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Settlement in Ireland
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Population Distribution Population Change
Populations of towns in Ireland of size 7000 plus
Download population data of towns in Ireland of size 1000 plus

Population Distribution

Compared to other parts of Europe, Ireland is very sparsely populated. In fact, the population today is significantly lower than it was 160 years ago. The current population of the island as a whole is 5,162,535 which breaks down as 3,621,035 in the Republic of Ireland (1,056,666 in county Dublin, 2,564,369 elsewhere) and 1,541,500 in Northern Ireland. In 1841, the population of the island was 8,175,124.

Population Density in Ireland: Map [9kB]Settlement is concentrated heavily around the east and south coasts. The major metropolitan areas include Belfast, Cork and Dublin. After Dublin, eastern Ulster has the highest population density in Ireland.

Northern Ireland is more densely populated than most of the island, with 30% of Irish people living within its borders. A million people live in counties Antrim and Down alone. The area around Belfast Lough is very densely populated, and includes 6 towns of over 20,000 inhabitants (Bangor, Belfast, Carrickfergus, Lisburn, Newtownabbey and Newtownards).

In the Irish Republic, Dublin county has been growing explosively in recent decades, reaching 1,000,000 people by the 1981 census. Dublin city proper had 860,000 inhabitants at the last census. Today it is a sprawling mixture of factories, housing estates and commerical centres. Today 1 in 5 Irish people live in Dublin county. The country has 9 towns of over 20,000 inhabitants (Bray, Cork, Drogheda, Dublin, Dundalk, Dún Laoghaire, Galway, Limerick and Waterford).

By contrast, population on the west coast is very sparse. This can be attributed both to the proximity of the east coast to the economic markets of Britain and to the fact that the best agricultural land lies to the east. The east was also the first area to be settled by each wave of invaders - Celts, Vikings, Normans and English. The map above shows the density of population in Ireland in the period 1992 to 1996.

Distribution of towns in Ireland: Map [9kB]The map on the left shows the distribution pattern of the 94 Irish towns which have over 5000 inhabitants. This map clearly shows the concentrations of towns in eastern Northern Ireland and around Dublin. You can also see the more isolated cities of Galway, Limerick and Cork. Note how few settlements there are in Connaught compared to Leinster.

Ireland, despite its historically rural culture, is becoming increasingly urbanised. While it is still not nearly as urbanised as other European areas, the figures are rising. In Northern Ireland, 70.3% of the population live in towns of 1000 or more people. In the Republic of Ireland, the figure is 57.7%.

To help you visualise the distribution of population in Ireland, imagine that the entire population reduced to just 10 people. At that scale, 3 people would live in Northern Ireland. Of those 3, 1 would live in county Antrim, 1 in county Down and 1 in the remaining 4 counties. Of the 7 people in the Irish Republic, 2 would live in Dublin county and 2 in the rest of Leinster. 2 more people would live in Munster. The final person would live in Connaught and the rest of Ulster.


Population Change

Ireland was in a state of negative population growth from the time of the Great Famine of the mid 1840s until as recently as the 1960s. The population recorded in the 1841 census was 8.12 million, which dropped to 4.46 million by the turn of the century. It reached an all time low of 4.23 million in 1926, after which it began a slow recovery. Today the population of the island stands at 5.16 million. The graph below summarises this trend. This trend is attributable to the large numbers of Irish who left Ireland to escape the famine, often choosing to go to America, and the number who left in following decades in seek of work, mainly in Britain. The population only started to rise again in the 1960s when the Irish economy finally came of age, but it will be decades yet before the population reaches the levels of the 19th century.

Population of Ireland 1841 - 1996 [6kB]

Population of Ireland 1841 - 1996
1841 8,175,124 1926 4,228,553
1851 6,552,385 *1936 4,248,165
1861 5,798,967 1951 4,331,514
1871 5,412,377 1961 4,243,383
1881 5,174,836 1971 4,514,313
1891 4,704,750 1981 4,975,601
1901 4,458,775 1991 5,103,555
1911 4,390,219 1996 5,162,535
The data that was used to create the chart above is summarised in the table on the left. The figures post-partition (1921 onwards) are made up by combining the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland census figures.

*Combines the 1936 figure for the Republic of Ireland and the 1937 figure for Northern Ireland.


Population of Settlements in Ireland

For a complete list of all 305 towns in Ireland which have over 1000 residents, click here. It is in tab-delimited format so that you can import it into spreadsheets and databases. Column 1 is the town name, column 2 is the county name and column 3 is the 1991 population.

The summary list below gives the populations of all 72 towns in Ireland that have at least 7000 inhabitants. These figures were derived from the 1991 Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland Censuses. Towns in italics are in Northern Ireland. Towns in standard type are in the Republic of Ireland.

Dublin* Dublin 859,976
Belfast** Antrim 475,968
Cork Cork 174,400
Limerick Limerick 75,436
Derry Londonderry 72,334
Newtownabbey Antrim 56,811
Dún Laoghaire¹ Dublin 55,540
Bangor Down 52,437
Galway Galway 50,853
Lisburn Antrim 42,110
Waterford Waterford 41,853
Dundalk Louth 29,768
Ballymena Antrim 28,112
Bray Wicklow 26,953
Drogheda Louth 24,656
Newtownards Down 23,869
Carrickfergus Antrim 22,786
Lurgan Armagh 21,905
Newry Down 21,633
Portadown Armagh 21,299
Antrim Antrim 20,878
Coleraine Londonderry 20,721
Sligo Sligo 19,964
Tralee Kerry 17,862
Swords Dublin 17,705
Kilkenny Kilkenny 17,669
Larne Antrim 17,575
Omagh Tyrone 17,280
Ennis Clare 16,058
Clonmel Tipperary 15,562
Wexford Wexford 15,393
Athlone Westmeath 15,358
Armagh Armagh 14,265
Carlow Carlow 13,748
Lucan Dublin 13,574
Leixlip Kildare 13,194
Dundonald Down 12,943
Dunmurry Antrim 12,771
Malahide Dublin 12,088
Droichead Nua Kildare 12,069
Mullingar Westmeath 11,867
Navan Meath 11,706
Strabane Tyrone 11,670
Banbridge Down 11,448
Enniskillen Fermanagh 11,436
Naas Kildare 11,141
Greystones Wicklow 10,778
Letterkenny Donegal 10,726
Limavady Londonderry 10,350
Downpatrick Down 10,113
Killarney Kerry 9950
Cookstown Tyrone 9842
Celbridge Kildare 9629
Tullamore Offaly 9430
Holywood Down 9252
Craigavon Armagh 9201
Dungannon Tyrone 9190
Portmarnock Dublin 9173
Comber Down 8333
Portlaoise² Laois 8281
Cóbh³ Cork 8219
Ballina Mayo 8167
Arklow Wicklow 7987
Shannon Clare 7920
Ballymoney Antrim 7818
Balbriggan Dublin 7724
Enniscorthy Wexford 7655
Castlebar Mayo 7648
Mallow Cork 7521
Newcastle Down 7214
Ballyclare Antrim 7108
Skerries Dublin 7032

* Comprises Dublin County Borough (478,389) and Greater Dublin Suburbs (381,587)
** The Belfast Urban Area, which includes Belfast LGD and parts of Newtownabbey, Castlereagh, Lisburn and North Down LGDs.
¹ Pronounced "Dun Leery". The "gh" is silent.
² Pronounced "Port Leesh"
³ Pronounced "Cove". In Ireland, "bh" is always pronounced "v".