History of the protestant population of Kilkee

St James Church of Ireland
John Williams
The Crook Memorial Methodist Church
Robert Brown

Kilkee was Ireland’s most popular seaside resort in the 19th century.  Because of the structure of Irish Society at the time a large proportion of visitors to the town were members of Protestant religions. In the 1880s there was a Church of Ireland, Methodist Church and a Presbyterian Church in Kilkee. The Methodist Church still survives with some ecumenical services. The Church of Ireland building was sold two years ago and is now a private house. This article gives the facts and figures of the resident population of Protestant religions, in the town over almost two centuries.

Protestant Population of Kilkee

The advent in the 1820s of a paddle steamer service from Limerick to Kilrush had made the peninsula much more accessible and by the 1830s, Kilkee had become a favourite bathing resort for Limerick people. Given the social stratification of society at that time and the association between religion and wealth, many of those lodging there or buying houses were of the various Protestant faiths. The merchant and professional classes from Limerick and governmental employees such as the constabulary and coast guard who either rented or owned property in the town were predominantly non- Catholic.  Reflecting this, a Protestant church was built in 1841 (Protestant service was celebrated in the schoolhouse up to that) but not consecrated to 1843.  A meeting hall on Albert Road was being used by the Methodist congregation from 1854 and a Methodist church was built in 1900. As the town grew so did the range of services. By 1837, there was a constabulary and coast-guard station as well as a dispensary.

Table 1 outlines the population changes in Kilkee over the course of almost a century. Steep increases in population in the 1820s and 1830s were followed by more modest but none the less significant increases in the 1840s and 1850s only to be followed by decline throughout the 1860s and 1870s followed by a resurgence in the 1890s coinciding with the railway being extended to the town followed by a gradual decline from the start of the 20th century that has continued to the present time.

Table 1. General Population Trends in Kilkee in 19th and early 20th Centuries

YearPopulation+ or – %
1821   409
18311,051+ 157

CSO statistics.

This section looks at population figures by religious denomination on a national (1891-1911), County Clare (1871-1911) and Kilkee (1901-1911) basis for various periods of the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Regarding Kilkee, we also looked at figures for the preceding decades of the 19th century, relying on deductions from a variety of other sources. So, for instance, Hogan’s directory of 1842, lists 230 business and house occupiers in the town representing 187 individuals of whom approximately 15% are of Protestant faith. The directory covers some 13% of the total town population. Slater’s Directory of 1846 covers roughly 4% of the total number of Kilkee inhabitants in its listing of 61 professional, religious, business or trades people of whom almost a quarter were of Protestant persuasion. As these directories have as their focus the gentry, professional, business and home owning classes, the Protestant population is significantly over represented among these categories compared to its representation in the overall population. However, extrapolating from Hogan and Slater’s data would suggest a Protestant population of around 5% in Kilkee in the 1840s.

Additional information for religious diversity in Kilkee is available from data sourced from the local Church of Ireland records. Information from church records while not giving exact numbers does allow one to confidently state that at various points throughout the 19th century, the Protestant population of the town was far higher than the county average but not of the national average.  For instance, the Church of Ireland Vestry Book lists the names of many of the attendees at Sunday service. The names, of a partial list of attendees, taken in 1850 on non-tourist dates, numbering 47 are given in Appendix 1. As over a third of these were married women whose husbands aren’t listed on the dates in question, it’s reasonable to add a further third to the overall number and add for children as well as factor in a number for non- attendees so that the likely figure for the non- Catholic population of the town in 1850 is of the order of 10% of the resident population.

Other information based on Church of Ireland records show that there were 127 marriages recorded in the Church of Ireland between 1845 and 1954 for the parish.  One hundred of these occurred in the thirty five year period from 1845 to 1879 but this had fallen steeply to only 27 in the subsequent three quarters of a century up to 1954.

In the 1880’s, during the month of August as many as 400 people attended the church on a Sunday. Obviously, this is a figure which is highly inflated by tourists to the town.

There were at least twenty-three children attending the Church of Ireland N.S. in 1908, ten girls and thirteen boys. (See Appendix 2).

At least one hundred and thirty people of Protestant persuasion died in Kilkee between 1826 and 1974. Ninety-eight of these deaths are recorded in the Church of Ireland burial book for the years 1879 to 1974 (see Table 2 below). The burial book records for the period prior to 1879 were not held locally but were lost in the fire in the Four Courts.  However, from various other records, it has been possible to find that for the period 1826 to 1899, fifty-nine people died and for the period 1900 to 1974, seventy-one people died. These don’t purport to be exhaustive numbers and the figures for the 19th century in particular are likely to be an under estimate, as only one death was discovered for the quarter century from 1856 to 1881. Based on the other figures, one would expect at least 20 deaths in that time period.

 Table 2. Kilkee Church of Ireland Burial book entries*.

