1.2% fall in Donegal from 2011 to 2016 but the overall rural population grew by 4.6%

1.2% fall in Donegal from 2011 to 2016 but the overall rural population grew by 4.6%
Only the western counties, and Cavan and Leitrim, and parts of Sligo, Mayo and Roscommon, are classed as highly rural or remote.

Population decline is not a big election issue in most of rural Ireland.

But the low proportion of the population in the twenties age group is a major issue for rural policy.

In the period 2006 to 2011, the national population grew by 8.2%.

The population of towns and cities grew by 10.6%, while that of rural areas grew by 4.6%.

The 6% differential in growth between towns and cities and rural areas compares with a 3.1% differential in the more recent period from 2011 to 2016.

Slower growth of population in rural areas is almost a universal experience in economic growth.

The statistics reviewed here show that there is continued growth in population in most rural areas, but not in the most remote regions.

The North West has been particularly badly hit.

Age structure

Reduced numbers of people in their twenties poses a long term problem for all rural areas.

When comparing urban and rural areas, there is a striking difference in the age structure.

The average age of people in the State in 2016 was 37.3, an increase of 1.2 years since 2011.

The average age in remote rural areas was 41.2, an increase of 1.6.

In all rural areas, the average age was higher than the national average.

The proportion of the population in the age groups from five to 19 in rural areas is similar to or higher than the national average.

The proportion of children in the cities is well below the national average.

However, we see an entirely different pattern when we look at the 20 to 30 age group.

In the state as a whole, people aged between 20 and 24 account for just under 6% of the population, while people aged between 25 and 29 account for just over 6%.

In cities, these percentages are about 7% and 8.5%.

In remote rural areas, these percentages are just over 4% for both age groups.

In rural areas with moderate urban influence, they are about 4% for the 25 to 29 group, and 4.5% for the 20 to 24 group.

In rural areas with high urban influence, they are 4% and 5% respectively.

The lack of twenty-somethings is a major issue for rural policy.

It is probably caused by the trend for increasing numbers to seek higher education.

They move, and don’t return.

A reflection of this in the sporting world is the recent pattern of amalgamating football and hurling teams from neighbouring parishes, because neither has enough players to field a team.


With a low proportion of the population in rural areas in their twenties, the proportion in higher ages groups is higher. One common statistical method is to estimate the “dependency ratio”, which is the proportion of the population outside the age groups from 15 to 64. (Although this seems an outdated statistic nowadays, with most people between 15 and 19 still in education, and dependent).

The CSO have calculated the dependency ratio for the different area types (areas with high urban influence, moderate urban influence, or highly rural or remote areas).

The dependency ratio for the State as a whole was 53.2% in 2016, an increase of 4% on 2011.

It was made up of 32.7% of the national population under 15, while 20.4% were over 65.

The overall dependency ratio had increased since the previous census, with an increase in the proportions of both young (up 0.5%) and old (up 2.9%).

In the three rural area types, the dependency ratio was much higher than the national average at 57.6 (areas of high urban influence), 60.1 (moderate urban influence) and 63.5 (remote).

This is mainly attributable to a higher proportion of people over 65, which was respectively 21%, 25%, and 31.3%.

Different growth rates

When we look at the differential in growth rates by county, we find that, in ten counties, the rate of growth in the most recent period was at least 7% less than in the 2006 to 2011 period.

This trend features highly in so-called “commuter” counties in Leinster, with Kildare, Meath, Longford and Wexford all having growth rates lower by between 7% and 8%, than in the earlier “boom” period.

Laois can be added to this. It had the largest growth of all in the earlier period, of over 20%, and this slipped to 5.1% in the recent period, a differential of 15%.

The second group of counties with large differences between the growth of population in the two periods are in the North West.

Donegal had population growth of 9.4% in the period between 2006 and 2011.

But its population fell by 1.2% in the period to 2016.

Cavan went from an increase of 14.3% to one of 4.1%, while Leitrim’s growth rate fell from 9.8% to 0.8%. Galway and Roscommon had similar patterns.

No counties in Munster had such wide differences, mainly because their growth in population in the earlier period was not as high as in the other provinces.

Accurate data

The only truly accurate data on population are those from the census, though annual estimates are made based on emigration and immigration rates, and birth and death statistics.

Censuses were conducted in 2011 and 2016.

The population of the country as a whole grew by 3.3% between the two censuses, to reach 4.69 million.

It is likely that the population at the next census will exceed five million (compared to 4.69m in 2016, and less than 3m in 1961).

In 2016, 37.4% lived in rural areas, with 16.1% in areas of high urban influence, 12.5% in areas of moderate urban influence, and 8.8% in remote rural areas (see map).

From 2011 to 2016, the population in cities and towns grew by 4.8%, while the growth in rural areas was only 1.7%.

The growth in cities was 5.3% and in independent towns was 5.5%.

Surprisingly, the growth in satellite towns was only 2.8%.

In the rural areas, those areas with “high urban influence” grew by 3%.

Those with “moderate urban influence” grew by 1.6%, while the population in remote rural areas declined by 0.6%.

This was the era of modest recovery from the recession, with continuing emigration.

The growth in population was entirely due to the excess of births over deaths, with net migration (emigration less immigration) of an estimated 22,500 people.

When considered by county, the population of Cork (including the city) grew by over 6% in the period, a growth similar to that of many Leinster counties.

The increase in other Munster counties was below 2%, while the population in Mayo and Donegal fell.

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) have estimated the population annually since the census in 2016, with estimates of growth of 52,900 in 2016/2017, and of 64,500 in each of the years to April 2019.

The natural population increase (births minus deaths) in recent years is just over 30,000 per year, with the balance due to net immigration, including returned emigrants.

These data are not estimated on an urban, rural or regional basis.

However, new immigrants (two thirds of whom have university degrees) are less likely to have settled in rural areas.

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