Census 2022: Covid-driven flight from Dublin did not materialise, according to figures

Data show uneven population distribution across State which has been, and is increasingly, focused on east coast

The predicted pandemic flight from Dublin, with people seeking a better work-life balance by capitalising on the new opportunities offered through remote working, was not reflected in the 2022 census results.

The march from west to east which began with the Great Famine, has continued at a brisk trot with the population of Dublin rising at each census since — except in 1860s — with a whopping overall increase of 260 per cent. In the majority of the other counties where there has been an increase, populations have generally begun to rise only since the 1960s and 1970s according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO).

The preliminary data issued by the CSO one year ago, following the April 2022 census, showed the population of the entire State exceeded five million for the first time in more than 170 years. The latest release, issued on Thursday, illustrates the lopsided nature of their distribution across the State, which has been, and is increasingly, focused on the east coast.

In the period from 1851 to 2022, just five counties had an increase in their population. In addition to Dublin, Kildare’s population rose by 159 per cent, Wicklow’s and Meath’s by 57 per cent and Louth’s by 30 per cent. All counties that encompass the “greater Dublin area” are essentially the overspill of a congested capital.


Meanwhile, the most populated pre-Famine counties have seen their numbers plummet, with Mayo’s population down 65 per cent, Tipperary down 61 per cent, Galway down 37 and Cork down 32 per cent.

The historic exodus from the west to the east is of course well documented, but what is interesting is that the population shows no signs of leaving the Pale to return to Connacht or Munster and Ulster, and is determinedly hugging the east coast.

The top five largest towns in the State in 2022 were all in Leinster: Drogheda, Dundalk, Swords, Navan and Bray. They were also the only ones with populations above 30,000 people.

Co Louth had the two largest towns in the State: Drogheda with 44,135 people; and Dundalk with 43,112. This was followed by Swords in the north county Dublin area of Fingal with 40,776 people and Navan, also just north of the capital in Co Meath with a population of 33,886.

The next largest town can be found just over the capital’s southern border with a population of 33,512 in Bray, Co Wicklow. It is the number six spot on the list where the first county beyond Leinster gets a look in with Ennis which has a population of 27,923, but then it’s back to the eastern province for the next three slots: Carlow with 27,351, Kilkenny just behind on 27,184, and Nass, which has replaced its neighbour Newbridge in the top 10 with a population of 26,180. Just one more western county makes it into the top 10 with 26,079 people living in Tralee, Co Kerry.

Dublin had the highest proportion of people who moved house or apartment in the year leading up to the census — during the height of the pandemic. However, the vast majority did not leave the capital and Dublin at 23 per cent was just behind Cork at 18 per cent for residents least likely to move out of their county.

Of the 93,473 Dublin residents who moved in the year prior to the census, 77 per cent moved elsewhere within the county. Those who left the capital didn’t stray too far. Of the 21,954 who moved out of Dublin, 4,078 went to Kildare — up from 2,974 at the time of the 2016 census, with a further 3,285 relocating to Meath, up from 2,602 at the time of that last census.

Wicklow had the next highest number of ex-Dubliners, with 2,370 making the move south, up from 2,201 in the year leading up to the 2016 census.

Where Dublin movers ventured further afield they did so in smaller numbers than in the 2016 census records. The most common non-Leinster destination was Cork where 7 per cent relocated in the year leading to Census 2022 at 1,497 but this was down from 1,533 at the time of the previous census. While the most rural counties were the least popular for a move, with less than 1 per cent of Dublin-based people relocating to Leitrim and Monaghan.

Most of those moving in the year up to Census 2022 were renters at 61 per cent, a reduction of 8 per cent on the previous census. As would be expected the figure for Dublin movers is higher at 69 per cent of movers renting, which is still lower than in 2016 when 72.6 per cent of households moving in Dublin went into rented accommodation.

Far more people had secured mortgages or loans for their move than at the time of the 2016 census, up 36 per cent from 19,391 to 26,443. In Dublin, just under 20 per cent of movers were buying a home with a mortgage or loans, up from just over 17 per cent in the last census.

Meath had the highest proportion of households that moved to, or within, the county into a home owned with a mortgage or loan at 43 per cent, followed by Kildare (38 per cent), Laois (38 per cent) and Wicklow (36 per cent) indicating a strong intention that those choosing to live on the east coast plan to stay.