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The Killala area up to the 1980s

Updated Wednesday, 6th April 2016

The Killala area up to the 1980s: agriculture, population and community development.

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NE Mayo rolling landscape Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Mayo Ireland Ltd 1996-2016 Rolling landscape of Northeast Mayo Northeast Mayo is not as physically dramatic and the climate is less extreme than in other parts of the West of Ireland such as Southwest Donegal, its low rolling landscape is dominated by pasture and rough grazing.


In 1980 Mícheál Ó Cinnéide and Michael Keane of the Social Science Resource Centre, University College, Galway (now NUIG) published a resource survey of the Killala area and reported that agriculture in the area was still considerably underdeveloped due to factors such as the physical environment, the land tenure problem, the unfavourable farm structure, the low educational levels among farmers and the generally poor infrastructure. They found that the outcome of the combination of these factors within the wider economic system of agriculture was the generally low farm incomes and levels of living.

These factors were inherited from the past. The fragmentation of farms in the Killala district was a legacy from the rundale system (for more information on rundale revisit the article in The West of Ireland section). This type of system makes it difficult to know just how much land a person does farm and, while it might seem strange to an outsider that such fragmentation should continue, there were strong reasons for it to do so.

O’Cinnéide and Keane reported that, as well as the sentimental and cultural attachment to land, ‘a person or family may prefer to return (on agricultural enumeration forms) a multiple holding under its separate parts because of factors such as rates liability, social benefit payments, grant prospects, death duties, legal complications and so on.’ This means data may be somewhat arbitrary but they reckoned that, of the 875 holdings in the Killala area, 45% were under 30 acres in size and only 25% were over 50 acres.  According to the 2010 Census of Agriculture (the most recent one) the average number of parcels per farm in hectares in County Mayo is the highest of any county in the whole country, with Donegal next.


Population decrease up to 1980 was high in Northeast Mayo. According to O’Cinnéide and Keane, decline in the Killala area during the period 1901 to 1979 was slightly greater than that of the county as a whole but both Killala and Mayo declined more than the national trend. They continued to decline after the state as a whole began to increase, reflecting the rural to urban migration. The population in the Killala area in 1901 was 6592, falling to 3355 in 1971 and increasing from that to 3530 (+5.2%) by 1979. Within the area more detailed figures show that the census district containing Killala town was the only one to show population increase over the whole period 1901 to 1979 (+3%) while the wholly ‘rural’ area of Lackan (to the north of Killala) showed a decline of around 65%.

chart showing the population of Killala since 1901 The population of the Killala area between 1901 and 2011

Community development

Killala view from the harbour 2015 Creative commons image Icon Jenny Meegan under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license Killala harbour In this context of low farm incomes and decreasing population a highly positive development was the formation and actions of local community organisations. In the dismal context of the late 1950s a local branch of the National Farmers’ Association was started. It identified milk production as providing the best opportunities for improved incomes and formed a co-operative which merged in 1972 with a large commercially-based co-operative of North Connacht Farmers. In 1957 a Harbour Committee was also formed to improve the harbour for local fishermen. O’Cearbhaill reported that the success of these two ventures ‘gave great heart to the local community and more and more people became involved in the work of improving the quality of life in the area’ (O’Cearbhaill, 1982, p. 152).

Various local projects were developed up to 1973 when the different groups were brought together to form the Killala Community Council to carry on activities termed ‘self-help’. You can read more about the formation and actions of Killala Community Council in Case Study A, pages 19-27 in the Arkelton Trust’s study of community development practice in the West of Ireland 1983/4 ‘The Periphery is the Centre’. 

Stone commemorating the opening of Asahi Creative commons image Icon Jenny Meegan under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license Stone commemorating the opening of Asahi, photographed in 2015 in garden of the community centre The Community Council developed liaison with departments of the University in Galway who produced reports on various physical and human resources of the area round Killala such as the one by O’Cinneide and Keane (1980). These reports were used to effectively pressurise governments on a variety of levels in Europe and within Ireland. This was initially for a share in the industrialisation programme being developed nationally in Ireland through the Industrial Development Agency (IDA), a non-commercial, semi-state body promoting Foreign Direct Investment into Ireland. 

In August 1973 a group of Japanese industrialists was brought to Killala. They had already decided to locate in Ireland, but what led to their choice of Killala? Whether the industrialists were simply impressed with Killala as a location or it was politically expedient for the government not to ignore such a well-articulated local campaign is an interesting question within a wider context. Whatever the reason, the outcome was the location of the Asahi Synthetic fibre plant in Northeast Mayo in 1977 and its official opening in April 1978. 


 Now move on to The Asahi plant came to Killala 1977.


See all the articles in this series

See all the series 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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