Census 2016: Looking Back 175 Years- Changes in the Western Region Population

The release of information from the Census of Population 2016 provides an interesting opportunity to look back 175 years to the Census of 1841 to see how population in the Western Region has changed.

The 1841 census is considered to be the first modern census in the Great Britain and Ireland (the UK as it was then).  Each householder was required to complete a census schedule which contained the household address and the names, ages, sexes, occupations and places of birth of each individual living at the address.  The process is described here.  That Census, occurring before the devastation of the famine, provides information about a different Western Region.

Of course we know that in 1841 pre famine Ireland was a very different place, yet sometimes it is hard to believe how altered things are.  Leitrim then had a population of 155,297 (it is now 32,044).  Roscommon had more than a quarter of a million people, it now has 64,544 residents.  For those of us who know these counties, it is strange to think about how much more densely they were populated and how little obvious evidence of that population remains.

Population density has of course reduced significantly throughout the Western Region (Table 1).  It had been particularly high in Roscommon (99.52 persons per square kilometre), Sligo (98.44) and Leitrim (97.74) where some of the largest population losses occurred over the next decade.

Table 1: Population Density in the Western Region in 1841 and 2016

1841 persons per sq km 2016  persons per sq km
Clare 83.20 34.52
Galway 71.57 41.96
Leitrim 97.74 20.17
Mayo 69.59 23.35
Roscommon 99.52 25.33
Sligo 98.44 35.67
Donegal 61.00 32.76
Western Region 76.94 31.85
State
96.04
70.05
Source: CSO, 2017, Census 2016 Profile 2 -E2001: Population at Each Census 1841 to 2016 by County, Sex and Census Year and own calculations

 

As is evident from the changes in population density, all of the counties in the Western Region have suffered severe population decline since 1841 as is shown dramatically in the chart below.

Figure 1: Population of the Western Region counties 1841-2016

Source: CSO, 2017, Census 2016 Profile 2 -E2001: Population at Each Census 1841 to 2016 by County, Sex and Census Year

Of course the most rapid decline in population coincided with the famine (shown by the change between the 1841 and 1851 census), with Western Region counties losing between 32% (Roscommon) and 14% (Donegal) of their population in that decade[1].  Bald population data can only indicate the horror of that time.

After 1851, as we know, the population continued to decline, for the most part at a gradually decreasing rate, until the 1971 Census when the population of Clare and Galway both showed increases. Other Western Region counties followed over the next decades (with some fluctuations) and Leitrim experienced its first population increase since 1841 in 2006, 165 years later.

None of the Western Region counties have yet returned to their 1841 population levels (Table 2) through there is significant variation in the percentage of the 1841 population resident in each county today.

 

Table 2: Population of Western Region counties and State, 1841 and 2016

1841 2016 2016 as % of 1841 population
Clare 286,394 118,817 41%
Galway 440,198 258,058 59%
Leitrim 155,297 32,044 21%
Mayo 388,887 130,507 34%
Roscommon 253,591 64,544 25%
Sligo 180,886 65,535 36%
Donegal 296,448 159,192 54%
Western Region 2,001,701 828,697 41%
State 6,528,799 4,761,865 73%
Source: CSO, 2017, Census 2016 Profile 2 -E2001: Population at Each Census 1841 to 2016 by County, Sex and Census Year, and own calculations

 

The State, which had a population of more than 6.5m in 1841, now has 73% of its 1841 population.  There are predictions of more rapid population growth see here and here and here , bringing the population back to pre-famine levels before the bicentennial of the 1841 census.  This is largely due to more significant population recovery in other parts of Ireland, in particular on the east coast around the capital.

Despite declines in the nineteenth century (except in Dublin), five counties (Table 3) in the State now have higher populations than they did in 1841.

Table 3: Population of the five counties with larger population in 2016 than 1841

1841 2016 2016 as % 1841 population
Louth 128,240 128,884 101%
Meath 183,828 195,044 106%
Wicklow 126,143 142,425 113%
Kildare 114,488 222,504 194%
Dublin 372,773 1,347,359 361%
Source: CSO, 2017, Census 2016 Profile 2 -E2001: Population at Each Census 1841 to 2016 by County, Sex and Census Year, and own calculations

 

The population has moved eastward (and out of the State), but if rising population is a good indicator of a successful economy and society, it is to be hoped that the Western Region can also recover much of its pre-famine population by 2041.  Perhaps the forthcoming National Planning Framework  will be instrumental in achieving this.  However, given shifting population patterns (see here) it is likely that the 2041 population will be living in very different parts of the Region than in 1841.

 

 

Helen McHenry

[1] The population of Dublin County grew by 9% in that decade, the only county in the State which showed growth.

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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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