The West in 1916

For the week that’s in it, we thought we’d turn our attention to 1916.  The CSO recently launched a very interesting resource that’s well worth investigating Life in 1916 Ireland: Stories from statistics that highlights just how much life has changed over the past century.

A lot of the data is for Ireland as a whole, but there’s county information on many topics.  Understandably much of the analysis focuses on living conditions for people in Dublin city at the time of the 1916 Rising, especially those living in the tenements, but some very interesting patterns for the West also emerge.

Shift in population

The past century has seen a fundamental shift in Ireland’s population towards the East coast, with Leinster’s population more than doubling (up 116%).  Munster meanwhile had a 20% increase.  In contrast, both Connacht and the counties of Ulster in the Republic both experienced an 11% fall in their population over the past 100 years.

At a county level, all counties of the Western Region, except Galway and Clare, had a fall in population ranging from -50% in Leitrim to -4% in Donegal (Fig. 1). Within the region, the population tended to shift southwards.

Housing conditions

There were 176,659 housing units in the Western Region in 1911. There was a 69% increase over the following century, but this increase is dwarfed by the 222% increase in housing units in the Rest of the State, clearly a consequence of the shifting population patterns.

The region was also characterised by fewer ‘big houses’ with less than 5% of all houses having 10 rooms or more compared with 11.5% in the Rest of the State.  Mayo, Leitrim and Roscommon had the lowest shares of large houses.

At the other end of the scale, there were 10,080 one room dwellings in the Western Region in 1911. If we specifically consider one room dwellings which housed three or more people (Fig. 2), the impact of Dublin’s tenements is clear. Over half of one room dwellings in the city had three or more people.

For the Western Region it was quite a mixed picture with the large rural counties of Donegal and Mayo having the next highest shares after Dublin, while Roscommon and Leitrim had among the lowest.  Birth rates were a key factor here, as Roscommon (18.1 per 1,000 population) and Leitrim (19.2) had some of the lowest birth rates in the country in 1916, while Mayo (21.8) and Donegal (21.2) had among the highest.

Fig. 2: Percentage of one room dwellings with three or more people by county, 1911. Source: http://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-1916/1916irl/society/livingconditions/#d.en.95615 and WDC calculations

Fig. 2: Percentage of one room dwellings with three or more people by county, 1911. Source: http://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-1916/1916irl/society/livingconditions/#d.en.95615 and WDC calculations

Seasonal Agricultural Work

The prevalence of large numbers living in one room dwellings in Donegal and Mayo could be linked to the phenomenon of seasonal agricultural workers which was strongest in these counties. In 1914, approximately 13,000 people migrated to Britain for seasonal agricultural work.  The county of origin for 7,246 of these migrants is known and Mayo and Donegal accounted for over 80% of the migrants (4,282 and 1,640 respectively).  As these workers would be absent from the home for long periods, the actual number of people living in some of these one room dwellings during these periods would have been lower.

The CSO quotes the Department of Agriculture & Technical Instruction reporting that labourers “…save usually from half to three-quarters of their earnings, and some return home with as much as £20 saved in the season.” This report also noted that 97% of migrants from Donegal went to Scotland while 93% of the migrants from Mayo went to England and Wales.

Literacy

This pattern of seasonal agricultural work, and the dominance of agricultural employment in general, was also likely a factor in these counties having the highest rates of illiteracy in the country with Donegal (16.8%), Galway (15.3%) and Mayo (14.6%) having the highest (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3: Percentage of population by literacy level by county, 1911 (note: there were a considerable number of persons where this information was missing). Source: http://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-1916/1916irl/society/livingconditions/#d.en.95615 and WDC calculations

Fig. 3: Percentage of population by literacy level by county, 1911 (note: there were a considerable number of persons where this information was missing). Source: http://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-1916/1916irl/society/livingconditions/#d.en.95615 and WDC calculations

Infant Mortality

While the West may have had higher illiteracy rates, one area where it performed well was in infant mortality.  Ireland’s infant mortality rate in 1916 was 81.3 i.e., for every 1,000 babies born during 1916, 81 died before they reached twelve months of age. The infant mortality rate was truly shocking in Dublin City at 153.5, followed by Dublin County at 102.2 and Limerick at 101.1 (Fig. 4).

Counties in the Western Region had the lowest rates of infant mortality with a rate of 34.6 in Roscommon, 45.9 in Leitrim and 51.4 in Mayo. The CSO notes it is likely that higher population densities in urban areas (such as in the tenements in Dublin City) contributed to the spread of diseases. While poverty was widespread in both urban and rural areas, there would have been greater access to fresh air and better quality food in rural areas.

Fig. 4: Infant mortality rate (per 1,000 births) by county, 1916. Source: http://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-1916/1916irl/bmd/births/#d.en.97677

Fig. 4: Infant mortality rate (per 1,000 births) by county, 1916. Source: http://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-1916/1916irl/bmd/births/#d.en.97677

While we’ve highlighted some of the most striking figures showing what life was like in the West in 1916, there’s a lot more to discover in this fascinating resource.

Pauline White

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About WDC Insights

WDC Insights is the blog of the Western Development Commission Policy Analysis Team. The WDC Policy Analysis team analyses regional and rural issues, suggests solutions to regional difficulties and provides a regional perspective on national policy objectives. Policy Analysis Team Members are: Deirdre Frost, Helen McHenry and Pauline White. We will all be posting here. You can contact us here, or use our firstnamelastname at wdc.ie Follow us on Twitter @WDCInsights
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