Results of Ireland’s Alternative Census Just Announced

The 2016 National Census took place in Ireland on April 24, the precise anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. To mark this occasion The Trailblazery collective created Census of the Heart inviting anyone living on the island of Ireland to participate. We decided to get straight to the heart of things by asking people about their experiences of being alive in Ireland in 2016.

The Census of the Heart generated almost 12,000 responses which translates into almost half a million answers). It is now a unique repository of knowledge that holds the intimate values, loves, hopes, regrets, fears and dreams of almost 12000 people living on this island in 2016. We have been blown away with the response and look forward to sharing our findings with you.

Census of The Heart was designed to inspire and engage with the inner world(s) of a nation and start a new conversation about care in our society and value based economics. Launched in April 2016 by The Trailblazery {Rites of Passage, We Need to Talk about Ireland}, Census of the Heart is a pilot / prototype project that disrupts and responds to the National Census 2016. This alternative census places the human experience at the center of our inquiry asking not just who we are as a nation but how we are as a nation.

“The work of the National Census is important in fulfilling its function, however this Census of The Heart intervention brings awareness to the importance of including the human experience in the data we collect. We now have a unique repository of knowledge that holds the intimate hopes, regrets, fears and dreams of almost 12,000 people in Ireland, exactly 100 years after the Easter Rising of 1916.”

The Preliminary report is available to read here


A sample of statistics from Census of the Heart:


●       Proud to call Ireland home                   74% in English language & 77% in Irish language agree / strongly agree

●       Cherished in Irish Society                    36.7% disagree while 29.5% agree with rest of respondents unsure

●       I feel loved                                           83% in English language & 88% in Irish language

●       I love myself                                         61% in English language & 73% in Irish language

●       Empowered to bring change in my life  64% in English language & 87% in Irish language

●       Making decisions from Courage or Fear            61% in English language & 75% in Irish language lean towards courage

●       Wellbeing                                             74%in English language & 88% in Irish language ranked good / v good. Respondents in County Derry ranked highest while respondents in Fermanagh ranked lowest.

●       Fulfilling potential in daily life                          48% in English language & 66% in Irish language

Geographically Armagh ranked highest and Longford ranked lowest. Respondents aged 60+ scored highest on fulfilling their life potential while the 16—30 year olds scored lowest


This Preliminary Report scratches the surface providing some rich findings that explore the complexity of being human in Ireland in 2016. Most importantly, like all good research, the report tells us things we might not have known before, revealing areas ripe for more questions and deeper research.


Features & Focus:


Census of the Heart asks questions that hold up a mirror helping us to see ourselves as individuals and as a collective. People were invited to


●      go inward and connect with themselves

●      express themselves/their choices

●      participate from all 32 counties in the English or Irish language

●      review their life in relation to others

●      review their life in relation to the world

●      consider the future and their part in it

●      consider what action they are taking to make change in their lives

●      consider what kind of Ireland they want to leave behind for future generations






A total of 11,708 people participated in the survey between April 23 and May 22, 2016. Anyone who was living on the island of Ireland (32 counties) was eligible to participate in the survey. English Language Survey had 11,484 responses and Irish Language Survey had 224 responses. All ethnic groups listed took part in the survey. To read full Census of the Heart Preliminary Report please see


Key Observations:


1. Questions that could evolve the National Census

In designing the survey Census of the Heart felt it was important to evolve and add a number of demographic questions outside those currently posed in The National Census. This was to reflect the increasing diverse and complex expressions of people’s life choices in Irish society in 2016.

●      Gender: The survey expanded the gender question beyond male and female to include the option “other”

●      Marital status: The survey expanded the relationship question to include 4 additional options

●      Sexuality: Was also added as a demographic question

●      Wellbeing: The survey expanded the health question to include a question dedicated to wellbeing rather than just health.

The data shows that Census of The Heart respondents engaged with all of the additional options and questions offered in our survey e.g. 81 different words were expressed by respondents outside of male and female categories to describe gender identification.


2. Cherish?

We asked the question “Do you feel cherished in Irish society?” 100 years after the term was featured in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. While we are aware that in the context of the Proclamation the term “cherish” refers to the inclusion of Protestants and Catholics in Ireland 1916, in Census of The Heart the term has a broader socio-economic frame of reference.

To survive and thrive as a species we believe that our social and economic systems must evolve to ensure people feel cherished meaning valued, protected and cared for in Ireland 2016. Over one third of respondents disagreed and strongly disagreed with the statement, while another one third sat on the fence. We are left wondering if the concept of being cherished is a foreign one to people in Ireland today. Within this context we wonder if Census of The Heart could be utilized as the foundation to build the tools that explores the real resonance of the values and ideals of the 1916 proclamation for Ireland today.


3. National Pride

We set out to investigate what the respondents would have to say about their connection to their national identity, national pride, being alive in Ireland in 2016 and what kind of Ireland they wanted to leave as legacy for future generations. In the qualitative responses, the 1916 commemorations were referenced in a number of ways- nostalgically, romantically, critically and also as meaningful and inspiring. In an initial analysis of Q38 the word “proud” occurred 471 times. We note however that although the word proud recurred most frequently, this appeared to be proud to be Irish but not proud of Irish behavior regarding inequities.


4. Temperature Social Justice & The Call for Change

The overarching emergent theme within the qualitative data was social justice across all aspects of society e.g. health, equality, homelessness, children, the vulnerable and the marriage referendum. Within Q38, frustration was a noted emotional response, particularly in relation to the divide between the “have and the have not’s” and social inequity. Negative emotions e.g. depressing, frustration, despair, disappointment was frequently used in reference to a perception of increasingly materialistic values, neoliberal agendas and the oft-cited ‘corrupt’ or failing government more focussed on personal gain or economics.

