1180 to 1281before 1/4/1838
1282 to 1388before 21/4/1839
1389 to 1448before 4/8/1839
1449 to 1541before 17/6/1840
1542 to 1620before 5/10/1841
1621 to 1751before 15/12/1842
1752 to 1848before 10/10/1843
1849 to 1951before 7/12/1844
1952 to 2057before 23/10/1845
2058 to 2119before 25/2/1846
2120 to 2220before 11/7/1846
2221 to 2352before 11/12/1846
2353 to 2469before 21/10/1847
2470 to 2556before 13/11/1849
2557 to 2670before 2/12/1851
2671 to 2769before 26/3/1852
2770 to 2848before 7/9/1852
2849 to 2948before 9/6/1853
2949 to 3059before 9/2/1854
3060 to 3151before 5/3/1854
3152 to 3267before 17/6/1854
3268 to 3350before 30/6/1854
3351 to 3461before 17/10/1854
3462 to 3553before 16/1/1855
3554 to 3667before 24/5/1855
3668 to 3776before 24/6/1855
3777 to 4165before 29/3/1856
4166 to 4207before 12/6/1856
4208 to 4211before 24/8/1856
From: Regimental numbers of the 46th (South Devonshire) Regiment of Foot, the 35th Brigade, and the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry at


  1. "The British Regiments sent to Australia had a nominal strength of between 800-1000." (From: "
  2. "For soldiers of the British Army this is the primary and predominate military organizational unit. A regiment is commanded by a Colonel and has it's own number and title with distinctive designations that reflect it's own unique historical traditions. These distinctions include such things as the regimental Battle Honours, Colours or Guidon, cap badge, crossbelt plate, collar badge, and buttons. Over time these traditions build the regimental 'family' and 'spirit'. The manpower strength and number of battalions of a regiment has varied throughout history." (From:

Decline in Population by County: 1841-1851
1841 - 1851
Dublin372,773405,000+ 9%75,000
Kilkenny202,420  27,000
Meath183,828  20,000
Tipperary435,553  70,000
Wicklow1 26,14399,00022%13,000
* Various Sources

For Irish views on the Irish Famine, please go to:

The Official Publication of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, June 1995

President of Ireland Mary Robinson Addresses the Choctaw People From Bishinik, The Official Publication of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, June 1995

The president of Ireland visited the Choctaw Nation May 23rd to convey thanks for an act of generosity from the Choctaws to the Irish 148 years ago.

Chief Hollis E. Roberts spoke of his appreciation of President Mary Robinson. "I thank her for coming and recognizing the Choctaw Nation for what was done in the past and what we can do in the future."

The Chief gave the President a gift of a red and white traditional Choctaw dress made especially for her by Oneida Winship, a full-blood Choctaw who is the Director of the Nutrition Program for the tribe.

Chief Roberts also gave President Robinson a silver medallion featuring the Great Seal of the Choctaw Nation, which she immediately placed over her head and wore for the remainder of the day.

From the front steps of the Tribal Complex building, President Robinson spoke to the Choctaw people in their native language, "Chohta I yakne ala li kut na sa yukpa." Then she translated, "I am glad to have come to Choctaw Country."

Apologizing for any incorrect pronunciations, President Robinson said, "Although I have had the honor of being made a Chieftain of the Choctaw Nation, I haven't had much opportunity to practice the Choctaw Language."

She told the crowd that Chief Roberts had given her a book and tapes to help with her Choctaw language lessons.

She began her public address with an expression of sympathy from the people of Ireland to the people of Oklahoma on the bombing of Oklahoma City. "I realize that this made a very deep impact on the whole of Oklahoma.

"My coming here today goes back to an event of almost 150 years ago. I am here to thank the Choctaw Nation for their extraordinary generosity and thoughtfulness when they learned in 1847 about the plight of poor Irish famine victims," said President Robinson.

