Smaller Labour Catchments across the Western Region

Travel to Work Areas and Labour Catchments

Analysis of travel to work data can be used to identify the geographic catchment from which a town draws its workforce, otherwise known as its labour catchment. Measurement of labour markets based on Travel to Work Areas (TTWAs) has been well established in the UK for many years, helping to inform various public policies ranging from employment to transport provision. Companies and large employers use TTWAs to help identify optimal locations to access labour supply.

The use of TTWAs is less well established in Ireland, and where used has largely been focussed on the larger cities especially Dublin. There has generally been little focus on labour catchments in other centres or more rural regions.

The Western Development Commission (WDC) has worked with the All Island Research Observatory (AIRO) to examine the labour catchments of towns across the Western Region based on Census of Population data 2006 and 2016. The town labour catchments show that area from which a town draws most of its labour supply; each catchment is based on the inclusions of Electoral Divisions (EDs) that are assigned to a town, based on commuting to work flows.

Last year the WDC published the findings on the labour catchments of the principal towns of the seven counties of the Western Region (Galway, Ennis, Sligo, Letterkenny, Castlebar, Roscommon and Carrick-on-Shannon). The full report Travel to Work and Labour Catchments in the Western Region, A Profile of Seven Town Labour Catchments is available for download here (14.2MB). Each of the individual town reports are also available to download separately (Galway City, Sligo Town, Ennis,  Letterkenny, Castlebar, Carrick-on-Shannon, Roscommon).

The WDC is now publishing the findings of the other smaller catchments across the Western Region. This is the first time such detailed labour market analyses have been undertaken for the smaller centres across the Western Region. These data and findings can inform local and regional economic development and help support appropriate policies to ensure optimal local and regional development.

Smaller Catchments

The WDC identifies 26 labour catchments, which complement the 7 labour catchments of the principal towns in each of the counties which were published in 2018, see above.

In these 26 publications, the WDC draws on Census 2016 POWCAR (Place of Work Census of Anonymised Records) data to examine the travel to work patterns in centres with a population greater than 1,000 across the Western Region.

These 26 smaller catchments provide insights into the travel to work patterns of workers living there which are then used to generate labour catchments which show the geographic area from which each town draws most of its workers. Each town’s labour catchment has many more workers living there than the Census measure of the town’s resident workforce and it is a better measure of labour supply. This is particularly useful when considering employment and investment decisions.

Socio-economic profiles

Each of the reports identify the place of work of the resident workforce and provides detailed analysis of the socio-economic profile of workers providing information on age, gender, education levels, and sector of employment. There are comparisons with the rest of the Western Region and the State Average. There is also trend analyses indicating the extent of change between 2006 and 2016.

For ease of presentation the 26 smaller catchment reports are presented by County. Below are links to each of the 26 reports. In practice labour catchments extend across county boundaries, indeed that is one of the rationales for considering labour catchments rather than administrative boundaries; people travel to work regardless of county boundaries and these patterns and catchments provide a better evidence base for informing policy.

Some key points include:

  • Labour Supply: All the town labour catchments have significantly more people at work than the Census population at work for that town and have therefore access to a larger labour supply than normal Census definitions would indicate.
  • Profile of ‘Rural’ employment: The profile of employment in these smaller centres provide important insights into ‘rural’ employment, which is much are complex and varied than the perception of rural as largely agricultural employment.
  • Trends: Changes over time, in both place of work and the socio-economic characteristics of workers indicate little change in the geography of labour catchments but much change in the profile of resident workers, most notably in their age and education levels.

County Clare

The two labour catchments within Co. Clare have both recorded an increase in workers resident in the catchments. The Shannon labour catchment is concentrated around the Shannon Free Zone and Shannon Airport and is geographically compact. The Kilrush labour catchment is more extensive and now incorporates a previously separate Kilkee labour catchment. In both there is evidence of longer distances travelled to work than previously.

