The Ethnic Demography of Ireland

  • Steve GarnerEmail author
  • Chris Gilligan
Part of the International Handbooks of Population book series (IHOP, volume 4)


The recent demography of Ireland has been dominated by contrasts, both with the rest of the world and within itself. Ireland became highly exceptional among the populations of Europe by the mid-nineteenth century and has remained so almost up to the end of the twentieth. Ireland’s remarkable example – North and South – has challenged any attempt to establish general rules for the demographic behaviour of modern industrial societies. The structure of this chapter will be in four sections. In section one, we will suggest a brief historical background up to the partition of Ireland into two political entities in 1921. Section two aims to provide an overview of emigration in terms of approximate figures and timings, and points to the massive impact of the Famine since the middle of the nineteenth century. We then look at each of the two political components of the island of Ireland; Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Section three addresses Northern Ireland, from its inception in 1921 to the present through three key periods; the 1920s (state formation); the 1960s and 1970s (the birth of the ‘Troubles’); and the 1990s (peace process), and the inward migration of the twenty-first century. The themes addressed are segregation, gerrymandering, discrimination, fertility rates/mortality rates, and emigration/immigration. The final section on the Republic of Ireland will be split into three parts: the first will focus on the ethnic distinctions between the dominant Catholic majority and its minorities; Protestants, Travellers, Jews, and the ongoing role of emigration in the nation’s demography. The second identifies the period 1996–2008 as crucial to the modern dynamics of ethnic demography, as it is then that the Republic becomes a nation of net immigration. The third part, traces the phenomenon up to the present, using a case study of the State’s attempts to use ethnic demography to redefine formal Irishness in the 2004 referendum on citizenship. We conclude by putting forward a framework for an alternative interpretation of Irish ethnic demography that acknowledges its complexity, beyond a bipolar and essentialising Catholic-Protestant dichotomy, and stressing the importance of nationalisms on the island.


Work Permit Peace Process Peace Agreement Irish People Modern Industrial Society 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Akenson, D. (2000). Irish migration to North America 1800–1920. In A. Bielenberg (Ed.), The Irish diaspora. London: Longman.Google Scholar
  2. Anderson, J., & Shuttleworth, I. (1998). Sectarian demography, territoriality and policy in Northern Ireland. Political Geography, 17(2), 187–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Anderson, J., Shuttleworth, I., Lloyd, C., & McEldowney, O. (2004). Political demography: The Northern Ireland census, discourse and territoriality. ESRC End of Award Report. Available online at:\mrdoc\pdf\q5362uguide.pdf
  4. Arthur, P. (2000). Special relationships: Britain, Ireland and the Northern Ireland problem. Belfast: Blackstaff.Google Scholar
  5. Bancroft, A. (2005). Roma and gypsy-travellers in Europe: Modernity, race, space, and exclusion. Aldershot: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  6. Beesley, A. (2010, July 28). Numbers leaving Ireland at double rate of next EU state. Irish Times.
  7. Bowman, J. (1982). De Valera and the ulster question, 1917–1973. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Boyce, D. G. (1988). The Irish question and British politics, 1868–1986. London: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  9. Boyce, D. G. (1995). Nationalism in Ireland (3rd ed.). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  10. Bracken, A. (2007, November 11). The Ghettos that are dividing the nation. Sunday Tribune.Google Scholar
  11. Breen, M., Haynes, A., & Devereux, E. (2006). Citizens, loopholes and maternity tourists: Media frames in the citizenship referendum. In M. Corcoran & M. Peillon (Eds.), Uncertain Ireland: A sociological chronicle, 2003–04 (pp. 59–70). Dublin: Institute of Public Administration.Google Scholar
  12. Brown, T. (1985). Ireland: A social and cultural history 1922–1985. London: Fontana.Google Scholar
  13. Brubaker, R. (2004). Ethnicity without groups. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Caldwell, J. C. (1976). Towards a restatement of demographic transition theory. Population and Development Review, 2(3/4), 321–366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Canny, N. (1976). The Elizabethan conquest of Ireland. Brighton: Harvester Press.Google Scholar
  16. Central Statistics Office. (2006). Census. Google Scholar
  17. Central Statistics Office. (2009). Population estimates, April 2009. Cork: CSO.Google Scholar
  18. Coakley, J. (1998). Religion, ethnic identity and the protestant minority in the republic. In W. Crotty & D. E. Schmitt (Eds.), Ireland and the politics of change. Harlow: Longman.Google Scholar
  19. Coleman, D. A. (1999). Demography and migration in Ireland, North and South. In A. Heath, R. Breen, & C. Whelan (Eds.), Ireland north and south: Perspectives from social science (pp. 69–115). Oxford: The British Academy/Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. CONGOOD. (1991). 75:25 Ireland in a still unequal world. Dublin: CONGOOD.Google Scholar
  21. Courtney, D. (1995). Demographic structure and change in the republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. In P. Clancy, S. Drudy, K. Lynch, & L. O’Dowd (Eds.), Irish society: Sociological perspectives (pp. 39–89). Dublin: Institution of Public Administration.Google Scholar
  22. Darby, J. (1974). Intimidation in housing. Belfast: Northern Ireland Community Relations Commission.Google Scholar
  23. Department of Justice. (2005). Second progress report of the Committee to Monitor and Co-Ordinate the Implementation of the Recommendations of the Task Force on the Travelling Community. Dublin: Department of Justice.