"Thousands of miles away, in no way linked to the Choctaw Nation until then, the only link being a common humanity, a common sense of another people suffering as the Choctaw nation had suffered when being removed from their tribal land."

She continued, "At an assembly (in 1847) $710 was raised and sent to Memphis to be used for the relief of Irish famine victims. I am glad, as President of that same Irish Nation, to come here and thank the Choctaw people and also to learn from your act of generosity."

"I know that both the Choctaw people and the Irish people remember the past. I know that you recently had a commemorative walk of the Trail of Tears to remember your own period of fame in Choctaw history. Members of the Choctaw Nation, including Chief Hollis Roberts, have come to Ireland and taken part in an annual Famine Walk in the west, starting in Louisburg, to commemorate the famine," said Robinson.

"Earlier in the month I met one of the members of the tribe, the artist Gary Whitedeer, who brought me a beautiful painting. He explained to me that taking part in that walk and remembering the past between the Choctaw Nation and Irish people and relinking our peoples is completing the circle. I have used that expression recently at a major conference on world hunger in New York. I spoke of the generosity of the Choctaw people and this idea of completing the circle.

"I believe that we have in common that bond of humanity and it should be an additional reason why we should particularly reach out now to countries who suffer from poverty and hunger. I think it is very important that we should try to give leadership in that and that we try to encourage others to understand tha there are people today who need the support that the Choctaw Nation gave 150 years ago to the Irish people.

"It was a great pleasure to come and get a sense of the pride in your past, you identity, your language, your customs and in your culture.

"I was delighted to meet the members of your Council and judges. I was very pleased to go and see the work that WIC was doing, to visit the clinic and see the good work that is going on there, to hear the children singing and to know that they, too, like myself, are learning the Choctaw language. We'll learn together and see what progress we make."

She said goodbye in Choctaw, Irish, and English, offering a warm welcome to any Choctaws traveling to Ireland.

In spite of running slightly behind schedule, President Mary Robinson was greeted by about 500 people who had come to hear her address and waited patiently for her arrival. Chief Hollis Roberts greeted the president and her husband, Nicholas, on the front walk of the Tribal Complex. Chief Roberts, his daughter, Tina, and granddaughter, Sabre, along with a multitude of Secret Service representatives, escorted the President and her delegation into the building. After a brief visit with the Chief, President Robinson shook hands with all twelve members of the Tribal Council and tribal judges who were present for a welcome reception.

Having heard of the President's interest in the tribal WIC program, Chief Roberts escorted her across the breezeway to the Woman, Infants, and Children office for a review of the program and a peek at some of the children receiving services.

Choctaw Indian Dancers from Broken Bow and Irish Step Dancers from the McTeggart School of Dance in North Texas showed the audience and each other a few dance moves that were indicative of the different cultures.

Long March : The Choctaw's Gift to Irish Famine Relief
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover - 32 pages illustrate edition (January 1999)

In 1847, Choona is a fourteen-year-old Choctaw youth living in "Indian Territory" (now Oklahoma). He knows that the elders of his tribe and family endured "The Long March" from their homelands in Mississippi, but they do not speak of it to the children.. When the Choctaws hear of the Irish famine, with people dying of starvation as they walk along the roads, their hearts are moved to collect money for these faraway people who are suffering what they suffered. Choona is not sure he approves and as his family discusses contributing to the tribal collection, he startles everyone including himself by shouting, "No!" A fascinating true story is poignantly brought to life in the text and exquisite, realistic pencil drawings of this author/illustrator. The text avoids being didactic by being filtered through the experiences of a young member of the Choctaw tribe. Choona's great-grandmother not only plays a pivotal role in the decision making process of the tribe but also of her great-grandson. Gold Award.

Results of Fire and Famine:
Census Records in Ireland 1813-1911

- Sherry Irvine, CGRS, FSA (Scot)

The so-called population controversy sparked much-heated debate in the British Isles during the latter half of the eighteenth century. Was the population rising or falling? Could the nation feed itself? As the century drew to a close, the discussion was intensified by poor harvests, unusual storms, and the appearance in 1798 of An Essay on the Principle of Population by the Reverend Thomas Malthus.