County Donegal

There are 8 smaller catchments located within Co. Donegal, reflecting the large size of the county, its geography with an extensive border both with Northern Ireland and the sea, and the relatively small size of some of the catchments.

Of the 8 labour catchments, 5 recorded a decline in the number of resident workers in the decade between 2006 and 2016. The three that recorded an increase in resident workers are Donegal, Dungloe and Carndonagh,  illustrating that some more remote areas are experiencing growth.

Each report identifies the top 10 work destinations for residents living in each labour catchment and the extent of cross border commuting is presented.

County Galway

There are 4 smaller catchments located within Co. Galway and just one, Gort labour catchment, recorded a decrease in the number of workers living there over the decade 2006-2016. Clifden, Tuam and Loughrea labour catchments recorded increases of varying degrees. The data presented also shows the extent of commuting between catchments, for example from Tuam, Loughrea and Gort labour catchments to Galway city.

County Leitrim

Apart from the county town labour catchment of Carrick-on-Shannon, there is just one smaller catchment located within Co. Leitrim, namely Manorhamilton. The number of resident workers in the Manorhamilton labour catchment increased over the ten year period and there is data to show more people are now working in Manorhamilton . The influence of some key employers is evident. Data on dross border commuting is also presented.

County Mayo

There are 8 smaller catchments located within Co. Mayo. Just two of the eight recorded a decline in the numbers of resident workers between the period of 2006 and 2016, these were Belmullet and the Charlestown/Knock Airport catchment. The other 6 recorded increases of varying degrees from 31% increase in the Westport labour catchment to an increase of 2.4% for the Ballina labour catchment. The most important places of work across each catchment are presented along with the labour market profiles of workers living there.

County Roscommon

There are 3 smaller catchments located within Co. Roscommon. All 3 recorded a decline in the numbers of workers resident there. In the case of Boyle and Ballaghaderreen, the geographic size of the labour catchments also decreased slightly. The data presented show the sectors in which people worked, the extent to which people worked inside the town and those who worked outside the town but within the wider catchment and the changes over the 10 years. Across all catchments there is a very significant increase in the level of third level education among the workforce.


Deirdre Frost

Educational attainment in the Western Region

A recently published ESRI Research Bulletin, ‘The local factors that affect where new businesses are set up’ summarises their analysis of new firms setting up in Ireland. Data from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) on the number of start-up firms each year in 190 localities, all outside of the Greater Dublin Area, is linked to data on local characteristics thought to be important to business location. This data is used to develop models of how much each factor (or combination of factors) contributes to the number of business start-ups in a given place and time.

The authors state that the results of this analysis show that

‘Educational attainment of local residents is highly attractive to start-ups; we use the share of the population with a third-level qualification as an indicator for this, and it has the largest effect of the factors in our models.’

The analysis also shows that broadband access is a significant factor

‘However, a key finding is that broadband’s effect on start-ups depends on the education level of an area’s population. Only areas with enough highly qualified staff seem to enjoy a boost in start-ups when they have broadband network access.’

This analysis clearly points to the importance of human capital in the location decision of new business start-ups. Of course the direction of causality is a challenge, new businesses are attracted to areas with a highly skilled population, but highly skilled people will only remain/move to an area if suitable job opportunities exist.

The latest WDC Insights, published by the WDC last week (27 March), ‘Census 2016: Education Levels in the Western Region’ is therefore very timely, as it examines the level of educational attainment of the adult population of the Western Region and its seven counties.

Highest level of education completed

Overall, the Western Region displays a lower educational profile, with a smaller share of its adult population (aged 15+ years and who have ceased education) having third level qualifications and a greater share having low levels of education (Fig. 1) than the rest of the state. 13.4% of adults in the Western Region have only completed primary education compared with 11.1% in the rest of the state. The region’s older age profile contributes to this.

At the highest levels of education the difference between the Western Region and the rest of state is quite substantial e.g. 8.5% in the Western Region have a postgraduate degree/diploma compared with 11.7% in the rest of the state. Given the importance of third level education for business location and stimulating overall economic growth, this presents a challenge for the region.

