18th Century Surveys of Wicklow

One of the great sources of information I had in studying the village’s history was the range of parliamentary inquiries of the 19th century, with their detailed data collection and data analysis providing a great source of contemporary information. However, I confess to neglecting similar inquiries of the 18th century. A relatively recent publication by Brian F Gurrin* provides a useful overview of three surveys that were conducted in County Wicklow, and are briefly summarised below.

Gurrin introduces his work by saying that while the 18th century inquiries may not have been a match for the scale and scope of those of the following century, they were “frequent, detailed, often impressive in their thoroughness, and specifically focussed”. The three inquiries described by Gurrin for Wicklow are the 1732 hearth tax census, counting the number of Protestant and Papist families; the 1766 religious census, which was to return the names of all householders and their religion and a survey of County Wicklow by the Hibernia Society. Some details relevant to the locality are presented below.

1732 Religious Census

The 1732 data was collected by government officials who were hearth tax-collectors, and were required to return the religion of all those paying hearth taxes in 1732. This method would have recorded the religion of families based on that of the head of the household. The underlying reason for the census was to determine the state and potential of Roman Catholic community in the country as a whole.

The returns indicated there were 232 Protestant families in the barony of half-Rathdown, with a total of 2886 in the county and 379 Papist families with a total of 5902 in the county, a ratio of 1:1.6 and 1:2 for barony and county respectively. Gurrin advises caution when interpreting the data. As the head of household was used to determine the religion of all those in the household, mixed households led to errors in the results, and it was more likely for there to be a Protestant head of household with Catholics present than the other way around. Also, the method of enumeration meant that Catholics were less likely to be counted, as they may have been exempt from the hearth-tax, lived in remote areas or simply just evaded being enumerated. There is a report of the frustration of an enumerator, retold to the Freeman’s Journal, bemoaning the fact that “every Popish house refused me any account at all, and in some places shut the door in my face'”. Examining the ratios in the local (half-Rathdown) context, it would appear though that even taking these limitations of enumeration into account, this part of the barony had a higher number of Protestants. Robert Fraser, in his Statistical Account, 1801, records a similar observation.

1766 Religious Census

The 1766 inquiry also collected information on the population and their religion. In this case, the enumerators were local clergymen, who reported on their parish. For this reason, the enumeration was more successful, although in a local context, it does of course depend on the clergyman’s familiarity with the parish and enthusiasm to complete the task. Summary data for the diocese of Dublin is reported, as much of the original returns are lost. These report that Powerscourt Parish had 76 Protestant families and 298 Roman Catholic families. Gurrin adds a note to say that:

A similar abstract in the R.C.B. Library provides further details. It is noted that ‘the priest lives in the adjoining parish of Delgany’ and that the return, signed by lohn Drury, Minister, was ‘dated at Powerscourt, 20 April 1766’ (R.C.B., MS 37, f. 4). [RCB is the Representative Church Body]

I can be corrected, but I wonder if the priest may have lived around Tinnehinch. In the Board of Education reports the following century, a school report for a school in Tinnehinch in the parish of Delgany was mentioned.

Hibernia Society Surveys

The Hibernia Society was a gentlemen’s society aimed at surveying and publishing findings of county surveys, and was established in the 1730’s. The survey recounts the following details about Powerscourt:

Powerscourt, 3 miles W: of Bray, up of the river, [is] the seat of Richd Wingfield Esqr. A fine house, lately rebuilt, pleasant gardens, and a large, well-wooded deerpark, with a river running thro it. The fall of water, or cascade, in this park, occasioned by this mountain river tumbling down a mighty precipice [300] feet high, with great noise & impetuosity, is justly taken notice of by travellers & reckond the second of the kind in Europe.

The fall of water, while praised here, was not usually praised in works from later in the century. Perhaps the travel writers by that time had seen a wider range of waterfalls from the continent! An earlier version of the survey includes some information not carried on to this later text:

A few miles from hence [Bray], Tinnypark, [the seat of] Sr Ed Baylys, famous for its beautiful gardens. Altidore, the seat of Genii Pearce. Near Bray,Charleville, the seat of Charles Monck, Esqr.

Enniskerry (or any variant) is not mentioned, while smaller settlements such as Delgany and Blessington are, and perhaps Tinnehinch (‘Tinnypark’). This is something I have found a lot in looking at 18th century literature – Enniskerry isn’t really mentioned until the turn of the century; for example in Delatocnaye’s Frenchman’s Walk through Ireland (1797).

Reference to source

*Brian F Gurrin (2006), Three eighteenth-century surveys of County Wicklow, Analecta Hibernica, 39, 79 – 134. Brian Gurrin also wrote a book in the Maynooth Local History series “Pre-Census Sources for Irish Demography”, published by Four Courts Press. Further details beyond this brief summary can be found there.