Ireland in the early 20th century

Other chapters

Census day, 2 April 1911

In the weeks before census day, Sunday 2nd April, more than 4,000 census enumerators across Ireland had distributed the large blue census form to every home. As they moved from house the house the enumerators listed every head of household, before leaving behind the form to be filled in. Unlike in Britain where a specially-appointed civilian staff was recruited for the job, the enumerators in Ireland were drawn from the ranks of the Royal Irish Constabulary. In Dublin, the constabulary was supplemented by 160 members of the Dublin Metropolitan Police.

This was an entirely sensible move, according to the local press in Dublin, which argued that the police were underemployed and that they had expert knowledge of localities and personalities, as well as the experience of filing reports, to help them to carry out their task in the correct manner.

Filling out the form correctly was deemed in newspaper editorials to be a task which “leaves little room for mistake by person of ordinary intelligence.” Nonetheless, this census included a more detailed list of questions than before, leading what the Freeman’s Journal called ‘professional humourists’ to make fun of the difficulties presented.

The census form for Ireland was different from that distributed in Britain. On the Irish form there was a question asking the religion of every person in a household. This question was not included in the British form. On the Irish form there was a question seeking to ascertain the number of Irish speakers in the country. In Britain, that  question was asked of Welsh speakers. Finally, in Ireland the question was posed on whether people could ‘Read and Write’, ‘Read Only’, or ‘Cannot Read’. Such a question was not asked in Britain and, as one Irish newspaper noted, “why it should be so is not easy to understand.”

Collection of the census was to begin on Monday 3rd  April, and all forms were to be forwarded eventually to Charlemont House on Rutland Square where the Census Commissioners for Ireland (led by Sir William Thompson, the Registrar-General, and Edward O’Farrell, the assistant under-secretary for Ireland) had established a system for dealing with them. Almost 200 specialist workers, including 100 boy assistants, were engaged in the work of tabulation.

Before that could even be considered, however, there was an unprecedented challenge to be overcome. Ongoing failure to secure the vote for women had led the Suffragette movement across Britain and Ireland to engage in a covert campaign which would lead to suffragettes refusing to fill out and return the census forms. The Irish press had carried letters in the last week in March, for and against the campaign. It was, wrote one suffragette, ridiculous that though women could be taxed just as men were, when it came to voting they were classed as a political nonentity alongside infants, criminals and lunatics. Refusing to fill out the census form was a protest that was, another argued, “constitutional and eminently ladylike.”

On the Saturday night, 1st  April, the committee of the Irish Women’s Franchise League were holding a meeting in the Antient Concert Rooms in Dublin, when a policeman entered and enquired if the women intended to hold a meeting again the following evening. He was told that there was no such intention, but that they had requisitioned a number of aeroplanes and submarines, the better to avoid filling out the census. It was illegal to refuse to fill out the census form; it could only be avoided if one was not in the country.

In the Freeman’s Journal during the following week, it was reported that women had not, of course, taken to the seas or the skies to avoid filling out the census. The paper also remarked that the mooted all-night driving parties and picnics in the Dublin mountains had not taken place either. 

This was a wise decision. A cool north-easterly breeze blew across Dublin Bay and into the city on the morning of 2nd April 1911. Later in the day, as the wind strengthened and became more northerly, it carries with it squally showers, though mostly the day was fair and cold. All told, it was not the weather for picnicing.

Women did refuse to fill out the census form, however. These appear to include Anna Haslam, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington and Louie Bennett,  for whom no returns can be found. The Freeman’s Journal offered some sympathy to enumerators in the wake of the boycott by suffragettes, saying: “The enumerator whose duty it will be to address questions to the ladies who have taken up arms in the evasion movement is not exactly to be envied”.

Those questions were for another day. Sunday 2nd  April 1911 passed off in much the same way as any other Sunday in Dublin. It was a day defined by the formal demands of religious observance. Dublin was a quiet place on a Sunday, even for those who did not believe. The shops and theatres were closed, and only a few events took place. There was, for example, an exhibition at the Royal Hibernian Academy on Lower Abbey Street, which required the payment of an entrance fee of 1s.

A number of preachers were speaking in Dublin on that day. The Rev. Thomas O’Brien had come from Cork to preach a special sermon to appeal for donations from the Catholics of Dublin for St. Mary’s Training School in Stanhope Street. That institution had been founded in 1811, and 100 years later was home to 113 young girls, many of whom had been orphaned. In the course of the sermon, Fr. O’Brien outlined how the nuns of Stanhope Street trained the girls in laundry and sewing before securing positions for them in wider society once they came of age.

Also preaching in the city on that day was the Jesuit, Fr. Robert Kane, who was into the fifth of his extended series of Lenten lectures. Fr. Kane drew a huge crowd to St. Francis Xavier’s church on Upper Gardiner Street to hear him preach about the ‘Sores of Society’. For their part the Protestant churches of Dublin were holding an appeal to raise money for the Board of Religious Education, which organised daily and weekly instruction in religion for children across the city.

Sport offered a limited escape to Dubliners, but even this was curtailed by religion. Traditions of sabbatarianism meant that rugby, soccer, horse racing, golf and other sporting events had been played on Saturday as was usual. That weekend there had been an international match of sorts in the city when the British Army in Ireland XI played the British Army in England XI in a soccer match at Dalymount Park. Saturday had also seen a full round of rugby club matches and local golf tournaments.

On Sunday evening, the Grocers’ Assistants’ Society were staging the third round of their billiards competition but, by and large, this and every other Sunday was a day when the Gaelic Athletic Association dominated the sporting life of the city. The usual round of hurling and football league matches were played in grounds all across Dublin. The highlight, however, was the Dublin county championship matches played at the new ground on Jones’s Road (later renamed Croke Park in 1913).

The centrepiece was the senior football match between the Kickhams club and the O’Connell’s of Kingstown. Also played was the fraught local junior hurling derby match between two clubs who came in from the villages of Lusk and Naul in north Dublin. Naul won a narrow, low-scoring match which was judiciously described as ‘competitive’. And the third match to be played was a junior football contest between the Hibernian Knights and Thomas Davis from Tallaght. It was a triple-bill which drew a fine crowd.

As the footballers of Thomas Davis were taking the field in Croke Park, the name of the old Young Irelander was being evoked across the city in Blackrock. The members of the Thomas Davis players, a sub-group of the local Thomas Davis Society, were meeting in Blackrock People’s Park to practice for a play they intended to put on later in the month. In conjuction with the Gaelic League, the Davis Players were scheduled to perform ‘O’Donnell’s Cross’ by L. MacManus at the Town Hall in Blackrock at the end of April.

On 1st April, Miss Evie Green was the headline act at the Theatre Royal on Hawkins St.,  and Frank Lister was playing twice nightly at the Tivoli in Francis St.

Other chapters