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3. Methodology

The Saturday of the August weekend (5th), 1995, was chosen as census day. Figures for islands in other European regions(5) have shown that periodic variation throughout the summer tends to peak toward the end of July and the beginning of August. We were also fairly sure that no particular anomalous events were planned for the August weekend of 1995. We could not be sure of the weather. Bad weather would tend to have a greater influence on the daytripping population. As it turned out the weather proved benign on census day. In other words, August 5th, 1995 was a typical high-season summer's day.

Contact persons were appointed on each island and were informed in writing of the task. A detailed questionnaire was constructed and piloted and sent to each island. On the larger islands variations in tactics applied. It would have been impossible to physically count all the visitors to Arran More or Inis Mor. Ferry companies were asked to supply figures, which they generously did. On Clare Island we did organize an actual count (with the help of two experienced field workers). The Clare Island statistic has been used to test the reliability of the data from other islands.

All islands participated. There was a normal spread of missing data. Where the permanent population was known (all islands), estimates based on ratios from other islands were inserted (these details will be included in the final scientific report). Common sense was also used to verify the estimates for missing data. The authors are familiar with all of the islands involved and have visited most of them.

(5). Including Ushant in Brittany where the authors have been involved in a research project.

4. The Results

  • The permanent population

The smallest resident populations are on Long Island in Cork and Claggan in Mayo, both with 8 residents. The largest populations are on Inis Mor with 737 and on Arran More with 600. The grand total is 3095 living on 20 islands. These residents occupy 1078 houses, indicating, if we exclude approximately 300 single person households, an average household size of 3.6. Details of single-person households and households with young children will be published in the final report.

We have also grouped the islands into three clusters. One consists of the Larger Gaelteacht Islands (6), another consists of the larger NonGaelteacht Islands (6) and the final group consists of the Smaller Islands

(8). Grouped accordingly, the islands account for the population as follows:

Gaelteacht Islands 68%
Non-Gaelteacht Islands 26%
Smaller Islands 6%

Household size shows an interesting variation. Excluding the smaller islands, it varies from a maximum on Innisturk of 4.4 to a minimum of 2.3 on Innisboffin(5). There is a clear tendency for more remote, less visited islands to have larger housholds sizes.

In round figures the population of Ireland's offshore islands is approximately 3000, a small town. On August the 5th this town had swelled to 13,000 people - a pressure factor of 3.36 - 10,000 extra people putting pressure on the infrastructure. On individual islands the range of pressure factors was from 0.7 (Innisbiggle, County Mayo) to 12.6 (Heir Island, County Cork).

This range, of 0.7 to 12.6 times the permanent population, gives some indication of future scenarios. In round figures, by the night of August 5th 1995, 1000 households of approximately 3 residents had increased to 1200 households of 8 residents. The raw data for these estimates are shown in Table 1.

(5) Because of missing data these estimates are based on the inhabited house total. Using a factor of 30% single households the figures would increase.
(6) That is the ratio of population increase (all categories) to the permanent population.

  • Habitable Houses

  The islands of Ireland have 1524 habitable houses, of these 1078 are permanently occupied. A further 240 are occupied during the summer. This means that there are about 270 habitable houses which are unoccupied. In addition to habitable houses the survey also calculated the number of houses suitable for renovation. This came to a grand total of about 280:

Total number of houses (all islands) suitable for renovation .... 280

  • Between Islands Variation

  All islands are shown in the same scale and grouped in Diagram I below. Diagrams 2, 3 and 4 have different scales but show the raw data.

The Gaelteacht Islands had about 6880 visitors made up of 3210 daytrippers and 3670 overnighters (7). This yields a pressure factor for the Gaelteacht islands of 3.3. The factor for daytrippers is 1.5 while the factor for overnighters is 1.7.

There were 1884 visitors to non-Gaelteacht islands, a factor of 2.4. However the distribution between daytrippers and overnighters was markedly different from the Gaelteacht islands. A total of 504 daytrippers yielded a pressure factor of 0.6 while almost three times as many overnighters, at 1380 yielded a pressure factor of 1.8.

Pressure on the smaller islands is higher than all others, though the pressure is clearly unevenly distributed between the islands. To a resident population of 187 was added 367 daytrippers, pressure factor of 2.0, and 459 overnighters, pressure factor 2.5, giving a total pressure factor of 4.4.accommodation, summer residents and people in tents and boats at anchor.

(7). We use the term overnighters to include visiting friends and relatives, paying guests, guests in rented


  • Discussion

  It is fair to conclude (and evidence from Brittany, Scotland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway would support this) that as seasonal infrastructural pressure increases, destructive pressure on the social fabric and social structures of the permanent residents also increases. On islands, with their highly fragile critical mass of social meaningfullness, the economic benefits of large seasonal in-migration can easily be outweighed by losses of critical nodes in their social networks. The loss of a single public house, resident nurse, post-office or, above all, a national school can quickly tear a community asunder. It is important to note that none of the small islands in this survey have national schools. We are prepared to speculate that past a certain level of seasonal infrastructrural pressure, local communities tend to disintegrate. We cannot stem the tide of seasonal outmigration to marginal regions. However certain consequences of the phenomenon can be controlled or mitigated.

While there need not be conflicts of interest it is obvious that gradual decline of the resident population, or especially, its decreasing proportion of the total through-flow population, involves serious planning decisions which may include active restriction. This may be achieved through planning laws (since there are at the most no more than 280 houses suitable for renovation) and/or through differential residential poll tax regimes (as is the case in Scandinavia).

  There are also immediate and important environmentalconsiderations. The pressure on the islands is certain to increase. The only question is, at what rate? If the factor increased to 4.4 (the small islands rate) in would mean another 3000 people on the islands on a given day. If the factor approached Brittany's or some Scandinavian rates we might expect an increase of another thirteen or fourteen thousand persons. Even at a summer household population size 6-8 this would mean the building of perhaps over 1000 houses to be occupied for no more than three months of the year.

Finally, we hope that this work has shown and will show (in the final report) that at least one aspect of empowerment and local control, namely the gathering of scientific baseline data, is capable of being carried out within the population of Irish islands.



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