While John Denver had the bould Annie to fill up his census, there will be no such luxury for us this weekend when we will have to gather all the childers and auld wans and young wans, cats and dogs in the house on Sunday night and do a headcount for fear we should get it wrong. In censuses past, the job of gathering all in one room and filling out the forms fell to the person known as the Head of the Household.
This Head of the Household would be a probably moustachioed father, who would summon Mother from the scullery and get her to line up all the children so that he could get a rough idea of how many little people there were who lived in the household of which he was head.
He would wet his pencil with his lip and stooping forward would point his pencil at each one until he got to around eight or nine, and then asking Mother if that was the figure she had in mind as well. When such a consensus was agreed and he permitted Mother to scatter the children to their chores and herself to the safety of her scullery, he would write the findings of his survey into the census form. With careful precision he could add a flourish to the tail of each leter, so that future generations would look back at it with pride and say ‘musha, wasn’t the great grandfather a dab hand at the scribbling all right?”
The Head of the Household would swell out his chest with pride at the great job he had done, not alone in siring the nine children, or tailing off each letter, but at the pride he felt in knowing that his reign on the throne of his domain would forever be preserved in ink or lead.
Fast forward a hundred years, and you’ll find a brave man who would dare to suggest he is Head of the Household. Or who indeed has sired (or been party to the siring of ) nine children. But nonetheless the findings of Sunday’s census will be as important as those findings of the 1911 count, the results of which were placed online last year. They contain many anomalies. People who have aged backwards or forwards more than a decade in the 1901 and 1911 census, as many people strove to avail of Lloyd George’s newly-introduced old age pension.
The census of 2011 will also show an Ireland in flux. One ravaged by emigration, unemployment, reduced working hours, with new types of illness and new modes of transport for getting to work. It will probably show greater levels of education and atainment, but alas, it will not show contentment or hope. Although David Cameron has a happiness index, its use is a bit like goal-line technology — yet to be proven.
So, on Sunday, do your duty, fill in the forms honestly so that the country can plan for your future knowing more about you and what you need.