Poor harvests came and went in Britain during the late 1700s1 and across the Irish Sea it was no different. Several seasons of crop failure and famine in Ireland, notably in 1728, 1739-40, and 17562 resulted in a new look at the population. Malthus caught the attention of the public and authority figures in analyzing whether the supply of food could keep pace with the ever-increasing population. To some, his essay translated into the simplistic issue of whether or not poor relief was in the best interest of the nation.3 The growing concerns over food supply and bad harvests were enough to overcome any opposition to a national census.

The First Irish Census

While Britain's first enumeration was in 1801 and conducted every ten years thereafter, the first Irish census wasn't until 1813. Ireland then followed suit, with a census every ten years. Unfortunately, the Irish census return for 1813 is regarded as both careless and incomplete4-six counties and two towns were never even enumerated.

The blame was placed on the shortcomings of the process of data collection, but others believe it may have been caused by the lack of cooperation among the grand juries who were assigned responsibility, or by the inadequacies of the chosen enumerators. Certainly, the officials who organized the census return in 1821 knew what the problem was-there were no overseers of the poor in Ireland, and only a few parish schoolmasters were available to help with the enumeration.

Historically, parish overseers in England and Wales, and schoolmasters in Scotland, gathered the early returns. Officials concluded that it was impossible in 1813 to find enumerators of reasonable intelligence and sufficient local knowledge, including familiarity with the many small administrative divisions known as townlands, to carry out a thorough enumeration. 5

When the second enumeration was carried out in May and June of 1821, officials were confident, perhaps even smug, of the thoroughness of their efforts (as implied by their disparaging remarks about the enumerators of the first census). The enumerators were to be vested by the Bench of Magistrates with preference to those who collected local taxes-it was believed that these individuals knew their communities. Enumerators were instructed to proceed from house to house, day by day, until they had gathered the required information. Today, assessment of the 1821 census varies. It has been described as both "flawed"6 and "perhaps the single most disastrous loss in the 1922 burning of the Four Courts." 7

Fire in the Four Courts

The Four Courts building in Dublin housed the public records of Ireland. But in June of 1922 it was the scene of a battle between Free State forces and Republican Irregulars who had made the Four Courts their headquarters. The Free State bombardment set the building on fire midday on 30 June, and shortly thereafter a land mine exploded, fire spread, and the conflagration destroyed the building. Documents were found in the River Liffey, three miles away.8

The flames consumed the original returns of the 1831 census. Records that can now be consulted come from the retrospectively amended records (1834) which incorporate a column for religious affiliation. One way or another, a number of early census records have survived. Best represented among the fragments are the counties of Cavan (1821), Galway (1821), Offaly/King's (1821), Londonderry (1831), and Meath (1821). Details appear in a variety of publications. 9

These returns have been microfilmed and are in the collections of the LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. For anyone interested in the descriptions written by the officials of the Public Record Office, refer to Irish and Scotch-Irish Ancestral Research (Falley, 1962) which quotes liberally from the Deputy Keepers reports, primarily the 55th, 57th, and 58th, that were published after the 1922 fire.

In 1841, following the pattern of the rest of the United Kingdom, Irish returns were left with each household to be completed on June 6th; distribution and collection was overseen by the Irish Constabulary. 10 But there were differences among national censuses. Irish returns required much more information than the form used in England, Scotland, and Wales. The census asked for name, age, occupation, marital status and year of marriage, county of origin, and relationship to the head of the household. In addition, the form recorded whether individuals could read or write, details of those absent, and details of those deceased since 1831 including relationship, occupation, and year of death and cause.

As with the early returns, a limited number of 1841 through 1891 records have avoided destruction. The 1841 and 1851 returns were lost in the 1922 fire, and the 1861 through 1891 returns were destroyed by government order.

