Borough’s towns hit by the Famine

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TWO rural towns in the borough experienced dramatic population decline during the great Famine of the 1840s, a new survey has revealed.

The significant decline of the population of Kilrea and Garvagh is charted on a locality-by-locality basis by a team based at NUI Maynooth’s National Centre for Geocomputation.

The team, led by its director Prof Stewart Fotheringham, has taken census data from 3,452 electoral districts and mapped the changes in population from 1841 to 2002, the last year in which it is possible to compare figures on an all-Ireland basis because the North only has a census every 10 years.

The atlas of Irish Famine data 1841-1851 takes a detailed look at Ireland throughout the Famine years, charting population decline and changing agricultural practices

The figures showed that the population of Kilrea fell from 3,670 to 2,956 (-19.46%) and Garvagh from 3,432 to 2.675 (-22.06%) in those years.

Portstewart (2,520 to 2,183, -13.37%) Articlave (2,080 to 1,820, -12.5%), Aghadowey (2,790 to 2,299, -17.60), Downhill (1,605 to 1,247 -22.31), Letterloan (1,927 to 1,478) all experienced marked drops in population.

Although Ireland’s population decline after the famine has been well documented, the census information has not been collated in such a comprehensive fashion before.

The atlas of Irish Famine data 1841-1851 takes a detailed look at Ireland throughout the Famine years, charting population decline and changing agricultural practices.

However the map of population changes in those Famine years is speckled with places that actually increased in population.

The emerging importance of Coleraine as the main town was underlined with an increase in population from 6,908 in 1841 to 7,186, a rise of 3.88%. Many rural dwellers moved into towns across Ireland to seek work and better living conditions.

Prof Fotheringham said they were lucky that Ireland has had a remarkable continuity in electoral districts which made like-for-like comparisons possible.

He hoped to use the forthcoming census data for Northern Ireland to make it as up-to-date as possible.

The project has taken two years and it was jointly funded by the Irish Research Council for Humanities and Social Sciences and by NUI Maynooth.

Prof Fotheringham said that it put Ireland in the “forefront of demographic research”.

He said he hoped it would be a valuable tool for local historians to tease out the story behind the figures.