Census 2016: Rurality, Population Density and the Urban Population of the Western Region

Detailed population figures from the Census of Population were published last week in Profile 2 – Population Distribution and Movements  which looked at population density, rural and urban populations and the population in towns.

Rural and Urban Population

In Ireland as a whole just over a third (37%) of the population live in rural areas (that is outside towns of 1,500).  In contrast, in the Western Region shows the opposite pattern and 65% live in rural areas (Figure 1).  This is a marginal decline on 2011 (when it was 66%).

The rural population of the seven counties varies from almost 90% in Leitrim (where there is only one ‘urban centre- over 1,500) to 54% in Galway which of course includes the largest settlement.  After Leitrim, Roscommon, Donegal and Mayo are the most rural of the Western Region counties.  Sligo and Clare, along with Galway are slightly less rural.  It should be noted that Galway county (i.e. excluding the city) is one of the most rural with almost 78% of the population living in rural areas.

Figure 1: Percentage of Population living in rural areas in the Western Region and State.

Source: CSO Census 2016 Profile 2 E2008: Population Percentage in the Aggregate Town Areas and Aggregate Rural Areas

 

Each county, and the Western Region itself (64.7%), has a significantly higher proportion of people living in rural areas than for the State as a whole (37%).

 

Population Density

Density is another key indicator of rurality and it certainly is important in considering the provision of services.  In Ireland as a whole the population density is 70 people per square kilometre and in the more rural Western Region it is almost 32 people per km2 .  Again there is considerable variation by county and as can be seen in Figure 2 below, this largely mirrors the rurality of each of the seven counties.

Figure 2: Population Density in the Western Region and State (persons per sq km)

Source: CSO Census 2016 Profile 2 E2013: Population Density and Area Size 2011 to 2016

 

Galway has the highest population density (42 people per square km) and Leitrim has the lowest with just over 20 people per square kilometre.

Population in Towns

The population of towns across is also included in this Profile and looking at towns across the region the weak urban structure of the region is evident.

Galway is the significant city, with a population of 79,934 in 2016.  Only five towns have a population of more than 10,000 people (Table 1), and all of these had population declines between 2011 and 2016 though, with the exception of Ballina these were small.  Ennis, the largest settlement after Galway is less than a third of its size (25,276 people), and it had a slight population decline (-0.3%) while Letterkenny (19,274) and Sligo (19,199) also had population decreases (1.6% and 1.3%).  The population of Castlebar (12,068) fell by 2% but that in Ballina (10,171) fell by a more significant 8.3%.

Table 1: Population of Towns larger than 10,000 in the Western Region

2011 – Population (Number) 2016 – Population (Number) Actual change since previous census (Number) Percentage change since previous census (%)
Galway City and Suburbs, Galway 76,778 79,934 3,156 4.1
Ennis*, Clare 25,360 25,276 84 -0.3
Letterkenny*, Donegal 19,588 19,274 314 -1.6
Sligo*, Sligo 19,452 19,199 253 -1.3
Castlebar*, Mayo 12,318 12,068 250 -2
Ballina*, Mayo 11,086 10,171 915 -8.3
*Boundaries used for these Census towns have been changed since 2011 so the populations between 2011 and 2016 are not directly comparable.  See this post for more discussion.
Source: CSO Census 2016 Profile 2 E2016: Population and Actual and Percentage Change 2011 to 2016 by Alphabetical List of Towns

 

There are a further seven towns with a population of more than 5,000 (Table 2) giving a total of 13 towns including Galway in that size category (5,000-9,999) in the Western Region.  All of the towns in this category grew with the exception of Buncrana (-0.8%) and Ballinasloe which had no change.  The largest growth was in Loughrea (9.8%) which, along with Tuam, serves as a residential location for people working in Galway.

Table 2: Population of Towns 5,000-9,999 in the Western Region

2011 – Population (Number) 2016 – Population (Number) Actual change since previous census (Number) Percentage change since previous census (%)
Shannon*, Clare             9,673            9,729 56 0.6
Tuam*, Galway             8,242            8,767 525 6.4
Buncrana*, Donegal             6,839            6,785 – 54 -0.8
Ballinasloe*, Galway             6,659           6,662     3 0
Westport*, Mayo             6,063            6,198   135 2.2
Roscommon, Roscommon             5,693            5,876  183 3.2
Loughrea*, Galway             5,062            5,556 494 9.8
*Boundaries used for these Census towns have been changed since 2011 so the populations between 2011 and 2016 are not directly comparable. See this post for more discussion.
Source: CSO Census 2016 Profile 2 E2016: Population and Actual and Percentage Change 2011 to 2016 by Alphabetical List of Towns

 

There are a further 27 towns in the Western Region with a population of more than 1,500 and which are therefore categorised as urban.  Athenry (12.5%), Gort (13.2%), Tubbercurry (13.7%) and Collooney (17.6%) showed the strongest growth, while Clifden showed a very significant population decline (-22.3%) partially associated with the closure of a Direct Provision Accommodation Centre in 2012.

Table 3 below shows the urban structure of the region.  165,922 people (58% of the region’s urban population of 283,873) live in towns of more than 10,000, and a further 49,573 people (17%) in towns of more than 5,000.  A significant population lives in the smallest towns 68,378 (24%)

Table 3: Urban Structure of the Western Region

2011 2016 Actual change (2011-2016) Percentage change (2011-2016)
Population of towns greater than 10,000 164,582 165,922 1,340 0.8%
Population of towns 5,000- 9,999 48,231 49,573 1,342 2.8%
Population of towns 1,500-4,999 66,647 68,378 1,731 2.6%
Total Population of towns greater than 1,500 279,460 283,873 4,413 1.6%
Source: CSO Census 2016 Profile 2 E2016: Population and Actual and Percentage Change 2011 to 2016 by Alphabetical List of Towns

 

While these urban populations are significant in the context of the region, it should be remembered that more than half a million people (535,953) are living in rural areas (in small settlements and open countryside) in the Region.  The CSO has provides population details of a further 201 settlements in the Region, the smallest of these is Malin (population 92) and 103,936 people live in these.  A total of 440,888 (53%) therefore live in more open countryside (and in even smaller settlements).

Conclusion

It is important to remember that the Western Region is a very rural region, and while higher level services (for example in health and education) should be provided in the larger urban settlements, the needs of those living in more rural, dispersed populations and the best means of providing services and access to services and employment in these areas must be considered.

For some more detail on town populations in each Western Region county see the WDC County Profiles.

 

Helen McHenry

 

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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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