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Prelude to Famine 4: Demographics
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There are no reliable population figures for Ireland before 1841, however estimates (often based on Hearth Money Returns) have been carried as far back as 1700. These figures show that Ireland's population rose slowly from around 3 million in 1700 until the last half of the 18th century when it had reached 4 million. It then entered a rapid period of increase (around 1.6% per annum) which appears to have slowed to 0.6% by 1830. By 1841, the population had reached 8.2 million (according to the census, but the actual figure may be nearer 8.5 million). The population would probably have levelled off at a value of 9 million had it not been for the famine that began in 1845. The following graph shows Ireland's population since 1700.

Population of Ireland 1700-2000 [5kB]

Emigration has been a feature of Irish history more than almost any other country in the world. This is shown by the fact that, apart from the 5 million people in Ireland, there are an estimated 55 million people worldwide who can trace their ancestry back to Ireland. Although the most awesome levels of emigration were to occur during and immediately after the famine, it would be a mistake to think that emigration began in 1845. In fact, there had been mass emigration from Ireland long before the famine. In this period, the Irish accounted for a third of all voluntary traffic across the Atlantic. These emigrants were mainly from Ulster and Leinster, with fewer coming from the poorer areas of Connaught and Munster.

Between 1815 and 1845, 1.5 million Irish emigrated, mainly to Britain (c0.5 million) and to north America (c1 million). Of those who went to north America, the majority settled in Canada. Between 1825 and 1830, 128,200 Irish emigrated to north America, 61% of which went to Canada and 39% to the USA. In the decade 1831 to 1840, 437,800 Irish emigrated (almost double the number of the previous decade). Of these, 60% went to Canada and 39% to the USA. The remaining 1% went to Australia. (Note that these figures are for emigration outside the UK only. They do not include emigrations to Britain.) Irish emigration to Australia was to rise over the next 40 years, reaching a peak of 11% of all emigration in the 1870s. Emigration to Canada was to fall sharply after the famine and soon the USA would be the dominant destination. This was all in the future, however. The Great Famine was to happen first.

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Cormac Ó Gráda, "The Great Irish Famine", Cambridge University Press, 1989
KH Connell, "The Population of Ireland 1750-1845", Greenwood Press, Connecticut
DH Akenson, "The Irish Diaspora", PD Meany Publishers, Ontario, 1993

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