- From the 1841 census, only the returns for Killeshandra in County Cavan, part of Currin in County Fermanagh, and some fragments from Waterford have survived. Few records remain from the 1851 enumeration-only twenty-eight volumes from thirteen parishes in County Antrim, returns for one townland in Fermanagh, and a few extracts from parishes in Kilkenny and northeast Cork.

For the other census years, a handful of stray copies survive in volumes of parish registers.

Modern Census Records Compensate

Two twentieth-century census returns are available for research and, in some measure, make up for the loss of the earlier records. In 1901 the following details were gathered: name, age, religion, occupation, literacy, marital status, relationship to head of household, county of birth, and knowledge of English or Gaelic. Several additional details were added in the 1911 census; married women were asked to report how long they had been married, number of children born, and those children still living. Data was arranged by county, district electoral division, and townland, and absentees were not recorded.

Most source guides caution genealogists against accepting recorded ages in the 1901 census because there is evidence from comparisons with the 1911 enumeration that many responses were too low. 11

Under ideal circumstances any search in these twentieth century returns can be made knowing the street or townland of the ancestor's residence. Even when there is no alternative to a search through one or more films, the job will be easier if the district electoral divisions and townlands have been identified.

Several aids make it easier to locate the appropriate divisions. The first are the townland indexes. The indexes for 1901 are contemporary, but the ones for 1841, 1851, and 1871 are also helpful. District electoral divisions appear in the 1871 and 1901 listings but not in 1851. The 1841 index (not in the Family History Library) is organized by county and barony, and Townlands and Poor Law Unions (Handran, 1997) includes parishes, electoral divisions and townlands. There is no townland index for 1911 but differences from the 1901 census are minor. Nominal indexes exist for the 1901 census of Longford, Fermanagh, and Tyrone, with Donegal to follow soon. 12 (The latter three are on microfiche.)

The Family History Library Catalog (FHLC) conveniently lists appropriate film numbers under each parish for the 1901 census. For many names, genealogists have extracted all the entries and generally arranged the lists by county. Any of these name lists held by the Family History Library can be found entered in the FHLC under the appropriate county and, for surveys through many counties, in the national census listings. A small portion of the 1911 census is now available at the FHL, but the majority of it must still be researched in Ireland.

Other twentieth century resources include the Old Age Pension applications. Ireland introduced an old age pension in 1908 but because few people had proof of their age, evidence was sought in nineteenth century census records. The abstracts of information include the name of the pensioner, his or her parents, and occasionally other members of the family. Townland, parish, barony and county, age at time of application, and age at time of census are also included. These records have not been indexed. Northern Ireland's applications have been filmed and can be accessed through family history centers. Pension applications for Ireland are located in the National Archives in Dublin.

Research Suggestions

There are three steps to assure that you have identified and located all of the relevant information on government census returns.

1. Use maps, gazetteers, and townland indexes so that all of the civil and ecclesiastical divisions are known.

2. Refer to the books noted in this article for listings of surviving census fragments.

3. Check the Family History Library Catalog under the following headings for information about LDS holdings.







Other important resources are records of civil registration, Griffith's Primary Valuation, and modern probate calendars. All of these are in the Family History Library. Civil registration began for all events in all counties in 1864, and for all non-Catholic marriages in 1845. Griffith's Valuation, a property survey showing both occupiers and landlords between 1848 and 1864, has been filmed and indexed. A version of the index is on CD-ROM and another is incorporated into the Householders Index (available in family history centers).

Probate became the business of the secular court system in 1858. Although the wills were lost in the 1922 fire, the calendars of wills and letters of administration are available for study. These sources provide name, place, and date information. Relationships appear in birth and marriage records and sometimes in probate calendars.

Census Data Provides More Than Names

A census enumeration gathers data for statistical analysis. The reports generated from the data in the censuses of Ireland were subsequently published, and are available for study. The questions asked were included for a reason, and the resulting numbers influenced the government officials of the day, and the social and economic historians of more recent times.

