Firstly, as noted in earlier blog posts, Beagh Civil parish is shared across two District Electoral Divisions (D.E.D.), namely that of Ardamullivan, and that of Beagh. A D.E.D. is a former name given to a low-level territorial division in Ireland, which, in 1994, were renamed as Electoral Divisions. Essentially, these administrative districts are used both for means of measuring the population in census records, and population votes during elections. The difficulty here is that some townlands not within Beagh civil parish (e.g. in Gort Civil Parish and Kilbeacanty Civil Parish) are included in these DEDs, and the public information on which this article is based does not allow a breakdown of the figures by townland - the DED is the smallest division you can analyze on the CSO (Central Statistics Office) website. As such, this should be remembered when reading this article, as both DEDs have been combined in order to evaluate population decline in the parish. It should also be remembered that the town of Gort borders the northern half of the parish, which no doubt has a big influence on the figures (particularly in more recent times as the town of Gort has expanded further South and encroaches Beagh).
The second difficulty in this blog post is the lack of accurate data detailing the devastating consequences of the Great Famine in the parish. The Roman Catholic church records begin too late (about 1855) to be of use when examining the Great Famine era in the parish, and civil registration in the country (for Roman Catholics at least) did not begin until 1864, almost 20 years after the Famine. We instead have to rely on statistics compiled from the 1841 and 1851 Census records (the original census records were pulped during a paper shortage in the UK during WWI), but this too has its limitations. With the Famine beginning about 1845, the population loss was undoubtedly higher than the official figures below reflect - we have no way of knowing what the actual population of the parish was when the Great Hunger hit the West coast.
Pre-Famine Population Change
Within Beagh, population growth appears to have been still increasing rapidly by the 1830s with the 1831 and 1841 censuses returning populations of 3719 and 4446 respectively. This reflected an increase of 727 people, or 19.54% in ten years (it is worth remembering that the estimated national average for this period was an increase of 14%). Accurate official population statistics prior to the 1820s for the parish are unavailable.
Impact of the Famine on Beagh
" Although the population has been so diminished in so remarkable a manner by famine, disease, and emigration between 1841 and 1851, and has been since decreasing, the results of the Irish Census are, on the whole, so satisfactory, demonstrating as they do the general advancement of the country' Commissioners William Donnelly and William R. Wilde at the end of their 1851 Census of Ireland Commentary.
Between 1841 and 1851 the population of Ireland dropped from a total of 8, 175, 124 people to 6,552 , 385 in 1851. This represents a decline of 19.8% in the population of the country between both census returns, but does not take into account the increase between 1841 and 1845. In Beagh, the percentage of decline is much more pronounced - the parish population stood at 5895 people in 1841, and declined to 3334 by 1851; a decline of 43.4% - the average at this time was 26.9% for County Galway! By comparison, there was a loss of 412,366 people in Rural Connacht between 1841 and 1851, representing a 30.8% decrease in population (the total for the Province [including civic areas] stood at a 29.9% decrease).
To put this is in real terms, a staggering 2 of every 5 people in the parish disappeared through either death or emigration in just 10 years! The West coast was much more impacted by the Famine, which is reflected in the population loss being more than double the national average in Beagh. In 1841, 489 houses were inhabited in Ardamullivan DED, by 1851 just 292 remained.
A rudimentary attempt to estimate the actual population of the parish by 1845, on the eve of the Famine, can be estimated as follows. Nationally, by 1831, the population had increased by 14%. This had fallen to an increase of 5.3% ten years later in 1841 (a third of what the increase had been ten years previous). If this pattern was to continue, and the population increased by a third of what it was in 1841 when the 1851 census was returned, it would suggest a national increase of 1.65%. Applying this percentage to the 1841 population of Beagh, would return an increase of 97.2 people (in ten years), for a total population of 5992 people. If we half this number (as the Famine begins about 1845), we are left with a rudimentary number of 48.6 people, that would have been lost in the Famine that would not have been enumerated in 1841. Although this is a lot of guesswork based on data sets that are not complete enough to come to a sound hypothesis, it still nonetheless puts a figure on those unnamed souls who perished who are not included in any statistical analysis of the impact of the Famine. If this number of extra Beagh natives was indeed lost, it would mean that a total of 44.2% of the parish was lost. It should also be remembered that the Census of 1851 was taken in March, well before the Famine mortality in Galway had ended.
When estimates of natural growth in the early 1840s are taken into account, the “missing” amounted to some 2.4 million people, more than a quarter of the island’s population. Deaths were most common among the very old and the very young (children under five). Separating the number of emigrants from the dead is difficult, but research from the 1980s suggests that the total killed by famine and its associated diseases was around 1.1 million people. This suggests that 45.8% of the population decline perished. Again, applying this estimated national death average to Beagh, it would suggest that of the 2561 people lost in Beagh in ten years (2609 if we include our estimate above), it is entirely possible that 1173 people from the parish died from the Famine and its diseases (1195 if we include the estimate above). This is absolutely staggering, especially when you consider that the current population of the parish stands at 1312. If such a disaster was to take as many lives again today, the entire parish of Beagh would be occupied by just 139 people!
It is generally agreed that the greatest loss was among the poor: the cottier and the day labourer belonged to the class most affected and while towns were not spared, the greatest losses were in the countryside.
Population Change: Evidence from the Baptismal Register
That being said, there are certain limitations when analysing this dataset. there was an absence of baptisms recorded from the years 1864 to 1870. The numbers above instead come from Civil Birth records which can help re-construct the missing baptisms for these years. It is worth noting though that this is not a completely accurate way of re-constructing the baptism register, because there was undoubtedly a certain percentage of births in the parish that would not have been registered with the civil registrar in Gort. It is also worth noting that of course, the effect of this large birth rate was tempered to some extent by a high rate of infant mortality. The last point of note is also the fact that part of Beagh Roman Catholic Parish encompassed part of Gort town in Gort Civil Parish.
Despite those limitations, it is interesting to note that there is a big drop in baptisms in the parish from 1865, which does not seem to recover until 1871/1872. Baptisms in 1865 rnumber 87, while the following year, drop to 55, representing a 37% drop in baptisms. Interestingly, this coincides with the Great Famine hitting the parish exactly 20 years previous, and those having children in the mid to late 1860s would have been the young children that either survived the Famine, or were in fact born during the Famine years. Given this, the drop in baptisms makes sense, and is hardly surprising.
Population and Poverty Distribution Within the Parish
Sources for this Articles
Gort Civil Birth Records 1864-1870
Hely Dutton ‘Statistical Survey of County Galway’
Census of Ireland, 1841, Report of the commissioners appointed to take the census of Ireland for the year 1841 BPP 1843 XXIV (504) viii
The Modernisation of Irish Society 1848 – 1918 Joseph Lee page I
The Other Clare, Volume 17, p. 57. Pat Flynn, 'The General Afdvancement of the Country - Clare and the Census Return of 1841 and 1851'
Sliabh Aughty, Journal No. 12, 2005, Denis Moloney 'Population Change and Poverty in Bodyke Around the Great Famine'