The censuses of 1841 and 1851 provide the earliest detailed and consistent data on the occupations pursued by the people of Ireland in the first half of the nineteenth century. This paper presents a series, constructed from this data, on occupations classified by industry for the years 1841 and 1851. Its purpose is to establish the industrial distribution of the labour force for each of the four provinces, to describe the changes in industrial employment by province during the famine decade, and to make a contribution to debate on the origins of employment decline.
In its return of occupations, the census of 1841 differed from the censuses of 1821 and 1831 in three ways: in method of estimation, in compilation, and in system of classification. As regards estimation, the 1841 commissioners issued a ‘Form of family return’ to be completed by the head of the family, rather than, as in 1821 and 1831, having the details entered by the enumerator from viva voce inquiry. This has its limitations in that it depends on the accuracy of the householders’ returns, but it is preferable to relying on the accuracy of enumerators’ returns. As regards compilation, the 1841 census returned the occupations of all persons active in the labour force by age and gender; the 1821 census returned all persons active; the 1831 census returned males upwards of twenty years of age in agriculture, industry and services (except servants), all male servants and female servants (age unspecified). As regards the system of classification, the 1821 occupation returns were made under three, and the 1831 under eleven general headings with no return of the numbers engaged in the component occupations of these headings (but see note 1); the 1841 census provided a return of the numbers of males and females engaged in each of 471 occupations classified as belonging to one of nine classes: ministering to food; clothing; lodging; furniture; machinery, etc.; health; charity; justice; education; religion; unclassified.