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A new layer: Population in Southwest Donegal in 2015

Updated Wednesday, 6th April 2016

We've discussed the promotion of industry in 1983 to retain population in the area and reduce the toll of emigration. So, how has the population evolved in the intervening period up to 2015?

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Cathal MacSuibhne discussed the promotion of industry in the 1980s as a means of retaining population in Southwest Donegal and reducing the toll of emigration in the video 'The problems of industrialisation in Southwest Donegal in 1983'. So, how has the population evolved in the intervening period up to 2015?

In 1983, when the original programmes were made, local population was increasing for the first time in living memory, as local developments combined with decreasing job opportunities overseas and elsewhere in Ireland had stemmed the flow of emigration.

Jobs provided through the development of the mackerel fishing industry in nearby Killybegs in the 1980s helped to reduce the impact of the major recession of the 1980s. In 2015, however, reduced EU quotas mean that the former fishing season has reduced by several months. In 1971, just over 50% of the workforce in the area (excluding Killybegs) was employed in agriculture and fishing (having fallen from around 80% in 1926). Many of those employed in industry continued to farm part-time. By 2011, the figure was well under 20% (Central Statistics Office, 2011).

In 1981, the population of the nearest equivalent census area was approximately 4000 with a further 1500 inhabitants in the fishing port of Killybegs just to the east. Although the population of the area has declined since the 1980s, it is worth noting that it remained stable between the census of 2002 and 2011, despite the significant deterioration of the Irish economy during that period. Since the most recent census, however, that picture has begun to change across Southwest Donegal. Limited employment opportunities, particularly for well-educated young people, have seen an increase in emigration once more. Whereas in the 1980s, emigrants generally travelled to England and Scotland, Australia and Canada are now more common destinations. As communities shrink, services dis-improve and voluntary organisations struggle to continue, leading to a vicious cycle of decline.

Local people identify the increasing problem of emigration: ‘emigration is a big problem, especially in the last 4-5 years, a lot of people were involved in the construction industry and lost jobs, lots of dads commute to England and back at weekends, young people go to Australia, generation of young people gone’.

Emigration from Donegal was described in an Irish Times article in March 18, 2013 as ‘Everyone has someone gone, and everyone knows someone who has gone’, arguing that Donegal has been seriously affected by emigration in recent years but some locals expect ‘a huge return’ in the years to come’ (Boland, 2013). A report in 2013 by Irial Glynn, Tomás Kelly and Piaras MacÉinrí also examined Irish Emigration in an Age of Austerity. (Glynn, Kelly and MacÉinrí, 2013)


Now move on to read about A new layer: Culture, the Irish language and identity in 2015.


See all the articles in this series

See all the series in the Change in the West of Ireland collection

This article is part of a collection on the 'Uniqueness, Interdependence, Uneven Development and Change in the West of Ireland'. To find out more about the collection, a good place to start is the introduction, Change in the West of Ireland. 





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