Protestant decline in west cork

Published in 20th Century Social Perspectives, 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 3 (May/June 2012), Letters, Volume 20

Sir,—I followed with interest the debate on Peter Hart’s interpretation of the 1922 Dunmanway massacre (John M. Regan, HI 20.1, Jan./Feb. 2012, Platform; Jeffrey Dudgeon, HI 20.2, March/April 2012, Letters). Hart’s reputation is unlikely to be damaged by Regan’s analysis, however. To somebody who knows the area, Regan’s handling of data is so slipshod and selective that it is almost embarrassing to be the one to expose it. So I will not attempt to do so here. However, for anyone interested in the details of the case I have an essay on the topic on my website: http://year-of-disappearances.blogspot.com.

 

But probably of more interest in the last issue was Barry Keane’s ‘crunching of the numbers’ on the issue of the decline of the Protestant population of West Cork between 1911 and the 1926 census. Mr Keane urges that the manuscripts of the 1926 census be released so that historians will finally be able to establish in detail the extent of the decline of the Protestant population over the south of Ireland during the revolutionary period. The release of the 1926 census would, he suggests, enable historians to compare the two—at least for the two years when the census was taken.

 

However, it is already possible to do this and in much greater detail than could be done from the census figures. For the books of the Valuations Office record exactly who was resident at every property in every townland and every street—and for every year. It gives an exact snapshot year on year on residency and records exactly when families left. So there is no need to wait till the 1926 census is released to access this kind of information.

 

And in the case of Cork it is easier again, for Guy’s Postal Directory for Cork also lists who was living in every street and every parish and records the changes year on year. While there are some interesting anomalies in these records—for instance, Guy’s Postal Directory for 1923 for the city is unchanged from the 1922 edition, reflecting the chaos of the time—they give a far more accurate picture of when Protestants left than would be obtained by using the census figures, which are fifteen years apart. Using those databases, it should be possible to build up a picture of exactly who left where and when. Why this has not been done by our professional historians has long been a source of amazement to me.—Yours etc.,

 

GERARD MURPHY

 

Institute of Technology, Carlow

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