Genealogists also have something to learn from the statistics-details that enhance and encourage understanding.

Historians have looked at the census statistics and used them to support various theories about the population of Ireland, when it peaked, and the impact of the potato famine. Genealogists will also find it worthwhile to examine the numbers for the appropriate county, barony, or electoral division of their ancestors. The report comparing 1813 and 1821 for County Limerick show that the number of houses in that county rose from 17,897 in 1813 to 36,089 in 1821. The population grew during the same period from 103,865 to 214,286. 13 In a later report, within the tables of figures for the Poor Law Unions, is the entry for Youghal in County Cork. 14 The population of the town of Youghal hardly changed between 1841 and 1851, but it was the scene of one of the food riots in 1846. 15 The enumerated population dropped dramatically in rural areas in the same union, such as at Kilmacdonagh electoral division from 3,457 to 2,008. 16

The numbers raise new questions. What was considered to qualify as a house? How do the numbers for Limerick compare to other counties? During the 1840s did people move into town when in dire need? Were some individuals missed by the enumerators? Whether or not such issues are investigated, a quantitative sketch emerges at a local level relating to people, their health, home, land, and schools. This information is easier to grasp than numbers for the entire country, and it can be related to eye-witness accounts, local histories, weather, and topography.

To access these reports consult British Parliamentary Papers indexes available in reference or university libraries. 17 Directories, topographical dictionaries, diaries, and local histories will round out the picture and occasionally quote census figures. Besides providing additional, interesting information for a family history, this sort of analysis often initiates questions or theories that direct further research.

The first Irish censuses were carried out as a response to controversy and, to some extent, fear of the ability of food production to keep pace with population growth. But genealogical researchers two hundred years after Malthus continue to benefit from the recording and analysis of the population. And, despite the devastation of the explosion and fire at the Four Courts in 1922, researchers can still find material of interest and importance. For the lucky ones, there are surviving fragments; however, everyone can search recent returns and pension records for collaterals, and gain useful insight from the official statistical summaries.


1. Nissel, Muriel. People Count. (1987), 51.

2. Foster, R. F. Modern Ireland 1600-1972, (London: Penguin, 1989), 199.

3. Nissel, Muriel. op. cit.

4. Connell, K.H. The Population of Ireland 1750-1845. Westport CT: Greenwood P, 1975: 20.

5. Abstract of Answers and Returns Pursuant to Act for Taking Account of the Population of Ireland, 1824: viii.

6. Connelly, S.J. The Oxford Companion to Irish History. (Oxford UP, 1998), 81.

7. Nolan, William. Tracing the Past. (Dublin: Geographical Publications, 1982), 58.

8. Illustrated London News, July 8, 1922, pp. 43-53.

9. Falley, Margaret. Irish and Scotch-Irish Ancestral Research. 2 Vol. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1962 (rep. 1988); Nolan, Tracing the Past.; Grenham, John. Tracing Your Irish Ancestors. (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1992).

10. Connolly, S.J. The Oxford Companion to Irish History. (Oxford UP, 1998), 81.

11. Grenham, Tracing Your Irish Ancestors. 14; and Nolan, Tracing the Past, 61.

12. Index to the 1901 Census, Vol. 1 County Fermanagh, 1995.

13. Abstract of the Population of Ireland According to the Late Census. Vol. XIV, page 737.

14. A Comparative View of the Census of Ireland in 1841-1851. Vol. XLVI, p. 357.

15. Illustrated London News. November 7, 1846, p. 293.

16. A Comparative View of the Census of Ireland in 1841-1851. Vol. XLVI, p. 357.

17. Ford, P. and G. Ford. A Guide to Parliamentary Papers: What they are, How to find them, How to use them. (Shannon: Irish UP, 1972).

Sherry Irvine, author of Your Scottish Ancestry: A Guide for North Americans, is a faculty member of the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research at Samford University and is a conference lecturer.

