It's no secret that the tragedy of the Great Famine (1845-52) had a profound and devastating effect on Irish society. We know from census data that in the space of 10 years (1841 and 1851) many parishes along the Wild Atlantic Way lost more than half their population. Hidden by this big data are the stories of individual communities, across the island, that also experienced devastation.
At some point along our Irish family history journey, we get to wondering what our ancestors may have borne witness to during this period. Such was the trauma to the Irish psyche, few family memories of it were passed on. So how do we go about piecing their story together for the next generation?
- For a general overview of what happened at county level, this Atlas of the Great Irish Famine is a helpful place to start.
A lot of the famine is inaccessible at local level, especially for those just getting into Irish history or genealogy. Those of us lucky to know what parish or town our ancestors came from will want to know more about how their community fared during this traumatic period.
Even those of us who can only dream of knowing where our Irish ancestors came from, have places in Ireland dear to our hearts with a famine impact story worth exploring.
In this article, we feature two excellent online resources that show the reality of depopulation – parish by parish and townland by townland. The scope of resources featured here encompasses the island of Ireland, both rural and urban, including more than 3,000 Civil Parishes and over 1,600 towns.
Resource 1: The Great Irish Famine Online
The Great Irish Famine Online is a ground-breaking interactive map project which charts changes in the human and social landscape of pre and post-famine Ireland. Swipe between the 1841 and the 1851 map to see key changes by parish and by town in:
Rural Population Density per 100 acres
Rural Housing Map – a staggering visual of how the cottier class was all but wiped out.
Towns Population – includes new towns that sprung up as people sought refuge from eviction (green) and declassified towns due to displacement (in red).
Occupation of those employed in Agriculture
Education in terms of literacy
Resource 2: The Census of Ireland 1881 (Part 1)
The Census of Ireland 1881 (Area, Population and Number of Houses) Statistical Report allows you to see the reality of depopulation at even more local level. Scroll through different parishes and drill down to each townland for:
number of houses (inhabited and uninhabited),
population (male & female) of each townland within a parish,
cross-compare data from every census (1841, 1851, 1861, and 1871). Which may help narrow down the window of when a family group emigrated or declined in the homeland.
For example, the data for Achill Co Mayo (pictured above) gives a chilling account of how Carrickkildavnet (a congested townland in 1841) was laid waste by the famine. Home to 148 souls in 1841, Carrickkildavnet returned a population of only 8 souls in 1851. By then only 2 of its 26 houses were occupied. This data may serve as the only memorial to those who perished or were displaced.
Produced in 4 volumes, this resource can be explored FREE online (thanks to the University of Southampton).
To quickly find these tables for your ancestral county, we have provided direct links below:
Search your County
- ANTRIM pg 15-54
- ARMAGH pg 179-200
- CARLOW pg 4-19
- CAVAN pg 262- 302
- CLARE pg 10 - 63
- CORK pg 125 - 266
- DERRY aka LONDONDERRY pg 683-710
- DONEGAL pg 359-414
- DOWN pg 479-511
- DUBLIN pg 72-107
- FERMANAGH pg 589-632
- GALWAY pg 17-
- KERRY pg 412 - 477
- KILDARE pg 215-246
- KILKENNY pg 311-353
- KING'S aka OFFALY pg 429-459
- LAOIS aka QUEEN'S pg 784-810
- LEITRIM pg 209 –
- LIMERICK pg 542 - 600
- LONDONDERRY aka DERRY pg 683-710
- LONGFORD pg 516-536
- MAYO pg 285 -
- MEATH pg 660-705
- MONAGHAN pg 771-803
- OFFALY aka KING'S pg 429-459
- QUEEN'S aka LAOIS pg 784-810
- ROSCOMMON pg 431 - 472
- SLIGO (missing)
- TIPPERARY pg 688 - 769
- TYRONE pg 859-990
- WATERFORD pg 865-909
- WESTMEATH pg 869-899
- WEXFORD pg 960-1013
- WICKLOW pg 1095-1124
Townlands in this report are listed by civil parish. An alphabetical index of townlands and parishes can be found at the end of each volume. To find out which parish your ancestral townland belonged to, see logainm.ie or townlands.ie.
County boundary changes in 1898 may require a search in a neighbouring county.
The comparative table of interest is entitled "Area, Houses, and Population" which appears early in each county report. The table number of this comparative report varies (from III to VII) depending on the county.
The Hunger: The Story of the Irish Famine is a documentary on one of the most catastrophic parts of Ireland's history. Narrated by Liam Neeson, it cleverly combines illustrations of the country at the time with modern-day images of Ireland, along with quotes from people affected by the catastrophe and analysis from historians.