  24. Dixon, P. (2005). Why the good friday agreement in Northern Ireland is not consociational. The Political Quarterly, 76(3), 357–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Doherty, P., & Poole, M. (1997). Ethnic residential segregation in Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1971–1991. Geographical Review, 87(4), 520–536.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Donohue, L. (1998). Regulating Northern Ireland: The special powers acts, 1922–1972. The Historical Journal, 41, 1089–1120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Dowd, V. (2009, May 10). Ireland’s Brazilians pack their bags. BBC News Online.
  28. Edwards, R. D., & Williams, T. D. (1956). The great famine: Studies in Irish history 1845–1852. Dublin: Lilliput Press. (Reprinted 1997)Google Scholar
  29. Fahey, T. (1992). Catholicism and industrial society in Ireland. In J. H. Goldthorpe & C. T. Whelan (Eds.), The development of industrial society in Ireland. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Fanning, B. (2002). Racism and social change in the Republic of Ireland. Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Fanning, B. (Ed.). (2007). Immigration and social change in the Republic of Ireland. Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Farrell, M. (1980). Northern Ireland: The orange state. London: Pluto Press.Google Scholar
  33. Farrell, M. (1983). Arming the protestants: The formation of the ulster special constabulary 1920–27. London: Pluto Press.Google Scholar
  34. Feldman, A. (2003). Beyond the catholic-protestant divide: Religious and ethnic diversity in the North and South of Ireland (Working Papers in British-Irish Studies 31 (IBIS 31)). Dublin: Institute for British-Irish Studies.
  35. Fenton, S. (2010). Ethnicity (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  36. Finlay, A. (2007). Irish studies, cultural pluralism and the peace process. Irish Studies Review, 15(3), 333–345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. FitzGerald, P., & Lambkin, B. (2008). Migration in Irish history, 1607–2007. Houndsmill: Palgrave/Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Foucault, M. (2003). Society must be defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975–1976. London: Allen Lane.Google Scholar
  39. Garner, S. (2004). Racism in the Irish experience. London: Pluto.Google Scholar
  40. Garner, S. (2007). Babies, bodies and entitlement: Gendered aspects of access to citizenship in the Republic of Ireland. Parliamentary Affairs, 60(3), 137–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Gilligan, C. (2002). Identity as a key concept for understanding the peace process in Northern Ireland. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Salford, Salford.Google Scholar
  42. Gilligan, C. (2007a). Community responses to disaster: Northern Ireland 1969 as a case study. In R. A. Cnaan & C. Milofsky (Eds.), Handbook of community movements and local organizations. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  43. Gilligan, C. (2007b). The Irish question and the concept “identity” in the 1980s. Nations and Nationalism, 13(4), 599–617.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Gilligan, C. (2008). Northern Ireland ten years after the agreement. Ethnopolitics, 7(1), 1–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Gilligan, C. (2009, June 18). Northern Ireland: The capital of “race hate”? Spiked. Available online at:
  46. Gilligan, C., Hainsworth, P., & McGarry, A. (2011). ‘Fractures, foreigners and fitting-in: Exploring attitudes towards immigration and integration in ‘post-conflict’ Northern Ireland’. Ethnopolitics, 10(2), 253–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Goldthorpe, J. H., & Whelan, C. T. (Eds.). (1992). The development of industrial society in Ireland. Oxford: The British Academy/Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Greer, A. (1997). Cross-border cooperation and the peace process. In C. Gilligan & J. Tonge (Eds.), Peace or war? Understanding the peace process in Northern Ireland. Aldershot: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  49. Hainsworth, P. (Ed.). (1998). Divided society: Ethnic minorities and racism in Northern Ireland. London: Pluto Press.Google Scholar
  50. Hardiman, N., & Whelan, C. (1998). Changing values. In W. Crotty & D. E. Schmitt (Eds.), Ireland and the politics of change. Harlow: Longman.Google Scholar
  51. Harrington, J. (2005). Citizenship and the biopolitics of post-nationalist Ireland’. Journal of Law and Society, 32(3), 424–449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Hepburn, A. (1980). The conflict of nationality in modern Ireland: Documents of modern history. London: Edward Arnold.Google Scholar