For lots more info on the Irish Rebellion of 1798 please visit:


The Great Hunger By Cecil Woodham Smith (Harper & Row 1989 / first published 1962)
A brilliantly researched, highly readable blow by blow account of the Famine. Recommended as a first book to read for in-depth information with a chronological ordering of events.

The Great Famine, Studies in Irish History 1845-52
Editors R.Dudley Edwards and T.Desmond Williams
(First published in 1956. Published in 1994 by The Lilliput Press Ltd.) A collection of comprehensive articles by historians on differents aspects of the Famine. The first study of its kind.

This Great Calamity
By Christine Kinealy (Gill & Macmillan 1995)
A precise history of the Famine, from 1845-1852. Particularly good on relief schemes and the operation of the Poor Law.

The Great Irish Famine
By Cormac Ó Gráda (Cambridge University Press 1995)
A short, concise, analytical overview of the Famine.

The Great Irish Famine (The Thomas Davis Lecture Series)
Edited by Cathal Póirtéir (RTE/Mercier Press)
A very interesting collection of lectures, covering various aspects of the Famine period.

Letters From Ireland During The Famine of 1847
By Alexander Somerville (Irish Academic Press 1994)
This is a fascinating collection of the letters of an excellent writer and an observant, socially aware journalist.

The Irish Famine / New Horizons
By Peter Gray (Thames And Hudson 1995)
A beautifully illustrated, sensitive summary of the main events of the Famine years, with an interesting appendix of documents.

Famine Diary
By Gerald Keegan (Wolfhound Press 1991)
The diary, written in 1847, of a schoolteacher who left Ireland with his wife to sail to Canada. Provides a great insight into the experiences of the period.

Women Surviving / Studies in Irish Women's History in the 19th and 20th centuries
Edited by Maria Luddy and Cliona Murphy (Poolbeg1989)
A series of studies on Irish women's lives, including a look at the Poor nquiry of 1835 and women in workhouses from 1840 to 1870.

Famine Echoes
Edited by Cathal Póirtéir (Gill & Macmillan Ltd. 1995)
A selection of folk memories of the famine period, from those originally collected by the Folklore Commission in the 1940s.

Traits & Stories of The Irish Peasantry Volumes 1 and 2
By William Carleton (Colin Smythe Ltd., 1990)
A collection of stories, with factual backgrounds and extensive, informative footnotes, written in the early 1800s and first published in 1843-44. Brilliantly vivid, imaginative and entertaining, a fascinating insight into the people of the time.

The Hungry Voice
Edited by Christopher Morash (Irish Academic Press 1989)
A powerful selection of poetry from the period. Includes poems by John Keegan, James Clarence Mangan, Aubrey de Vere and many others.

The Silent People
By Walter Macken (Macmillan & Co. Ltd 1988)
A novel set in 'Ireland 1826 - when millions knew only famine, oppression and degradation'.

By Liam O'Flaherty (Wolfhound Press 1984 & 1996)
A powerful novel of the Famine period, with interesting characterisation and great descriptive passages.

The Famished Land
By Elizabeth Byrd (Pan Books 1974)
A poignant, sensitive novel with a girl as its main character. A novel of heroic survival during the famine.

Castle Rackrent
By Maria Edgeworth (Oxford University Press 1981)
A short, lively story which illustrates much about Irish life in the early 1800s.

Paddy's Lament
By Thomas Gallagher. (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1982)
Subtitled "Prelude to Hatred". A meticulously researched account of the Great Famine.

The Irish Famine: A Documentary History
By Noel Kissane. (Leabharlann Naisiunte na hEireann 1995)
This source-book documents the course of the calamity by means of contempory newspaper reports, workhouse records, maps, statistics, and engravings. The documents are set in context and a running story-line guides the reader as the story unfolds.

