Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland


The religious census of 1766 is one of the richest sources available to the historical and genealogical researcher for the period prior to the commencement of the statutory census series in 1813. Although most of the original 1766 religious census returns were destroyed in 1922, 59 original items from the 1766 census survived the fire. In addition, transcripts, extracts, and parish numerical abstracts have survived for many parts of the island. Overall, more than 50,000 individual names survive from these scattered sources, these are brought together here for the first time.

In March 1766, the Irish House of Lords instructed Church of Ireland parish clergy to compile ‘a list of the several families in their parishes’. They were to record the religion of the householders, and also to identify any Roman Catholic priests and friars living in their area. All this information was to be returned to the House of Lords. 

The 1766 Religious Census was hugely ambitious, but although the Lords sought the name of every householder in every parish throughout Ireland, not every parish supplied a list of names. Some parishes failed to make any return and others only provided total numbers for each religious denomination, without providing names. However, many parishes did return the required list of names, and some exceeded the Lords’ requirements by giving additional information, making the 1766 census very attractive to genealogists. 

The surviving ‘returns’, abstracts, and extracts from the 1766 Religious Census are a remarkably rich source for the study of eighteenth-century Ireland, particularly at the local level.

What can I find here? 

This Gold Seam reconstructs the archival hierarchy of nearly 800 census returns from the 1766 Religious Census. The returns were arranged in bundles, each bundle containing the individual parish returns from two or more dioceses. 

This Gold Seam includes digitized images of the 59 original items that survived the fire, covering parishes in Armagh, Cork, Derry, Limerick, Louth, Tipperary, Tyrone and Waterford. They were probably spared because they were held over in the locked Strong Room, just off the Search Room in the Public Record Office of Ireland (PROI), at Easter 1922. Those few, rare, documents which survived the fire and were salvaged from the ruins became known as the ‘1922 Salved Records’. These salved 1766 returns have been conserved and digitized by the National Archives with support from the Irish Manuscripts Commission.

The 59 salved documents represent 7% of the original total. By combining these with all other transcriptions—for instance, handwritten and typed notes by the genealogist Tenison Groves, which now survive in the National Library of Ireland, PRONI, and the Representative Church Body Library—more than half the 1766 census can be reconstructed in whole or in part.

Digitized copies of these replacement sources are available through this Gold Seam. You will also find a detailed description for each census return, including the name of the minister making the return, the date of the return, and the results of the census. The number of Protestant and Catholic householders is given, if that information survives, at the most granular level available (including to townland level). 

MAP 1: Original Coverage

This map shows the geographic coverage of the returns received in response to the House of Lords’ call for parish ministers to provide religious census returns in 1766. For some returns it is not clear whether lists of parishioners’ names were provided, as the Lords had requested.

MAP 2: Surviving Evidence 

This map shows the geographic coverage of the surviving original returns, transcripts, abstracts and extracts from the 1766 religious census of Ireland.

Tales from the 1766 Religious Census