Small but densely populated

Despite being Irelandıs smallest county, Louth is one of the most densely populated boosted by the presence of two of the largest towns in the country and a rich hinterland. A long coastline and the fishing industry has provided an additional source of revenue, employment and food when times were bad, writes Liam OıRourke.

The most recent census of 2002 put the population at 101,802, the county’s highest since 1851 when it was 107,662. At that time the country was emerging from the devastating effects of the famine. Ten years earlier the population of Louth stood at an all time high of 128,240.

Dundalk (population 32,505) and Drogheda (population 31,020) are respectively the sixth and seventh most populated urban centres in the state according to the most recent census returns, behind Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford in that order.

Over 60% of the residents of Louth live in these towns. The next most populated town in the north-east is Navan, with a population of 19,417 leaving it at number 14 on that list.

However in recent times the population of county Louth hasn’t grown as rapidly as other counties on the eastern seaboard and its rates of increase between 1991 and 1996 was below the national average. Between 1991 and 1996 the number of people living in the state rose from 3,525,719 to 3,621,035, an increase of 2.6%.

In the same period the population of county Louth increased from 90,724 to 92,163 an increase of only 1.6%. By contrast the population of Meath rose by 3.8%, Westmeath by 2.2%, Wicklow by 5.3% and Kildare by 10%.

Figures for other counties also make for interesting comparisons. Longford was the only county in Leinster that experienced a drop in population, falling by 0.5% to just over 30,000. The numbers living in Monaghan dropped marginally to just over 50,000.

Further afield, Galway was the only county in Connacht that saw significant increase, while five of the six Munster counties experienced increases greater than that of Louth the exception being Tipperary.
The next census was delayed by one year due to the foot-and-mouth outbreak in the Cooley Peninsula and by April 2002 the number living within the jurisdiction was just short of four million at 3,917,336, an increase of 8% percent in six years.

Figures revealed that the population of the county was the largest since 1851. 101,802 were resident in the county up 9,636 since 1996, an increase of 10.5%, slightly ahead of the national average but well short of the increases in neighbouring counties.

Within the same time frame the numbers in Meath increased by 22.1% - the highest nationally – just ahead of Kildare which recorded an increase of 21.5. Fingal (North County Dublin) recorded an increase of 17%, Westmeath 13.8%, Wicklow 11.7% while Laois and Carlow –both of which are within the Dublin commuter belt – recorded increases of 10.2% and 10.7% respectively.

In the same period every county in Ireland recorded an increase in population, with Longford recording an increase of 3.2% and Leitrim marginally higher at 3.3%. Monaghan’s population was up 2.8% to nearly 53,000 while Cavan’s was up 6.6% to 56,416.

The census of 1841 was a landmark census, marking the first time that households filed their own census returns and in the following years the census acted as a barometer of the country’s economic well-being.

On June 6 of that year the first reliable census of the whole island returned a figure of 8,175,124 people, an estimated increase of almost six percent over the previous decade and reckoned to be an increase of 172 in sixty years.

Both Drogheda and Dundalk were well-established towns at this stage. What is now County Louth was annexed by the Normans in 1185 and was part of the Pale, that part of the country that remained under English jurisdiction from the earliest days of the Norman invasion. It was this influence that led to the establishment of two large towns about twenty miles apart.

In the middle of the 19th century the Louth-Monaghan-Armagh area was the most densely populated part of the country outside of Dublin.

Until the passing of the Local Government Act of 1898, Drogheda was designated 'The County of the Town of Drogheda', a County in it's own right, with its own local administration. Under the act, all judicial functions for the ‘County of the Town of Drogheda’ were absorbed into the judicial County of Louth. However the number living in the town are included in the population statistics for the whole of the county.

Just like that of the rest of the country, the population of Louth fell throughout the second-half of the 19th century. By 1861 the population had fallen to 90,713 and the next decade it dropped by a further six and a half thousand to just over 83,000.

The census of 1881 recorded a population of 77,684 in the county, a drop of nearly 50,000 in forty years or a fall of about 40%. By this time the population of the island of Ireland had dropped to 5,174,836, down nearly three million on it peak of 1841 or about 37%.

Still County Louth, including ‘the County of the town of Drogheda’ was regarded as one of the most prosperous in the country. In addition to being two well-established towns, Dundalk and Drogheda were important ports as was Greenore. The three outlets were important shipping points for Meath, Monaghan and Armagh.

Clogherhead, about eight miles north of Drogheda, is one the most important fishing ports in the state. The village developed around the fishing industry and it’s harbour, known as Port Oriel, was built in 1885.

Most of the census records for the latter part of the 19th century were destroyed during the Civil War while others were destroyed shortly after the census were taken in the interests of confidentiality.
The population of the country and county Louth continued to decline in the newcentury. The first census of the 20th century, taken in 1901, showed that 3,221,823 were living in the 26 Counties of which 65,820 resided in Louth.

Returns from the last census – held in 1911 - before the Great War and the 1916 Rising and the subsequent troubles in the country showed that 3,139,688 were living in what was to become the Free State with 63,655 living in Louth.

The first census after independence was held in 1926 and revealed that 62,867 were living in the county, the lowest in the last 150 years. Since then the number has steadily increased, barring one hiccup when the population dropped from 68,771 in 1951 to 67,378 ten years later.

In contrast the population of the country didn’t reach its lowest point until 1961 when it hit 2,818,341 down nearly 170,000 from 1951, emphasizing what a dismal decade in economic terms the fifties were for the country as a whole.

In the last forty years the population of the country has increased remarkably, rising by just over 39% from 2,818,341 in 1961 to 3,917,203 in 2002. In the same time frame the population of County Louth has grown by 51%.

While the population nationally grew by 11.1% between 1991 and 2002 the number living in the county grew by 12.2%. However the contrast between 1961 and 1991 is more pronounced when the numbers living in the state grew by 25.1% while those living in Louth grew by 34.8%, well above the national average.

Taken from Wee County 2004