  53. Hepburn, A. (2008). Catholic Belfast and nationalist Ireland in the era of Joe Devlin, 1871–1934. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Hobsbawm, E. J. (1992). Nations and nationalism since 1780: Programme, myth, reality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Jackson, H. (1971). The two Irelands: A dual study of inter-group tensions. London: Minority Rights Group.Google Scholar
  56. Jardine, E. (1994). Demographic structure in Northern Ireland and its implications for constitutional preference. Journal of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland, 27(1), 193–220.Google Scholar
  57. Kenyon, R., & Ohlmeyer, J. (1998). A military history of England, Scotland and Ireland 1638–1660. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Killen, R. (2003). A short history of modern Ireland. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan.Google Scholar
  59. King, R., & Shuttleworth, I. (1988). Ireland’s new wave of emigration in the 1980s. Irish Geography, 21(2), 104–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Knox, C. (2010). Tackling racism in Northern Ireland: “The race hate capital of Europe”. Journal of Social Policy. Available on CJO July 26 2010. doi:10.1017/S0047279410000620.
  61. Kohn, H. (1965). Nationalism: Its meaning and history. Princeton: D Van Nostrand.Google Scholar
  62. Krings, T., Bobek, A., Moriarty, E., Salamonska, J., & Wickham, J. (2008). Migration and recession: Polish migrants in post-celtic tiger Ireland. Sociological Research Online, 14(2), 9.
  63. Lecky, W. E. H. (1892) History of Ireland in the eighteenth century (Vols. 1–5). London: Longmans, Green & Co.Google Scholar
  64. Lee, J. J. (1989). Ireland 1912–1985: Politics and society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  65. Lele, V. (2008). Demographic modernity’ in Ireland: A cultural analysis of citizenship, migration, and fertility. The Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Europe, 8(1), 5–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Lentin, R. (2003). Pregnant silence: (En)gendering Ireland’s asylum space. Patterns of Prejudice, 37(3), 301–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Lentin, R., & McVeigh, R. (2006). After optimism? Ireland, racism and globalisation. Dublin: Metro Éireann.Google Scholar
  68. Loughlin, J. (1995). Ulster unionism and British national identity since 1885. London: Pinter.Google Scholar
  69. Lubhéid, E. (2004). Childbearing against the state? Asylum seeker women in the Irish republic. Women’s Studies International Forum, 27(4), 335–349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Lynch, R. (2008). The people’s protectors? The Irish republican army and the “Belfast pogrom”, 1920–1922. Journal of British Studies, 47(2), 375–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Mac Einri, P. (2000). Some recent demographic developments in Ireland.
  72. Maguire, M. (2004). Differently Irish: A cultural history exploring twenty-five years of Vietnamese-Irish identity. Dublin: Woodfield Press.Google Scholar
  73. Mansergh, N. (1965). The Irish question: 1840–1921. London: Unwin University Books.Google Scholar
  74. McAllister, I., Hayes, B., & Dowds, L. (2005). The erosion of consent: Protestant disillusionment with the agreement. Ark Update, 32, 1–4.Google Scholar
  75. McCann, E. (1980). War and an Irish town. London: Pluto Press.Google Scholar
  76. McGarry, J., & O’Leary, B. (1995). Explaining Northern Ireland. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  77. McGarry, A., Hainsworth, P., & Gilligan, C. (2008). Elected representatives/political parties and minority ethnic communities in Northern Ireland. Derry/Londonderry: University of Ulster.Google Scholar
  78. McGorman, E., & Sugrue, C. (2007). Intercultural education: Primary challenges in Dublin 15 – A report funded by the social inclusion unit and the department of education and science. Dublin: DES.Google Scholar
  79. McInerney, S. (2007, November 11). We are not making it easy for migrants to settle here and achieve their full potential. Sunday Tribune.Google Scholar
  80. McLaughlin, J. (1994). Ireland: The emigrant nursery and the world economy. Cork: Cork U.P.Google Scholar
  81. McMorrow, C. (2007, November 11). Immigrant communities are living in isolation. Sunday Tribune.Google Scholar
  82. McVeigh, R., & Rolston, B. (2007). From good friday to good relations: Sectarianism, racism and the Northern Ireland state. Race and Class, 48(4), 1–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Mitchell, C. (2003a). From victims to equals? Catholic responses to political change in Northern Ireland. Irish Political Studies, 8(1), 51–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Mitchell, C. (2003b). Protestant identification and political change in Northern Ireland. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 26(4), 612–631.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Murray, G., & Tonge, J. (2005). Sinn Fein and the SDLP: From alienation to participation. London: Hurst.Google Scholar
  86. Ní Shuínéar, S. (1994). Irish travellers, ethnicity and the origins question. In M. McCann et al. (Eds.), Irish travellers: Culture and ethnicity (pp. 54–77). Belfast: Institute of Irish Studies, Queen’s University of Belfast.Google Scholar
  87. O’Dowd, L., Rolston, B., & Tomlinson, M. (1980). Northern Ireland: Between civil rights and civil war. London: CSE Books.Google Scholar
  88. O’Grada, C., & Walsh, B. (1995). Fertility and population in Ireland North and South. Population Studies, 49(2), 259–279.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. O’Hearn, D. (1995). Global restructuring the the Irish political economy. In P. Clancy, E. Drudy, K. Lynch, & L. O’Dowd (Eds.), Irish society: Sociological perspectives. Dublin: Institute of Public Administration.Google Scholar
  90. O’Leary, B. (1999). The nature of the British-Irish agreement. New Left Review, 233, 66–96.Google Scholar
  91. O’Toole, F. (1999, December 28). Who are we? Irish Times.Google Scholar
  92. O’Toole, F. (2010). Enough is enough: How to build a new republic. London: Faber & Faber.Google Scholar
  93. Office of National Statistics (ONS). (2009). A demographic portrait of Northern Ireland. Population Trends, 135, 91–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Office of the Prime Minister. (1972). Redrawing the border and population transfer. Public Records Office (PREM 15/1010). Available online at:
  95. ONS. (2009). Population trends, 135. London: Palgrave/Macmillan and the Office for National Statistics.Google Scholar
  96. Osborne, B., Smith, A., & Hayes, A. (2006). Higher education in Northern Ireland: A report on factors associated with participation and migration. Belfast: OFMDFM.Google Scholar
  97. Pavee Point Newsletter. (2002, July). Making nomadism into a crime.
  98. Pritchard, R. M. O. (2004). Protestants and the Irish language: Historical heritage and current attitudes in Northern Ireland. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 25(1), 62–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. Purdie, B. (1990). Politics in the streets: The origins of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland. Belfast: Blackstaff Press.Google Scholar
  100. Ryan, M. (1994). War and peace in Ireland: Britain and the IRA in the new world order. London: Pluto.Google Scholar
  101. Sharrock, D. (2007, September 24). Ireland opens its first all-black school. The Times Online.
  102. Sheringham, O. (2009). Ethnic identity and integration among Brazilians in Gort, Ireland. Irish Migration Studies in Latin America, 7(1), 93–104.
  103. Shirlow, P. (Ed.). (1995). Development Ireland. London: Pluto.Google Scholar
  104. Shirlow, P., & Murtagh, B. (2006). Belfast: Segregation, violence and the city. London: Pluto.Google Scholar
  105. Simpson, J. (1983). Economic development: Cause or effect in the Northern Ireland conflict? In J. Darby (Ed.), Northern Ireland: the background to the conflict (pp. 79–109). Belfast: Appletree Press.Google Scholar
  106. Smyth, E., Darmody, M., McGinnity, F., & Byrne, D. (2009). Adapting to diversity: Irish schools and newcomer children. Dublin: ESRI.
  107. Sunday Tribune Editorial. (2007, November 4). The new class.Google Scholar
  108. Taylor, B. (2008). A minority and the state: Travellers in Britain in the twentieth century. Manchester: Manchester University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  109. Tonge, J. (2006). Polarisation or new moderation? Party politics since the GFA. In M. Cox, A. Guelke, & F. Stephen (Eds.), A farewell to Arms? Beyond the good friday agreement (2nd ed.). Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  110. Tovey, H., & Share, P. (2003). A sociology of Ireland. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan.Google Scholar
  111. Whyte, J. (1983). How much discrimination was there under the Unionist regime, 1921–1968? In T. Gallagher & J. O’Connell (Eds.), Irish studies. Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Social Policy and CriminologyOpen UniversityMilton KeynesUK
  2. 2.Department of SociologyUniversity of the West of ScotlandPaisleyUK

Personalised recommendations