Adult Male177551
Adult Female15131966
Child Male 12000
Child Female 01000

*The Burial Book only covers the years 1879-1974 and is in place of the Parish Register which was taken in July 1879 by Sir Paul Ferguson by order of the Master of the Rolls.

Tables 3-5 below give the distribution of the main Protestant religions in Ireland, Co. Clare and Kilkee respectively for the period 1891 to 1911.

As can be seen from Table 3, in 1891, the Protestant population of Ireland was just over 10% and remained more or less constant until 1911. Within the Protestant congregation, the number of “dissenters”, as they were known, was declining. These were people who professed a different Protestant Christian faith to the Established church (Church of Ireland). In 1861, “dissenters” made up nearly 2% of the population of Limerick city. (Irish Ancestry Centre).

Table 3. The total numbers and percentages for the Republic of Ireland from 1891 to 1911 of the main Protestant faiths.

Church1891% of total pop.1901% of total pop.1911% of total pop.
Church of Ireland286,804   8.26264,264      8.21249,535   8.01
Presbyterian  51,469  1.48 46,714      1.46 45,486   1.40
Methodist  18,513  0.54 17,872      0.54 16,440   0.51
Total Numbers356,78610.28328,850    10.21311,461   9.92


Regarding the distribution of the main Protestant faiths in Co. Clare, Table 4 below, in line with the national picture, shows the decline in all the faiths over the period 1871-1911 although not in a completely linear fashion. According to the 1911 census, there were 1,913 members of the Protestant faiths in County Clare of whom 1,709 described themselves as Church of Ireland. In that census, County Clare had the smallest Protestant population of any Irish county, with a non- Catholic population of 1.86%.

Table 4. Percentages for the Protestant faiths in Co. Clare 1871-1911.

C. of Ireland2.001.901.801.811.64

Clare archives From Ireland -net.

The census figures for 1901 and 1911 give an accurate read of the Protestant inhabitants as they were taken in the months of March or April and thus not overly affected by the numbers of visitors to the town. Table 5 below shows the numbers aligned to the various Protestant faiths in Kilkee in both 1901 and 1911.

Unlike the figures for County Clare (see Table 4 above), in Kilkee in 1911, the non- Catholic population at 6.5% was three and a half times the county rate of 1.86%.  In 1901, the comparative figures were 7.0% and 2.02% respectively. While the 1911 figures were still maintaining the differential between the town and county, the overall percentage was in decline in both.

Table 5. Numbers and percentages in Kilkee of the Protestant faiths in 1901 and 1911.

Faith*C of IrelandMethodistPresbyterian**Other
1901 Numbers119103
1901 Percentage6.700.0600.20
Town Population1,7621,7621,7621,762
1911 Numbers94853
1911 Percentage5.572.01.250.75
Town Population1,6881,6881,6881,688

1901 and 1911 census figures.

*The Church of Ireland figure for 1901 is comprised of 106 Church of Ireland, 8 Church of England and 5 Irish Church. For 1911, it’s comprised of 84 Church of Ireland, 9 Church of England and 1 Irish Church.

**The Other figure for 1901 comprises 1 Baptist, 1 Plymouth Brethern and 1 Dissenter. For 1911, it’s 3 Irish Episcopal Church.

Tables 6-8 give the occupational status of the various Protestant faiths in Kilkee as recorded by the censuses of 1901 and 1911.

Table 6. Occupations of *Church of Ireland members from 1901 Census in Kilkee.

AgriculturalistArtistCarpenterChief BoatmanCivil Engineer x 3
Coast Guard x 2Commercial TravellerCookDressmakerFarmer
Gentleman x 2Governess x 2GrocerHouseholder x 2Lady x 19
Lady CompanionLieutenant ColonelLodging Keeper x 2MagistrateNurse
RectorR.I.C. x 2SailorServantSexton


Table 7. Occupations of *Church of Ireland members from 1911 Census in Kilkee.

BankerBoarder x 2Civil Engineer x 2Coast GuardEngine Driver
FarmerGovernessGrocerLady x 6J.P.
National TeacherNursePetty OfficerPhotographerPhysician

*includes members of Church of England (1901 and 1911), Irish Church (1911) and the Episcopal Church (1911).


Table 8. Occupations of other Protestant Faiths’ members from 1901 and 1911 Censuses in Kilkee.

1901 Census  
Commercial Traveller (Methodist)Lady (Presbyterian)R.I.C. (Presbyterian)
1911 Census
Coast Guard x 2 (Methodist)Dental Operator (Presbyterian)Servant (Methodist)

Despite the small numbers, there is a quite a distribution of professions among the Protestant population as well as socio-economic diversity. However, it is also worthy of note that in 1901, twenty of the Protestant population are described as ladies of independent means and 2 as Gentlemen out of a total Protestant population of 119 or 16%.

In conclusion, the percentages of Protestants in Kilkee was appreciably higher than for the rest of County Clare all through the second half of the 19th century and into the early part of the 20th century.


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