Population of both Irish states 1821-2011

In 1821, the population of the island of Ireland was just over 6.8 million people. During this time, the entire island was a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, after both islands were united by the Act of Union in 1800. The population enjoyed steady growth between 1821 and 1841, and it rose by almost 1.4 million people in this time, however the Great Famine, which lasted from 1845 to 1849, had a devastating impact on the population, causing it to drop from 8.18 million in 1841 to 6.55 million in 1851. If applying modern-day borders, the population of Northern Ireland was not growing as fast as the population of the Republic of Ireland before 1841, however it was not as severely affected by the famine, which was hardest felt in the east and south.

The Great Hunger

The famine was caused by a Europe-wide potato blight that contributed to mass starvation and death throughout the continent, although it's impact on Ireland was much harsher than anywhere else. The potato blight affected Ireland so severely as the majority of potatoes in Ireland were of a single variety which allowed the disease to spread much faster than in other countries. As the potato blight spread, the population became increasingly dependent on dairy and grain products, however a lot of these resources were relocated by the British military to combat food shortages in Britain. Due to disproportional dependency on potatoes, and mismanagement by the British government, over one million people died and a further one million emigrated. The Great Famine lasted from just 1845 to 1849, but it's legacy caused almost a century of population decline, and to this day, the overall population of Ireland has never exceeded it's pre-famine levels.

Decline continues through partition

The population decline continued well into the twentieth century, during which time the Republic of Ireland achieved independence from the British Empire. After centuries of fighting and rebellion against British rule, Irish nationalists finally gained independence from Britain in 1921, although the six counties with the largest Protestant populations formed Northern Ireland, which is still a part of the United Kingdom today. Although there was much conflict in Ireland in the twentieth century which claimed the lives of thousands of people (particularly during the Northern Irish Troubles), and despite Ireland's high emigration rate, the overall population began growing again in the second half of the 1900s.


The population of the Republic of Ireland was at it's lowest in 1961, with 2.8 million people, which is almost four million fewer people than before the famine. Since then it has grown consistently, reaching 4.6 million in 2011 and expected to reach 5 million people by 2020. In Northern Ireland, the population began growing again from the beginning of the 1900s, but growth has been very slow. The only time it fell was in the 1970s, at the peak of The Troubles, where high unemployment and violence contributed to a lower birth rate and an increase in emigration. From the 1980s onwards, living standards improved and the population began growing again, reaching 1.8 million people in 2011.

Population of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland from 1821 to 2011

Total populationRepublic of Ireland total populationNorthern Ireland total population
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Release date



Ireland, United Kingdom (Northern Ireland)

Survey time period

1821 to 2019

Supplementary notes

*ROI:1936, NI: 1937
**NI: 2001, ROI: 2002
Please note the difference in intervals between certain years. Some data from the early 1900s came at irregular years due to Ireland's independence movement as well as international factors, such as WWII.

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