This is the second of a series of three blogs about doing research with Masters students on the social geography of the Lower Sheriff Street area within Dublin. The first of the blogs was on the use of maps to study urban topography. This blog is about the use of historical sources to reconstruct past arrangements of people and place.

It is interesting to study the society and economy of past times. For example, it can be interesting to know about the past lives of the places where we live and work. Taking an interest in the places we help make can encourage us to take care of them as a setting and resource we share with others. [1] Our present society and economy has been shaped by a long history, clearly more intensively by the recent past but also quite profoundly by some aspects of more distant times, and the Dublin of a century ago still has a strong impress upon the city of today, not only in terms of street-layout and many buildings but also with respect to aspects of public and private culture, such as the place of the public house or the Catholic Church. Finally, and in some ways most interesting to me, the study of the past can help us take notice of what is truly distinctive about the present. It’s a sort of defamiliarisation that pulls us up short when we take too many of our current circumstances for granted. When people imply that things must always be the way they are now – the infamous doctrine of TINA [There is no alternative] – we can look at other times and other places and note that people rather like ourselves did things rather differently than we do now. [2] Our sense of the contingency of the present is sharpened. In ‘Little Gidding’ (1942, the fourth of The Four Quartets), T. S. Eliot captured something of this looking away and then back, but now with new eyes:

Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Eliot has a stronger sense of the unchanging permanence of the past than I have but I do recognise that feeling of being ‘born with the dead’ and I also accept that the past continues to have consequences – we can never be ‘redeemed from time’. Indeed this exploration of the past gives us a new clarity about the present and perhaps only in that way can we truly ‘know the place for the first time’.

The Published Volumes of the Census 1911

The Census of 1911 is a valuable place to start. Every ten years from 1821 until 1911 the British government took a census of the population of Ireland. Individual families and households were required to complete a form and the results were then tabulated for various subdivisions of the country. The volume that is of most interest to us is Census of Ireland, 1911. Area, houses, and population: Also the ages, civil or conjugal condition, occupations, birthplaces, religion, and education of the people. Province of Leinster. [3] Within this volume there are 57 pages that relate to the City of Dublin.

Figure 1. The published census results for Dublin City 1911

The published results of the census give data on population, housing, vital statistics (births, marriages, deaths), marital status, occupation, birthplaces, religion, level of education, literacy in Irish, Irish-speaking, and level of emigration. For some of these variables the data is given for the city as a whole, for others it is given for wards, and for others for registration districts, and others still for poor law unions.

Tables in Published 1911 Census Results City Ward/ District Electoral Division Parlia-mentary Division Parish Poor Law Union/ Registration District
Housing I II IV V VII
Population I II IV V VII
Housing Overcrowding VIII IX, X
Institutions XI
Disability XII XII
Aboard Vessels XIII
Vital Statistics XIV XIV
Marital Status XVIII XVIII
Occupations XIX
Occupations by gender, age, religion, education XX
Land occupiers other than farmers XXIII
Birthplaces XXIV XXIV
Foreign born XXVI
Occupations of Foreign-born XXVII
Disability in Institutions XXVIII
Religion and Gender XXIX XXIX
Levels of Elementary Education by Age, Sex XXX XXX XXXI XXX
Religion, Literacy, Elementary Education XXXIII XXXIII XXXIV XXXIII
Education institutions, pupils by age, religion XXXVIII XXXVIII
Emigration XLI

Table 1. The results given in the published census for 1911, showing the data available for different geographical units

There are some 41 tables reported for each part of Ireland (Tables I-XLI) although not quite all of them are given for the City of Dublin (information on agriculture is not, for example). Lower Sheriff Street is within the City of Dublin (population: 304,802), within North Dock Ward (population: 24,506), within the Harbour Parliamentary Division (the part of this area that lies within the City of Dublin has a population of 71,031, the rest is in the County of Dublin), within St. Thomas Parish (population: 41,534), and within North Dublin Poor Law Union (the part of this area that lies within the city of Dublin has a population of 161,551, the rest of this area is within the County of Dublin). In this way, we can build a picture of the social  and economic geography of the city. In this way we can say what kind of area surrounds Lower Sheriff Street. The smallest unit that is reported is the ward. The wards of Dublin are shown on this map that was published in Thom’s Directory for 1911. North Dock Ward is the large area shown in pink at the east of the city on the north side of the Liffey.

Figure 2. The wards of the City of Dublin, 1911 (from Thom’s Directory)

The unpublished materials from the 1911 Census

The original forms from the 1901 and 1911 censuses for Ireland have been filmed, digitised and placed online. This is a remarkable resource. The National Archives have described how Dublin is shown in the materials of the early-twentieth century censuses. [4] Let’s explore the basic materials for one street within the area we are looking at. We will take Emerald Place – a narrow street between Emerald Street and Upper Oriel Street.

Figure 3. Emerald Place, from OS map 1910, 25 inches to the mile

The gradual infilling of Emerald Place with houses can be seen in the maps in the blog on historic maps of this district. We begin with the search page –

Figure 4. Completing the search box for Emerald Place

If you click on the first individual that comes up – in the case of my search it was Norah Hannah – then you will be taken to a digitised version of the household return (Form A). At the bottom of the page are links to the other census forms that related to this household and address. We will start with Form N (Enumerators Return). This is a summary of the information collected from a given street or section of a street. There will be more Forms N if there are more than 11 households for the street. In the case of Emerald Place there are only seven households.

