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Population Distribution

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The report, Census Summary Results Part 1, showed that the total population change over the five years since April 2011 was 173,613, an increase of 3.8 per cent. Figure 1.1 shows this increase by county, and by urban/rural divide.

Of the 173,613 increase, 138,899 was in urban areas, or 80 per cent. The largest increase in rural population was in Cork County with an increase of 6,946, followed by Kildare, which saw its rural population increase by 4,025. There was a decline in the rural population in Sligo of 1,621, off-set by an urban increase of 1,763, which can be largely attributed to the re-classification of Collooney from rural to urban.

Galway County3899367
Waterford City and County1482899
Limerick City and County14421648
Galway City03139
Cork City06427
Cork County694610463
Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown65811099
South Dublin7613486
Dublin City026942

Interactive Table: StatBank Link E2004

It's a Fact

  • 9 out of 10 – The number of people in Leitrim that live in rural areas – the most rural county in Ireland.
  • Sligo – The county with the biggest change in rate of urbanisation since 2011 (from 37% urban to 40%).
  • 6,107 – The increase in the population of Louth living in urban areas since 2011.

Drogheda the largest town

Census 2016 results show that Drogheda has maintained its position as the largest town in the State with 40,956 persons. Swords was in second place with 39,248 persons and Dundalk occupied third place with a population of 39,004.

Ennis (25,276) remained the largest town in Munster. Tralee (23,691) and Clonmel (17,140) were the second and third largest towns respectively.

The largest town in Connacht was Sligo, with a population of 19,199, while Letterkenny was the biggest town in Ulster (part of) with 19,274 persons enumerated there in 2016.

Of the 41 settlements with a population of 10,000 or more, 27 are located in Leinster, 9 are in Munster, 3 in Connacht and 2 in Ulster (part of).

The population and percentage change since 2011 of Ireland's largest towns is presented in Table 1.1.

Table 1.1 Most populated settlements, 2016
TownCountyPopulation 2011Population 2016Population change 2011-2016
Drogheda Louth38,57840,9566.2
Dundalk Louth37,81639,0043.1
Navan Meath28,55930,1735.7
Kilkenny Kilkenny24,42326,5128.6
Ennis Clare25,36025,276-0.3
Droichead Nua (Newbridge)Kildare21,56122,7425.5
Portlaoise (Maryborough) Laois20,14522,0509.5
Balbriggan Fingal19,96021,7228.8
Naas Kildare20,71321,3933.3
Mullingar Westmeath20,10320,9284.1
Letterkenny Donegal19,58819,274-1.6

Interactive Table: StatBank Link E2016


Map 1.1 Percentage population change in Ireland's cities and towns, 2011 - 2016

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South Dublin towns with fastest growth

When urban settlements (i.e. population of 1,500 persons or more) are examined, Saggart in South Dublin was the fastest growing town. Its population grew by almost 46.1 per cent from 2,144 in 2011 to 3,133  in 2016, a rise of 989 persons. Since 2006, Saggart has seen its population increase by 261 per cent.

The nearest town to Saggart is Rathcoole which experienced the next largest percentage increase in population, from 3,421 to 4,351, a 27.2 per cent rise since 2011.

Among the larger towns of 10,000 persons or more, Maynooth grew the fastest with an increase of 16.6 per cent from 12,510 to 14,585 persons; the population in 1991 was 6,027 persons. Ashbourne (11.7 per cent), Portlaoise (9.5 per cent), Balbriggan (8.8 per cent), Kilkenny (8.6 per cent), Mallow (7.4 per cent) and Cavan (6.9 per cent) also recorded appreciable population gains between 2011 and 2016. 

It's a Fact

  • 44% - The share of the total urban population living in Dublin
  • 11% - The share of the total urban population living in Cork

Population density in Ireland

Population density measures the number of persons occupying a geographical area in proportion to the size of that area.

The population density of the State has increased to 70 persons per km2 in 2016, up from 67 persons in 2011 and 62 persons per km2 recorded in 2006.

The average population density in urban areas was 2,008 persons per km2 compared to 27 persons per km2 in rural areas.

The more densely populated areas are predominantly located within the Greater Dublin Area, or GDA, (i.e. Dublin City, Fingal, South Dublin, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow).

Kinsealy-Drinan was the most densely populated urban area with 5,830 persons per km2, followed by Balbriggan with 4,514 persons per km2. Dublin city and suburbs had 3,677 persons for every square kilometre according to the last census.

Interactive Table: StatBank Link E2014

Map 1.2 Change in population by 1km2 grid, 2011 - 2016 

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Around 40,000 persons live less than 100 metres from coast

Figure 1.2 presents the population by the nearest straight-line distance to the coastline (including Shannon and Cork Estuaries). There were 1.9 million persons residing within 5 km of the coast, representing 40 per cent of the total population. Of these 40,468 were identified as living less than 100 metres to the nearest coastline.

When examined at county level almost 61 per cent of persons in Cork City and County were within 5 Km proximity to the coastline. With 17,140 persons or 3.2 per cent, Cork also had the highest proportion living within a 100 metre radius to the coast.

Greater than 75 Km50-75 Km25-50 Km10-25 Km5-10 Km1-5 Km500-1000 metres250-500 metres100-250 metresLess than 100 metres

Interactive Table: StatBank Link E2050