Irish Roots: Dublin city voters, 1908

The laws of Irish decorum dictate that one apologise for blowing one’s own trumpet.


But, frankly, my own trumpet is one of my very favourite instruments. My long-suffering neighbours can testify to the loud, self-satisfied tootling that often keeps them awake long into the night.

Today’s tune concerns the new database on Dublin City Library and Archive’s site, covering Dublin voters in 1908. It has its origins in the Local Government (Ireland) Act of 1898, which transformed the laws governing local elections in Ireland, and massively widened the franchise. Whereas before only freemen and the propertied could vote in local elections, after 1898 “occupiers, inhabitants and lodgers” were also included, as well as women over the age of 30. To give some idea of the scale of change, in 1908 96% of voters listed were from these new categories. They cover almost the entire social spectrum, from Robert Beresford Smyth, a large freeholder in D’Olier St., recorded as “travelling abroad” in 1908, to Edward Kane, a lodger paying 4s a week for two unfurnished rooms on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay. This is Joyce’s Dublin, top to bottom. The number of voters recorded is 46,065. The population of the city in 1901 was 290,638. Given the age qualifications – 21 for men, 30 for women – the records probably cover a large majority of households in the city.

The annual original volumes are giant backbreakers, divided by electoral ward, in turn sub-divided by voter category, then listing electors house by house. In other words, searching for an individual meant having to comb the entire volume. If you could lift it. Creating a database transcript with record images utterly transforms the records’ usefulness.

To be honest, however satisfying the end result, my role was as just one of a team made up of DCLA staff, in particular Dr. Mary Clark, the City Archivist. Full credit to them and just a little tootle for me.