Figure 5.. Enumerator’s Return (Form N) for Emerald Place, 1911

Numbers 1, 5, 6, and 7 have one family in each house but number 2 has 4, number 4 has 8 and number 3 has 11. The people in this street are all Roman Catholics and across all seven houses there are 119 individuals. We don’t as yet know which of the buildings on our map are each of these houses but clearly some of them are much bigger than others. If we go back to the page from which we came, back to Norah Hannah, and click on Form B. This is the buildings return and, again depending upon the number of houses and of families there could be several pages for Form B.

Figure 6. Emerald Place House and Buildings (Form B. 1)

This summarises observations about the buildings. Number 1 is a ‘P[riva]te Dwelling (column 3) with two window at the front (col.9), and there are two rooms (col.14), for the five people (col.15) in the household headed by Norah Hannah (col.13). In Number 2 there are four families, in five rooms, with 19 persons in total. This building has four windows in the front elevation. Number 3 has six windows to the front, eleven households in its eleven rooms. One of these households is nine people living in one room. This one-room living was the essence of the tenement housing overcrowding in Dublin at the time. The other Form B for Emerald Place helps us complete the listing for Number 4 with in sum has eight households in eight rooms, with 4 windows at the front, another classic tenement. After the seven houses, a Stables listed. On the Out-buildings return (Form B.2) this stable is listed as attached to house number 7. If we turn, now, to the household return, we can see the forms completed by each of the twenty-seven households in the street.

Figure 7. Number 1 Emerald Place, Household Return (Form A)

Norah Hannah is a 49-year old widow who lived at Number 1 Emerald Place with a 23-year old son who was a general labourer, a 21-year old caught who was a shop assistant, a 16-year old daughter who was a dressmaker and a 13-year old son who was at school (Scholar). They are all Roman Catholics, burn in Dublin City and, while they can read and write in English, claim no ability to read or speak Irish. Nora Hannah completed the questions about her marriage although since she was not currently married she was not actually required to do so and the enumerator has crossed out her returns. Perhaps her marriage had lasted 17 years and perhaps she had given birth to seven children but I can’t read the number scored out that was her reply to the question about the number of children still alive. Form A2 is the reverse side of this form and it gives plenty of information to the enumerator (in this case Denis O’Connell, like many enumerators a Police Constable – 150.6) to help him compile the summary returns from the individual household returns. It also summarises the geographical units to which this record relates.

Figure 8. Form A2 for #1 Emerald Place

Thom’s Directory 1910

Thom’s published annual directories for Ireland. [5] For Dublin this gave street listings, noting residents or businesses located on those streets. For poorer districts no details are given beyond the number of houses and their average rateable value. For our purposes, this helps us add more information about the economy of the district. For almost all streets this also helps us establish the house-numbering. As it happens Emerald Place is not give a separate entry in Thom’s Directory but the usefulness of the source can be illustrated with this extract from the listing of Lower Sheriff Street:

Figure 9. 31-41A Sheriff-street, Lower, Thom’s Directory 1910.

This lists the properties on Lower Sheriff Street, between William’s Place and Commons Street. This is on the south side of the street.

Figure 10. Lower Sheriff Street, OS map, 25 inch to the mile

One very interesting piece of information is the listing for Number 34 Lower Sheriff Street – Walter Downey, family grocer, wine and spirit merchant. We can also look up this house in the census by scrolling down Sheriff-st Lower until we find Number 34.

Figure 11. The Household Return for 34 Lower Sheriff Street

Walter Downey was a 33 year old publican living with his 25 year old wife, Bride, and the four years of their marriage have seen them have three children, two of whom survive, a two-year-old son, Gerard, and a six-week-old daughter, Agnes. He has a 37-year-old sister, also called Agnes, but unlike the rest of this family who were born in Dublin City, she was born in county Kilkenny. He has three servants living with him running the public house and grocer’s shop, Mary Moran has her occupation as servant and Mathew Sheridan and Patrick McPartland ar given as grocer’s assistants.. They come from county Carlow, Dublin City and County Leitrim (Leightrim) respectively. This location is still a public house (Noctor’s) as seen from this screen capture of Google Street View, the address also remains the same, 34 Lower Sheriff Street.

Figure 12. 34 Lower Sheriff Street, Google Street View, June 2014

My best guess for house numbering in 1911 is shown here:

Figure 13. House numbering 1911, Lower Sheriff Street

Gerry Kearns, 11 February 2018

[1] See Karen Till, ‘Wounded Cities: Memory Work and a Place-Based Ethics of Care,’ Political Geography 31 (2012) 3-14.

[2] This is what Stephen Yeo means by a usable past, and I am very much looking forward to his forthcoming histories of association, cooperation and un-statist socialism in 1nineteenth and early-twentieth century Britain, There were, and probably therefore are, alternatives both to free-market capitalism and to state-socialism.

[3]  British Parliamentary Papers 1912-13, Cd. 6049, cxiv, 1, Census of Ireland, 1911. Area, houses, and population: Also the ages, civil or conjugal condition, occupations, birthplaces, religion, and education of the people. Province of Leinster. Page 3 is missing from the scan available through this collection of parliamentary papers. It is, however, included in the page-by-page version of the census volume available here: Download the High Resolution TIFF version from this page.

[4] See also: Caitriona Crowe, Dublin 1911 (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 2011).

[5] Thom’s Official Directory of the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Ireland, 1910 (Dublin: Alexander Thom, 1910).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: