Analysis of 19th Century Population Data for Kilmacdonogh Civil Parish

The analysis of census records relating to Ireland has always been challenging. The first full census of Ireland took place in 1821. While this is deemed the first full census, one actually took place in 1813, but was poorly executed. The 1821 census listed, for every member of a household, name, age, occupation and relationship to the head of the household. The census also recorded the acreage held by the head of the household and the number of stories that each dwelling had. Following the 1821 census, further censuses were conducted at 10 year intervals up to 1911. No census took place in 1921 due to the War of Independence and the first census in the Irish Free State took place in June 1926.

Very little remains of any of the 19th century censuses of Ireland. The census records for 1821, 1831, 1841, and 1851 were destroyed in the 1922 fire at the Record Treasury of the Public Record Office during the Irish Civil War, when seven centuries of Ireland’s public records were lost. There are a small number of census record fragments available for these censuses. The census returns for 1861 and 1871 were destroyed shortly after the censuses were taken. The census returns for 1881 and 1891 were pulped during the First World War, allegedly due to a paper shortage. 

Recently I came across some historical documents held by the University of Southampton that summarize the 19th century censuses of Ireland:

  • Census of Ireland 1851: Part I, Area, Population, and Number of Houses, by Townlands and Electoral Divisions: County of Cork (East Riding)
  • Census of Ireland 1861: Part I, Area, Population, and Number of Houses, by Townlands and Electoral Divisions Provinces of Leinster and Munster
  • Census of Ireland 1881: Area, Population and Number of Houses; Occupations, Religion and Education volume II, Province of Munster

While these documents are summaries of the original census returns for these years, and the actual returns are not available which would contain individual names etc., there is insight to be gained in analysis of these documents as they break down each townland of the Civil Parish of Kilmacdonogh, of which Ballymacoda and most townlands in the area are a part of, in terms of total population numbers and males and females living in each area at that time.

Firstly, let’s look at the 1841 population numbers for Kilmacdonogh by townland – these are available for comparison purposes in the 1851 document:

1841 Population Data for Kilmacdonogh

The total population across all townlands in Kilmacdonogh in 1841 was 3,543 people. The most populated townlands were Ring (380), Ballymacoda (346) and Glenawilling (275). The least populated townlands were Ballyhonock (34), Gortavella (25), and Capel Island (0).

10 years later in 1851, the population total had decreased to 3,055 – a 13% reduction. Obviously during this timeframe, the Great Famine had occurred which very likely contributed to the population decrease, in addition to emigration driven by this event. In 1851, the most populated townlands were Ring (350), Glenawilling (278) and Ballydaniel (277).

1851 Population Data for Kilmacdonogh

A further reduction of the population of Kilmacdonogh is seen in the 1861 Census – by this time the population was 2,342 people across all townlands – a 33% reduction on the 1841 numbers. By the 1881 Census, there was a drastic reduction across the populations in almost all townlands.

1861 Population Data for Kilmacdonogh

Between 1841 and 1881 – the population of Kilmacdonogh declined a staggering 53% – from 3,543 people in 1841 to 1,654 people in 1881.

1881 Population Data for Kilmacdonogh

There were large reductions in population across the townlands of Kilmacdonogh – Curraghleagh declined 800%, Gortavadda nearly 2000%, Gortnaskehy 480%, and Ballymacoda 142%.

What is interesting is that all townlands except one – Ballyskibbole (bordering Knockadoon, Ring and Glenawilling) – declined in population in these 40 years between the two censuses of 1841 and 1881. Ballyskibbole almost doubled its population in those 40 years.

Comparison of Total Population, 1841 vs. 1881

The population decline in Kilmacdonogh between 1841 and 1881 was likely due to a combination of several factors, and these factors were certainly not unique to the area. Firstly the Great Famine, in which an estimated 1m people died from starvation and related diseases, was a significant factor. Secondly, the famine triggered mass emigration – it is estimated that at least another 1m people emigrated as a direct consequence of the famine. Desperate to escape the dire conditions, many Irish people emigrated to countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, and Britain. This wave of emigration continued even after the famine, as economic conditions in Ireland remained poor, and opportunities abroad appeared more promising. Between 1841 and 1851 alone, it is estimated that over one million people emigrated from Ireland, and there is much evidence of emigration from the Ballymacoda area during this time.

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1841, 1851, 1861, 1881 Population Summary for Townlands of Kilmacdonogh

As I conclude this short exploration of the 19th century population data for Kilmacdonogh, it is evident the profound impact historical events can have on an area. The Great Famine’s shadow loomed large, leaving behind a legacy of loss. The waves of emigration that followed not only altered the demographic landscape of the Ballymacoda area, but also created a diaspora.

In 2024, my main aim for the Ballymacoda History Project is to focus on these stories of emigration.

References & Further Information

University of Southampton, Census of Ireland 1851 : part I, area, population, and number of houses, by townlands and electoral divisions: County of Cork (East Riding)

University of Southampton, Census of Ireland 1861 : Part I, Area, Population, and Number of Houses, by Townlands and Electoral Divisions Provinces of Leinster and Munster

University of Southampton, Census of Ireland 1881 : Area, Population and Number of Houses; Occupations, Religion and Education volume II, Province of Munster