Clasping 100 Year Old Census Returns

Clare Champion, 17th August 2001

by Joe O Muircheartaigh

The contribution made by the Clare Local Studies Project (CLASP) across a number of areas since it was established back in 1995 has been immense. Its reputation has grown with every activity and production. The initiative which has the backing of FÁS has been responsible for the publication of many books - such as the acclaimed “The Strangers Gaze - Travels in County Clare 1534-1950”. There are many more, too numerous to mention by name.

But the CLASP people are not just book people. Their influence is being felt in other areas and being felt all around the world.  That’s thanks to the latest project that is now well into its production phase - a comprehensive breakdown of the 1901 Census of Clare. The project can be attributed to Clare Library Services website and the outstanding success story that is this website. 

To date 20,000 names have been inputted into the website. “The population in Clare at that time was 112,000 and we hope to have the project finished within nine months”, says CLASP Project Supervisor, Martina Crowley-Hayes. And, the feedback from around the world is flowing in all the time. “What a wonderful job the CLASP team is doing on the 1901 Census. They should be congratulated”, e-mailed Barry O’Shea from Canberra, Australia. “There are no words to describe how thrilled I was to find that you’ve started extracting the 1901 Census records”, said another e-mail from Liz Haren.

“The 1901 Census is the earliest census to survive which gives details on individuals. These details are Christian name and surname, relationship to the head of the family, religion, ability to read and write, sex, occupation, marital status, county of birth, ability to speak Irish and English and whether a person is deaf, dumb, idiotic or lunatic”, said Noel. “This project will provide a street directory of every street in the county, a complete breakdown of people in every townland and district electoral division.  Anybody abroad who had relations in Clare 100 years ago will be able to key in the name and find the information”, Noel adds.

Naturally, those involved in the project are excited about it. And, the results thus far have been revealing. Results that have shown the way it was back then. In Ennis, the streets and laneways were living streets and laneways in the true sense. The breakdown of the people who lived on Chapel Lane is one example. There were 87 people living on this little lane off the Market area of town. There were family names like Hewitt, Lally, Keavy, Lynch McNamara, Crimmins and Kilmartin. These people held down a variety of jobs - professions like van driver, printer, pig buyer, baker, master tailor, shop keeper. Everyone on Chapel Lane was a Roman Catholic while most could read and write. The make-up of the people on Bindon Street was rather different. Surnames like Griffith, Cullinan, Waring, Kidd, Stamer and Keeling. A mix of religions Catholic, Church of England and a mix of professions, solicitors, barristers, physicians and bankers. “Now, the people living on Bindon Street could be counted on one hand. “We’re re-creating these streets and laneways, with details of every man, woman and child that lived there”, says Noel.

When the project is finished it will represent another valuable link and source of information of the Clare Library Services hugely successful website. This website has had 420,000 hits in less than three years and will break through the half a million barrier by the end of the year. The website is a mine of information. Information on the arts, economic development, history, community services and any category one can think of is contained. Why?, comes the innocent question. “If we didn’t do it nobody else would”, comes an answer of honesty. 

But they’re not embracing technology for the sake of it. A commitment to this technology cause runs through the organisation.  “If you stand still in I.T. for two weeks you are falling behind. We make a point of having something new on the web every week”, reveals Noel. And, apart from the congratulatory e-mails, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that they are getting it right. The library service has achieved “Gold Star” status among its peers throughout Europe, meaning that in the Directory of Libraries in Europe Clare is firmly in the Premier League. And, the latest iniative by Clasp is just another example of where the Clare Library Service is in the Premier League.

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