Fig. 1: Percentage of population (aged 15+ years and whose full-time education has ceased) by the highest level of education completed in the Western Region and rest of state, 2016. Source: CSO, Census 2016 Profile 10 – Education, Skills and the Irish Language, Table EA003

Highest level of education completed in western counties

There are significant differences across western counties in the share of the population with a third level qualification (Fig. 2).  At 55.2%, Galway City has the second highest share of residents with a third level qualification (Advanced Certificate/Completed Apprenticeship and higher) in Ireland. It is behind Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown but ahead of Fingal, Dublin City and Kildare. Within the region, Galway County, Clare and Sligo have the next highest shares of third level graduates, illustrating a strong concentration around Galway / Limerick and also in Sligo, clearly showing the influence of larger urban centres.

Donegal has the highest share of its population with no formal education or primary only (21.9%) in the State, with Mayo, Leitrim and Roscommon next highest in the region. This is partly due to greater reliance on sectors traditionally associated with lower qualifications.

In general, the counties offering fewer graduate employment opportunities tend to have weaker educational profiles, with many of those with higher qualifications having left these areas. This presents a double challenge for such areas – the weaker educational profile makes it more difficult to attract new business start-ups, while the lack of suitable job opportunities makes the area less attractive to those with higher qualifications. Often in such areas, it is the public sector (education, health, public administration) which presents the most significant graduate employment opportunities. Stimulating greater demand for highly qualified staff among private enterprise in these areas, as well as supporting opportunities for self-employment is required.

Fig. 2: Percentage of population (aged 15+ years and whose full-time education has ceased) in western counties by highest level of education completed, 2016. Source: CSO, Census 2016 Profile 10 – Education, Skills and the Irish Language, Table EA003


Overall the Western Region continues to display a lower educational profile than the rest of the state. Given the key role of human capital in regional development, this is a significant challenge for the region and in particular more rural counties.  A number of factors including the region’s older age profile and its sectoral pattern of employment – smaller shares working in sectors which demand higher qualifications (e.g. professional services, ICT, finance) and more working in sectors traditionally characterised by lower qualifications (e.g. hospitality, agriculture) – strongly influence its educational profile.

Galway City shows a very different educational pattern however with the second highest share of third level graduates in Ireland. This is both cause and effect of its recent strong economic performance. The sectoral pattern of employment in Galway City differs from the rest of the Western Region with a high share working in ICT and medical devices manufacturing which demand higher qualifications, the presence of NUI Galway is another key contributor.

Download the latest WDC InsightsCensus 2016: Education Levels in the Western Region


Preliminary results of Census 2016 for Co Roscommon

On Thursday 8 December, the WDC made a presentation to a meeting of Roscommon Local Community Development Committee (LCDC) on its analysis of the Preliminary Results of Census 2016 which were published recently in a WDC report and also a summary WDC Insights. The presentation focused on the findings for county Roscommon and can be downloaded here.

Roscommon’s Population

The overall pattern of Roscommon’s population over the longer term was substantial population loss from Famine times until the early 1970s (Fig. 1). There was then a period of marginal growth up to the mid-80s when again there was some population loss.  The period 2002-2011 saw the county experience strong population growth, flattening out in the most recent period.  Between 2011 and 2016 the county’s population only grew by 0.6%, the second lowest growth nationally just above county Leitrim (though it should be noted three counties had population loss). The county’s population now stands at 64,436.

Source: CSO, Preliminary Results Census 2016

Fig. 1: Population of county Roscommon, 1841-2016. Source: CSO, Preliminary Results Census 2016

Sub-county patterns

Even though the county as a whole had the second lowest population growth nationally there was considerable variation within the county. The county is divided into four districts (Table 1).  One of these, Athlone No. 2 rural area (part of Athlone that is within County Roscommon) showed strong population growth, just below the state average (3.7%).  In contrast the Castlereagh (Castlerea) district in the north west of the county experienced substantial decline of -3.2% with the Boyle district only growing marginally.

