Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland
Gold Seam

1766 Religious Census
Manuscript Gallery

This sequence of images provides some views of the origin and operation of the 1766 religious census, and the subsequent archiving of the returns from the parishes. You can see the resolution of the House of Lords which initiated the census, some examples of census returns, the order creating the ‘Book of Returns’, and the creation of the Index to the census returns when they were stored in the Record Tower, in Dublin Castle.

The Lords' resolution
House of Lords' resolution, 5 March 1766, instructing that 'a list of the several families' be compiled by the parish clergymen of the Established Church. The submission date for the census returns was 5 May 1766. [NAI PRIV/1/M/5036A, p. 13]
Communicating the order
James Traill, bishop of Down and Connor, wrote to his clergy the following day, enclosing a copy of the Lords' resolution, and ordering that returns be sent to Henry Baker Sterne, 'Clerk of the House of Lords'. [O'Laverty, Historical account, Down and Connor, v, p. 551]
Receiving the order
The order to take the census was received in Mullaghbrack parish (Armagh diocese) on 16 March, and the response, signed by Squire Barker, was dated 23 March. [NAI IHP/01/676]
Returning the census
The census of Aghaloo and Carnteel, in Armagh diocese, was completed by 15 March 1766. The return for Magheragall, dated 10 March, was the earliest census that we know of. [NAI IHP/01/648].
Postal date
Postal marks can be found on some of the original census returns. The return for Clonkeen parish, in Armagh diocese, was posted from Dunleer to Henry Baker Sterne, Clerk of the House of Lords, on 21 March, the earliest date identified on an original return [NAI IHP/01/662]
Postage cost
The 1766 census return for Ballymore parish, in Armagh diocese, was posted from Tandragee to Henry Baker Sterne, at Parliament House, on 11 April. The number '4' before 'Parliament House' is not part of the address, but the cost of postage - 4d. [NAI IHP/01/651]
Wax seals
Many of the surviving original census returns contain parts of the wax seal used to secure the letter. This one, from Killeeshil parish, in Armagh diocese, is one of the best examples, with 'per ardua tempo' still visible on it [NAI IHP/01/668]
Social commentaries
Some ministers included comments on political or social issues. Rickard Lloyd, minister of Cullen Union, in Cashel and Emly diocese, noted that Daniele Neal, the priest who had married Henry Grady to Susanna Grove in 1753, was still ministering freely, despite him being unlawfully freed by a mob, while being transmitted from Clonmel to Limerick, for trial. [NAI IHP/01/688].
Death of Henry Baker Sterne
The 1766 census of Loughgall parish was posted to Henry Baker Sterne on 28 April. By that time, however, Baker Sterne was dead - The Dublin Courier of 25 April had reported his death on the way to Bath, presumably to 'take the waters'. [NAI IHP/01/672]
Quality of the returns
The quality of the census returns varied greatly. The best surviving return is for Newchapel parish, in Cashel and Emly diocese - an original return. The census of Lucan parish, now lost, was described by historian Francis Elrington Ball as 'the most elaborate he had seen' [NAI IHP/01/996]
The 'Book of Returns'.
On 5 June 1766, George Meares, acting Clerk of the Parliaments, was ordered to 'enter in a book' abstract data for all the census returns received. Edward Wakefield later termed this book the 'Book of Returns'. [Lords' jn, iv, p. 398; Wakefield, Account of Ireland, ii, p. 586]
Diocesan summaries
Diocesan summary sheets were produced for most dioceses. It is likely that these sheets were created while the 'Book of Returns' was being compiled. [NAI IHP/01/980]
Indexing the census returns
The 1766 returns were transferred (with the Parliamentary Records) to the Record Tower in Dublin Castle after 1812. In 1816 the Record Commissioners instructed Theobald Richard O'Flaherty, the Keeper of the Parliamentary Records, to create an index to the entire collection. It took O'Flaherty seven years to complete the 10-volume index, which ran to 2,085 pages (not including the Suffering Loyalists' index, which brought the page-count to 2,578). [NAI RC 14/9]
Numbering the census returns
Concurrent with the creation of the Parliamentary Records index, the Records, including the 1766 census returns, were allocated unique numbers, and combined into 'bundles'. The 1766 census items were contained in seven bundles (bundles 76-82, with the 107 bundles of Parliamentary Returns). The 1766 census of Ringrone parish, in Cork and Ross diocese, was in Bundle 77, and was numbered Parliamentary Return 774. We believe these stamped Parliamentary Return numbers were applied to the censuses in 1822. [NAI IHP/01/774]
Bay 5O
The 1766 census returns were transferred to the Public Record Office in 1870, and were stored in Bay 5O, on shelves 208 and 209. They remained located there until 30 June 1922 when the vast majority of the returns were destroyed in the explosiion and fire. Fortunately 59 original items (including 57 original census returns) survived the destruction. The census of Carlingford parish, in Armagh diocese, was in Bundle 79 of the Parliamentary Returns, and was numbered 969. Bundle 79 was located in Bay 5O, on shelf 209, sub-number 3 [NAI PRIV/M/2476B]
Newchapel census, 1766, before repairs
When the preservation team in the National Archives accessed the large 1766 census return for Newchapel parish, it was fragile, and had disintegrated into nine separate fragments. [NAI IHP/1/696]
Newchapel census, 1766, after repairs
The 1766 census return for Newchapel parish has now been preserved and repaired with re-moisteanable tissue. [ [NAI IHP/1/696]