I am grateful to Barry Griffin (barrygriffin.com) for granting permission to use his maps on this page.
Note: Some maps seem to have gone missing on this page and need to be restored. Sorry!
We can clearly see that at the start of the 20th century, the Sextons were still predominantly Munster-based – concentrated in a wide band from west Clare, through Limerick and down to west Cork – with some movement east into south Tipperary and Kilkenny. There is a second smaller concentration on Cavan with a spread into Longford, Leitrim and Sligo.
Ten years later, the pattern of distribution is very similar though there is, perhaps, some evidence of further spreading from the areas of concentration identified in 1901. There is also some evidence of movement towards the urban areas of Dublin, Cork and Belfast.
Given that the Sextons were to be found predominantly in rural areas, it is no surprise that most Sexton families in 1901 were engaged in farming. This was, of course, reflective of the weak industrial base in Ireland (outside Belfast and Dublin) at that time
We see that the Sextons are overwhelmingly Catholic at the time of the 1901 census.
Only in a handful of locations do we find Protestant Sextons and, in all probability, these individuals and families are descended from bearers of the name who had migrated to Ireland from England and would have no ‘blood relationship’ with the indigenous Sexton families. It is worth noting that there appear to be no surviving Protestant Sextons in Limerick City even though we know that there was a prominent Sexton family living in that city in the 16th century which had converted to Protestantism. It is likely that many descendants of that family emigrated to what is now the United States in the 17th and 18th century while others may have been assimilated back into the native, Catholic population of that city.
At the turn of the 20th century, significant numbers of Sextons continued to speak Irish. Prior to the Famine of the late 1840s, the great majority of the population of the Atlantic fringe of Ireland from Donegal to Waterford were monoglot Irish speakers but by 1901, the use of Irish was declining very rapidly with the great majority of speakers in these areas being bilingual and elderly.
Statistics: Surname Counts and Rankings
According to the census, there were 1,826 with the surname Sexton in Ireland in 1901 and 1,846 in 1911.
This ranks the surname 432nd in 1901 and 433rd in 1911.
Surname Count in Munster in 1901: 1,288
Surname Ranking in Munster in 1901: 157th
Surname Count in Leinster in 1901: 265
Surname Ranking in Leinster in 1901: 515th
Surname Count in Ulster in 1901: 174
Surname Ranking in Ulster in 1901: 777th
Surname Count in Connacht in 1901: 99
Surname Ranking in Connacht in 1901: 530th
Religion statistics for Sexton in 1901 accrding to the census – Catholic: 98%, Anglican: 1%
Religion statistics for Sexton in 1911 – Catholic: 98%, Anglican: 1%, Other: 1%