There is a clear north/south difference in terms of the county’s population performance, which is linked to employment and economic growth patterns as well as closeness to larger urban centres.  It is striking to note that the areas of county Roscommon with the poorest population performance are those that border Mayo and Sligo, both of which experienced population decline over the period, and Leitrim which had even lower population growth than Roscommon.

Table 1: Population in 2016 and percentage change in population 2011-2016 in four rural districts of County Roscommon

Rural Districts 2016 2011-2016

% change

Athlone No. 2 rural area 16,547 3.5
Boyle No. 1 rural area 10,271 0.3
Castlereagh rural area 15,043 -3.2
Roscommon rural area 22,575 1.3

Source: CSO, Preliminary Results Census 2016

Of the 112 Electoral Divisions (EDs) in county Roscommon, just over half (60) showed population decline, while 50 grew and 2 remained unchanged between 2011 and 2016.  Of those that declined, 28 declined by over 5%.  Of those that grew, 19 grew by over 5%.  The top 5 EDs in terms of both population growth and population decline are set out in Table 2.

Table 2: Top 5 EDs in county Roscommon by population increase and by population decrease

Population 2011 (Number) Population 2016 (Number) Actual change 2011-2016 (Number) Percentage change

2011-2016 (%)

049 Oakport, Co. Roscommon 319 414 95 29.8
041 Kilcolagh, Co. Roscommon 126 148 22 17.5
063 Carrowduff, Co. Roscommon 203 236 33 16.3
078 Bumlin, Co. Roscommon 408 472 64 15.7
112 Tulsk, Co. Roscommon 279 315 36 12.9
051 Rushfield, Co. Roscommon 425 371 -54 -12.7
070 Fairymount, Co. Roscommon 359 313 -46 -12.8
080 Cloonfinlough, Co. Roscommon 201 173 -28 -13.9
025 Altagowlan, Co. Roscommon 57 49 -8 -14
077 Ballygarden, Co. Roscommon 220 176 -44 -20

Source: CSO, Preliminary Results Census 2016

Components of population change

The overall population change in county Roscommon between 2011 and 2016 was +371. This resulted from a natural increase of+1,642 minus estimated net migration of -1,271.  As the loss of population due to migration was very close to the gains from natural growth, the overall change in population was small.

Natural increase of a county is influenced by both its birth and death rates. The average annual birth rate in county Roscommon per 1,000 population between 2011 and 2016 was 12.9. That is, on average 12.9 babies were born each year for every 1,000 population.  This was the fourth lowest birth rate nationally, with only Cork city, Kerry and Donegal lower. The state average was 14.8.

The county’s average annual death rate per 1,000 population was 7.8.  This was the seventh highest nationally and above the state average of 6.3. The combination of a relatively low birth rate and relatively high death rate reduces the contribution of natural increase to population growth. Roscommon had the fourth lowest annual rate of natural increase in the state.

Roscommon performed better in terms of migration however.  Net migration measures the difference between the number moving into the county and the number moving out.  Roscommon’s annual average net migration rate per 1,000 population was -4 (Fig 2).   While this was greater than the state average of -1.2, there were nine other local authority areas with even greater negative migration rates. Within the Western Region, only Galway county and city exceeded Roscommon’s performance.

Fig. 2: Estimated average annual net migration rate by local authority area, 2011-2016. Source: CSO, Preliminary Results Census 2016

Fig. 2: Estimated average annual net migration rate by local authority area, 2011-2016. Source: CSO, Preliminary Results Census 2016


The Preliminary Results provide initial indications of the demographic trends within county Roscommon during the past five years.  Full details are available in the presentation which can be downloaded here.  This was a period characterised by a general upturn in the national economy, within Roscommon it can be seen that substantial variation exists between the experience of the north and south of the county.

The full Census results, which will be issued next year between April and December, will give a fuller impression of how a highly rural county such as Roscommon has performed in this period and most interestingly the spatial patterns and differences within the county.

Pauline White & Helen McHenry