The Hungry Earth
By Sean Kenny. (Wolfhound Press, Dublin, 1995. Paperback £6.99)
A novel of the Irish Famine. Sean Kenny's powerful story is set in the Dublin of today - but it's central character, yuppie Turlough Walsh finds himself awakening in the midst of famine-stricken west of Ireland where he begins to discover the truth about people, and more importantly about himself - uprooting forever the foundations of his twentieth-century world. An extraordinary accomplished fiction debut.

The Irish Famine: an Illustrated History
By Helen Litton. (Wolfhound Press, 1994, 1996)
Helen Litton's account is aimed at the general reader and is illustrated in colour and black and white, with numerous period extracts and is written in a clear, fast-paced narrative.

The Irish Famine Curriculum
By James Mullin.
Last Setember the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education approved this 111-page curriculum for use in New Jersey schools and distributed it to every high school in the state. It is the first state-approved Famine curriculum in the country. It is available from the following address for $15, including shipping. James Mullin, Chairman, Irish Famine Curriculum Committee. 757 Paddock Path, Moorestown, NJ 08057, USA

The Workhouse of Ireland - The fate of Ireland's Poor
By John O'Conner. (Anvil Books)
A well-researched and gracefully written, interesting book on the history of workhouses in Ireland from their inception in 1838 to their phasing out in 1933.

Death In Templecrone
By Patrick Campbell.
The story of Templecrone Parish in Northwest Donegal. Expertly researched and written by a native now living New Jersey. Available by mail order from PH Campbell, 82 Bentley Avenue, Jersey City, NJ 07304, USA. Price $16 surface mail, $19 airmail.

Famine In The Valley
By Edmund O'Riordan.
Published by Edmund O'Riordan, June 1995.
Covers the effects of the Famine and workhouses in the Clogheen Union of South West Tipperary.

Massachusetts Help to Ireland During the Famine
By Henry Lee and H.A. Crosby (published by Forbes Museum, Milton, Massachusetts).
An excellent account of the voyage of the US Jamestown, which was called into service by Boston citizens in spring of 1847. The U.S. Jamestown carried over $40,000 worth of supplies, food and money to Cork Harbor, where the ship and its crew was received with great appreciation and praise. (Submitted by Michael P Quinlan.)

The Famine Decade:Contemporary Accounts

Edited by John Killen, published by The Blackstaff Press, Belfast, 1995.
Although the book is bracketed by 1841 and 1851 census reports, most of the pieces were taken from Irish and English periodicals. This a wealth of primary source material and includes cartoons from Punch and auction posters. (Submitted by Patricia Jameson-Sammartano.)

Fearful Realities: New Perspectives on the Famine

Edited by Chris Morash and Richard Hayes. Published by Irish Academic Press, 1996.
This collection of essays originated at a conference on the Famine organised by the society for the Study of Nineteenth-Century Ireland, held in St Patrick's College, Maynooth in July of 1994. (Submitted by Todd Bogan.)

A Death-Dealing Famine: The Great Hunger
By Cristine Kinealy. Published by Pluto Press, 1997.
Kinealy shows the complex factors which created the Famine, including the rise of free market ideologies, provedentialist ideas, the desire to disposses the Irish peasantry in order to "modernize" Irish agriculture. An important sequel to "The Great Calamity". (Submitted by Craig Gilmore.)

The San Patricios, a film available on video.
The San Patricios is the powerful story about famine immigrants who were sent as soldiers in the U.S. army in the conquest of Mexico in 1846-48.

When Ireland Starved - a video documentary.
Available from Irish Visions USA, 1997.
When Ireland Starved, a 104 minute documentary from Radharc Films, Dublin, recreates the horror of the most catastrophic event in Irish history. This video using archival sketches, many taken from the Illustrated London News of the period (1845-50) exposes this disaster that has been, for too long, hidden from the public eye.

