Friday, June 20, 2003

Black 47: not entirely gone away

It sometimes can seem almost like a joke to be talking about the folk memory of the Irish potato famine in the well-fed and prosperous Celtic Tiger. But whatever about the folk memory, in terms of the population numbers, the famine is still there. New census figures have just been released by Ireland's Central Statistics Office; their news release is here. Most attention has focused on the arrival of godless communism on our shores, in the form of a trebling of the divorce rate. Things tend to treble when they are legalised. But the most eye-catching table remains the basic chart and numbers for the population of the Republic (and its previous 26 county incarnations) over the last 160 years. Here are the population numbers:

1841 6.5m
1851 5.1m
1961 2.8m
1991 3.5m
2002 3.9m

So basically, the Republic's population has only been growing since the 1960s, and only had its first real acceleration in the 1990s. It's difficult, if not impossible, to think of another country with that kind of pattern. It's interesting, but of course completely academic, to think about alternative trajectories from the 1841 number -- even more emigrants to the US? a landscape looking more like the Netherlands? Now, where did I put my time machine?

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