Anthropometric screening has been recommended for the detection of undernutrition as it is simple, inexpensive and non-invasive. However, a recent study estimating the prevalence of undernutrition on admission to hospital in Dublin, Republic of Ireland, highlighted that the anthropometric reference data currently available in the UK and Republic of Ireland are inadequate to accurately determine nutritional status. In order to provide current anthropometric data, we carried out a cross-sectional study of 874 free-living, apparently healthy Irish-born elderly individuals aged over 65 years. Height, weight, triceps skinfold thickness, mid-arm and calf circumference were measured, values for BMI, mid-arm muscle circumference and arm muscle area were calculated and smoothed centile data derived for each variable. One-third of these elderly individuals had a BMI between 20–25 k/2, approximately two-thirds (68·5 % of males and 61 % of females) were classified as overweight or obese, almost one-fifth having a BMI over 30 k/2 (17 % of men and 20 % of women). Very few were underweight, only 3 % having a BMI below 20 k/2. Height, weight, BMI and muscle reserves decreased with increasing age. The reduction in muscle size was associated with lower handgrip strength. Fat reserves declined with age in females only. Just over half of elderly Irish women reported participating in active leisure of 20 min duration four or more time/eek, although 13 % reported having no involvement in active leisure. These data for the Irish elderly extend the data generated from a recent countrywide survey of Irish adults aged 18–64 years, thus providing suitable reference standards for nutritional assessment of elderly Irish individuals.