The Scattering: Images of Emigrants from an Irish Country
edited by Anne Jones (Paperback; 25.00 IEP / 35.00 USD / 20.00 UK)
Down through the years thousands of people from County Clare have left home to live and work in other lands. To explore the lives of Clare emigrants, six photographers criss-crossed the world over a twelve month period visiting Clare people at their work and in their homes. The final selection of photographs was made from over 20,000 exposures. They were taken in Los Angeles and London, Sydney and Seoul, in South and Central America, Poland, Pakistan, South Africa and Israel and many other countries. As well as allowing the photographers into their lives, each emigrant was asked to tell his or her story. The words and pictures combine to make an intensely moving book showing the daily lives of sixty-eight emigrants, now scattered all over the world. The book provides a fascinating insight into the Irish abroad.

North Down Memories: Photographs 1860s to 1960s
by Keith Haines (Paperback; 14.30 IEP / 17.50 USA / 12.50 UK)
The history of the northern part of Country Down, from the monks and Vikings of medieval times to the malls and marinas of today, has been rich indeed, giving the area its distinctive character and atmosphere. In this striking book of 170 photographs, the author takes the reader on a nostalgic tour of coastal towns like Bangor and Donaghadee, down the Ards peninsula to Greyabbey and across to Comber and Scrabo. Complemented by informative captions, and covering a hundred years, the photographs vividly evoke the individuals, families, businessmen and events that have left their mark on north Down.

Kerry Anthology edited by Gabriel Fitzmaurice
(Hardback; 20.00 IEP / 28.00 USD / 16.00 UK)
The County of Kerry, known in Ireland as 'the Kingdom', has many unique characteristics: unrivalled natural beauty of mountain and coastline; the lilt of the Irish language that is still the vernacular in Corca Dhuibhne, part of the Dingle peninsula in west Kerry; a wealth of literature in all its genres and in both Irish and English; the musical tradition of the Sliabh Luachra area; and most important of all for many Kerry people, a Gaelic football team that has won more championship finals than any other county. All these characteristics are represented in this major and comprehensive anthology.

Cooking at Ballymaloe House by Myrtle Allen
(Hardback; 19.99 IEP / 28.00 USD / 16.00 UK)
The name of Ballymaloe has now passed into lore and legend of good food and good cooking throughout the world. When this book was originally published in 1990, it became an instant classic. Those who have been to Ballymaloe and those who knew it by reputation welcomed this ground-breaking cookbook devoted to simple yet elegant versions of traditional Irish dishes. Now in a completely re-designed edition, which includes additional photography, Myrtle Allen presents 100 favoured recipes from her repertoire accompanied by 50 stunning colour photographs which capture the unique atmosphere of Ballymaloe House itself, its interior, its gardens and, of course, its food.

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The Hunger Site

In Their Own Words, (p. 182) cites a letter from P.J. O'Connor to the Society of Friends about Patt Mulderig being found dead in his cabin in 1847 in Grallagh, Kildacommage parish, Mayo. This book chronicles the peak of the Famine through the diaries and letters of the residents of Connacht. The book's nine appendices feature detailed material such as records of public works, previously unknown information regarding the efforts of the Society of Friends and complete passenger lists of "coffin ships" which left Sligo for New York.

Patt Mulderig was my 3rdgreat grandfather. In memory of him, I visit The Hunger Site daily. The donations of staple food are paid for by The Hunger Site sponsors and distributed by America's Second Harvest and Mercy Corps.

I ask you to do the same as a way to do something good for the world. There is absolutely no charge to you for the donation; it is fully paid for by the sponsors. Please join me in memory of the Great Famine victims. Go to:

The Hunger Site

Taken from a message by Ellen Nalibott to the Ireland Mail List

Some Recommended Famine Sites
Site Name:Description:Submitted by:
Views of the FamineLists the various newspaper articles taken from the time of the Famine. Excellent website. These newspaper articles will give you a glimpse of what was happening.Connaught
Views of the Famine: Master Picture ListViews of the Famine - pictorials taken from the TimesConnaught
Interpreting The Irish Famine, 1846-1850No RemarksConnaught
The Hunger SiteThe Hunger Site - See "The Hunger Site" Above.Ellen Nalibott

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