About pre-1901 Census fragments
The 1901 and 1911 censuses are the only complete surviving census records for the pre-Independence period. Fragments survive for 1821 – 1851 for some counties, as follows:
Antrim, 1851; Belfast city (one ward only), 1851; Cavan, 1821 and 1841; Cork, 1841;
Dublin city (index to heads of household only), 1851; Fermanagh, 1821, 1841 and 1851; Galway, 1813 (numerical returns for Longford barony) and 1821; King’s County (Offaly), 1821; Londonderry (Derry), 1831 – 34; Meath, 1821; Waterford, 1841.
The records now online can be searched by year, surname, forename, county, barony (except 1821), parish and townland/street. The search results page lists the options for your search. Click on one option and you will get a transcript of the record, accompanied by a scan of the original image. You may also browse the records by county, barony (except 1821), parish and townland/street.
The 1841 and 1851 censuses usefully list members of the household not at home on census night, and also family members who died since 1831/1841.
Note that the first page of the scan may be only the cover page, giving you only the name of the head of household; you need to click on the following page(s) to get the full record.
In many cases, only one or two returns survive for a family for a county in a particular year, a poignant reminder of what we lost in the Four Courts fire of 1922.
History of 1813 – 1851 census
The Commissioners for the 1901 Census, in their General Report, laid out a short history of previous attempts to gather statistics in Ireland:
"The first attempt to take an Official Census in this country was made in 1813, pursuant to an Act passed in 1812. Under this statute the supervision of the enumeration was entrusted to the Grand Juries of the several counties. This arrangement worked badly, the Grand Juries, from their constitution, not being capable of efficiently superintending the work, and having at their disposal no adequate machinery for its accomplishment…[A]fter two years spent in a fruitless endeavour…the attempt was abandoned."
"The failure of this inquiry directed public attention to the necessity of providing more effective machinery, and an Act was passed in 1815 vesting the superintendence of the next census in the Magistrates at Quarter Sessions and the Assistant Barristers; and accordingly the Census of 1821 was taken under their supervision. Though there was no staff officially under the control of the magistrates, yet the nomination of the enumerators was placed in their hands, and much care appears to have been taken to secure the services of men who were competent to perform the duty. At first many difficulties appeared. In some districts open hostility manifested itself, while in others the undefined state of the boundaries caused many obstacles to the compilation of a satisfactory statistical return. These, however, having been surmounted, the results of the first authoritative and complete Irish Census were presented to the public in 1823."
"A second enumeration of the people was taken in 1831. The inquiry, however, was not commenced simultaneously in all parts of the country, and it extended over a considerable period. The Enumerators, moreover, were under the impression that they would be paid in proportion to the numbers they enumerated, a system of payment which, it appears, was in many cases actually adopted. For these and other reasons, the results of this Census have not been regarded as satisfactory."
"The Census of 1841 opened a new era in Irish Statistics. It was then for the first time that the Ordnance Survey maps were available, and a regularly organized police force - the Constabulary - at hand, from which a corps of Enumerators could be selected. The Commissioners of 1841 were also the first to employ Forms of Family Return, to be filled by the Head of the Family instead of having the particulars entered by the Enumerator from viva voce inquiry. Their report deals with the population viewed in most of its social aspects, and it has rightly been regarded as a model of succinctness."
"The Census of 1851 was taken under the superintendence of the Registrar-General of Marriages, Mr. William Donnelly, assisted by Dr. (afterwards Sir) William Wilde. The chief features of that enumeration were the School Census and the Report on the Status of Disease, which, in addition to treating of the number of people suffering from sickness, dealt with the deaf and dumb, the blind, the lunatic and idiotic, and the lame and decrepit. An interesting Table of Cosmical Phenomena, Epizootics, Famines and Pestilences in Ireland, from the earliest records published, was also compiled by the Assistant Commissioner, aided by the eminent Irish scholars, Dr. O'Donovan and Mr. Eugene O'Curry, MRIA. The Agricultural Statistics (first commenced in 1847) for 1851 and 1852 were collected by the Commissioners, who also published detailed statistics of emigration."