By Tom Coughlan, Author: Research always seems to throw up the unexpected. Before starting to write Tracing Your Leitrim Ancestors (Flyleaf Press 2018), I believed that Leitrim had always been the least populated county in Ireland – as it is today. However, this is not the case. In 1841 Leitrim had 155,000 residents, making it only the 6th smallest county in terms of population. It dropped to 112,000 in 1851, and continued to drop in every subsequent census. Other economic factors during the 20th century continued the decline to a low of around 25,000 in 1996. Since then it has risen to about 32,000. The decline of 28% between 1841 and 1851 can be attributed to the Great Famine of 1845-1849, and its aftermath of emigration and disease. The scale and duration of the impact makes Leitrim one of the most significantly affected. Perhaps the simplest explanation for this can be found in McPartlan’s Statistical Survey of the County Leitrim, 1802, which jokes that land in Leitrim was sold by the gallon and not by the acre. Like many other words written in jest, there is a large element of truth in this. Much of Leitrim is covered in water, and much of the rest is either mountain or bog. It is not a county offering a great living to a farmer, and neither does it support much industry.
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