Island Life- Population change on islands in the Western Region

If you fancy island living there are 55 inhabited islands in the Western Region, although current freezing temperatures, recent storms and plenty of rainfall mean you will have to be tough!

You can choose from lonely isolation to relative crowds with populations on Western Region islands ranging from 1 person (on 9 islands) to 2,440 on Achill (Acaill) Co Mayo, the most populated of Ireland’s islands.  Most of the populated coastal islands in the State are in the Western Region (55 of 82 listed by the CSO for Census 2016) and 80% of island dwellers are on Western Region islands

At the time of the 2016 census, 6,985 people in the Western Region lived on islands, a decline of 5.9% since 2011.  This compares to a 6.2% increase in the population of islands elsewhere in Ireland.  It should be noted, however that in both the Western Region and elsewhere, there was significant variation in population change on different islands, some with population increases and some with decreases.  In this analysis I have grouped the islands into different categories so that the tables are shorter and key characteristics can be highlighted.

The figures discussed here are the de facto populations, i.e. the population recorded for each island is the total of all persons present on the Census night.  While there would be expected to be some difference in the de facto population and the resident population[1], on Western Region islands there were none with very significant differences (some islands elsewhere did have large differences).

Islands with a population of more than 50 people

There 16 coastal islands in the Western Region with a population of more than 50 people in 2016.  However, the population of the five largest of these inhabited islands decreased between 2016 and indeed of the islands in the Western Region with a population of more than 50 (16 in 2016), only 3 showed population increases (Inis Oirr, Galway (12.9%); Inis Meain, Galway (16.6%) and Inishbofin, Galway (9.4%))- see Table 1 below.  The population of Achill fell by 5% and on Inis Mór, Galway the population fell by nearly 10% while on Árainn Mhór (Arranmore, Donegal) the population fell by 9%.  Toraigh (Tory island, Donegal) had a population loss of more than 17% while the population of  Eanach Mheáin (Annaghvaan, Galway) fell by more than a quarter. The biggest percentage population decline in this category was on An Chruit (Cruit), Donegal) which had a population fall of almost 30%, some 25 people).

Table 1: Islands in the Western Region with a population of more than 50 in 2016

Source: CSO, Census of Population 2016, E2021 Population of Inhabited Islands Off the Coast 2011 to 2016 by Islands, CensusYear and Sex

Islands with a population of between 10 and 50 people

There are eight islands in the Western Region with population of between 10 and 50 people, and again the majority of these showed population decreases (Table 2 below). The most significant population fall (28%) was on Inis Bigil, Co Mayo (from 25 in 2011 to 18 in 2016), while the only increase was on An Ros, in Galway which grew by 10%, adding 2 more to its population.

Table 2: Islands in the Western Region with a population of between 10 and 50 people in 2016

Source: CSO, Census of Population 2016, E2021 Population of Inhabited Islands Off the Coast 2011 to 2016 by Islands, CensusYear and Sex

Islands with fewer than 10 inhabitants (but which were inhabited in 2011)

Among the smallest of the inhabited islands (fewer than 10 people, and which were inhabited in both 2011 and 2016) there were some very important changes and which are of significance for islands with these small populations.  These are shown in Table 3 below.  For example, the population of Gabhla, Donegal fell by 67% from 15 to 5, and the population of Inis Bó Finne, Donegal fell from 11 people to 2 people (-81%), while Inishturk Beg, Mayo fell from 10 people to 2 people (-80%).  The most significant growth in this category was on Inis Mhic an Doirn, Donegal where population grew from 1 person to 5 people.

Table 3: Islands in the Western Region with a population of between 1 and 10 people in 2016 and which were inhabited in both 2011 and 2016

Source: CSO, Census of Population 2016, E2021 Population of Inhabited Islands Off the Coast 2011 to 2016 by Islands, CensusYear and Sex

Islands which were not inhabited in 2011 but had inhabitants in 2016

There were also ten islands in the Western Region which had no population in 2011 and were populated in 2016.  The most significant of these was Oileán Uaighe (Owey), Co. Donegal which gained six people.  On 6 of the islands which were not inhabited in 2011, the population in 2016 was just one person.

Table 4 Islands which had no population in 2011 and are now inhabited

Source: CSO, Census of Population 2016, E2021 Population of Inhabited Islands Off the Coast 2011 to 2016 by Islands, CensusYear and Sex

Islands which were inhabited in 2011 but were uninhabited in 2016

In the final category, there are 6 islands which were inhabited in 2011 and which were uninhabited at Census 2016 (Table 5 below).  The most significant population losses in this category were on Inis Meáin, Donegal (7 people in 2011 and no inhabitants in 2016) and on Inishcottle, Co Mayo, 5 inhabitants in 2011 and none in 2016.

Table 5: Islands which had population in 2011 and were uninhabited in 2016

Source: CSO, Census of Population 2016, E2021 Population of Inhabited Islands Off the Coast 2011 to 2016 by Islands, CensusYear and Sex

Conclusion

Finally, it is very important to note that this data from the Census of Population refers to a snapshot of population in time (2011 and 2016 in this analysis) and for some of the smaller islands in particular, there can be varied explanations for population changes and population can fluctuate unexpectedly.  It is always important, therefore, when considering the population of the islands to understand the causes of the changes.  It is also essential to be cautious when referring to percentage changes where populations are very small.

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[1] Information about de facto and resident populations was provided by the CSO.  I am grateful for their helpful response to this and other queries