The 8th Amendment was also repeatedly mentioned as a key concern and a source of inequity and shame, questioning Ireland’s status as a contemporary country. Conversely the Marriage Equality Referendum was perceived as a collective “shot in the arm” and was considered something to be proud of, inspired hope and brought with it a sense of potential. Family, friends and community were also presented as important factors in the respondent’s sense of support and ability to cope with change.


5. Emotional States of Being

Census of The Heart set out to assess the emotional state of the nation. In the quantitative section we included questions on Wellbeing, Happiness and Emotional States of Being. I Positive emotions ranked higher than negative in the question asking people to identify their feelings (Q27) with the top 3: Grateful, Content and Positive. The highest-ranking negative emotion was Overwhelm (both Eng and Ir) Lonely (Eng) and Scared (Ir). A striking feature of the qualitative responses is that over and over respondent’s statements reflect emotional states that are contradictory and dualistic. Most responses held both positive and negative states sometimes in the extreme.


6. Message in a Bottle


Q34: At some future stage we will all be ancestors, so today we could see ourselves as“ ancestors in training”++ In 3 words tell us what kind of world you want to leave for future generations.


Q38:We were inspired to make Census of the Heart to influence and shape our future history. Imagine someone is reading this in 2116. Tell them in 50 words or less what it really feels like to be alive in Irish society in 2016.


Above are the  two open-ended questions in the survey that invited respondents to consider the future, consciously taking them from 1916 to 2016 and forward to 2116. Both questions gave respondents an opportunity to imagine the world 100 years from now and speak to future generations in 2116. Q34 focused on aspirations for the future. In a preliminary word search of Q34 safe, peaceful and equal were the words most frequently used to describe aspirations for the future. Q38 asked respondents to leave an impression of what it means to be alive now in Ireland.


Sample of messages to future generations in 2116:


Our generation is either jumping on planes or jumping in rivers. At every stage of our lives now, we will be poorer than our parents were. I hope 2116 is a nicer place” Q38


I am sorry that we could not think of you when we were in charge of the country. Ignorance and greed got the better of us. We were a country that had many dark clouds hanging over us so we were inclined to avoid progress “ Q38


We are at a time of great change; information flows allowing us knowledge to sculpt Earth’s future development. Respect for nature & each other must win out over unsustainable greed if we are to survive. There is no Planet B.” Q38


Below are the overarching themes that emerged from initial analysis:


01: Political and Systemic concerns:
infrastructure, government issues and financial matters.

a)     Accountability    b)   Recession


02: Ecological and Environmental concerns (around sustainability)


03: Social Justice: equity, diversity equality and social justice


04: Social Concerns: family, friends and community


05: Professional responses: teaching, body work, creative work, community development and support work


06: States of being

a) Emotional Responses: happy, sad and safe

b) Reflection: Past and Future: 2016–2116

c) Society, Identity and Status


Why? The work of the National Census is important in fulfilling its function. However this Census of The Heart intervention brings awareness to the importance of including the human experience in the data we collect. We want:


●      To ask new questions to evolve the data we are currently gathering

●      To influence future history by asking deeper questions that relate to the human experience

●      People to feel valued, included, cared about and listened to

●      To reflect the complexity of values and perspectives in society

●      To present a multifaceted spectrum of society

●      To offer an opportunity for people to express themselves and their life choices

●      To focus on new information

●      To inspire future dreaming                                                                             



Opportunity: The National Census 2016 took place on April 24 and coincided with the precise anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. We decided to get straight to the heart of things and look at the state of our nation in 2016. As a country we are at a meaningful intersection or pivot point at this moment in time. Down the tracks, 100 years from now, future generations will be able to access the National Census 2016 records and find out about us, their ancestors. We saw a unique opportunity to engage with people in Ireland, inviting them to check in with themselves and to express their voice 100 years after the Rebellion.


What’s Next? Phase 1 is now complete with the launch of the preliminary report. Phase 2 is about further developing and analysing the data collected in Census of The Heart. We want to take the process further with a dedicated team of experts & partners. We want to drill deeper, down into the data to find emergent themes, patterns, beats, rhythms etc. We also want to cross reference the data to discover the true meaning of key attributes gathered from the survey, which may lead to further research in key areas.

About Us: Census of the Heart is designed & created by Mari Kennedy & Kathy Scott and brought to you by The Trailblazery (Rites of Passage and We Need to Talk about Ireland). In 2009 they founded the ireland : iceland project – a collaborative creative project connecting the islands and people of Ireland and Iceland.


Mari Kennedy is a facilitator, leadership coach and well-being consultant who has been working in the area of personal transformation and cultural change for over 10 years. She is passionate about evolving culture and society by asking bigger questions, collaborating with others who share a similar vision and leading innovative and inspiring projects. She is currently studying Zen Based Integral Facilitation with Diane Musho Hamilton in the US. In her former life, as a marketer and strategist, she worked as Projects Coordinator for former President Mary McAleese. She is a senior yoga teacher and mindfulness trainer and her decade long yoga and mindfulness practice keep her curious, kind and mostly sane.

Kathy Scott works as a curator, creative producer, communications director & project manager in the Arts, Cultural & Social arena. She is a founder of The Trailblazery, designing and producing events that showcase brilliant ideas, people and possibilities alive in Ireland and the world right now. She co-curated and produced Pilgrimage Project, a series of multidisciplinary artistic residencies featuring artists and critical thinkers from Ireland, Iceland and Greece. She curates and produces Wonderlust a bespoke stage at Body&Soul Festival. She works and plays with a host of artists, collectives, producers and practitioners to make cultural experiences happen. She is dedicated to the development of international cross – platform arts projects that are bold, provocative and emotionally charged.


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