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Rural housing density in Ireland - Map of the Month

The August Map of the Month, created by Researchers David Meredith, Rob O’Hara and Jesko Zimmermann looks at the density of rural dwellings in Ireland. It clearly shows the impact of the road network, proximity to towns and cities, and general topography on residential housing density.

View a pdf the map here: Country living: Rural housing density in Ireland
CartographersJesko Zimmermann, David Meredith and Rob O'Hara

View previous Maps of the Months here

This map looks at spatial patterns in rural housing densities. Housing in rural areas takes a variety of forms, ranging from housing estates on the edge of towns and villages, to clusters of houses and ‘one-off’ houses that are commonly built along roads (referred to as ribbon developments). Most rural housing is classified as ‘one-off’, i.e. defined as occupied detached houses with individual sewerage systems. The Central Statistics Office estimated that there were 616,828 permanent residential dwellings outside the 873 cities, towns and villages that make up Ireland’s urban fabric in 2016 with 442,669 classified as ‘one-off’ houses.    

In a report from the Census of Population 2016* the CSO provide an assessment of the percentage of the housing stock in each county that is classified as ‘one-off’ and an additional analysis of the distance of these houses from the nearest town. Whilst both analyses are useful, a more detailed assessment of the spatial pattern is required to visualise the distribution of rural housing.

In this month’s map the OSI Prime2 buildings dataset to map the density of residential buildings in rural Ireland was used. Prime2 is a seamless spatial reference framework that has detailed information on approximately 50 million objects, including field outlines, fixed boundaries (e.g.fences, hedges, and stone walls), roads and rivers, and buildings. It is an invaluable source of spatial information on the Irish landscape.

To produce this map, we took all “residential” buildings in Prime2 and removed all buildings within urban areas (defined as falling inside areas defined as a settlement by the OSI) and the entire county of Dublin. A kernel density map for a 1 km2 grid was created using ArcGIS Pro. One artefact from this mapping approach are areas of low density around larger cities, which are the result of our exclusion of sub-urban housing and does not reflect the situation on the ground.

Average housing density 7.2 houses per km2

The kernel density analysis shows an average density of 7.2 houses per km2. There are, however, some clear patterns visible on the map, with high concentrations of housing around urban centres (both large such as Dublin or Galway, and smaller centres such as Longford or Cavan) and along roads. According to the map the most densely housed areas is in the Galway commuter belt with up to 25 houses per km2 around Claregalway. There are also bands of high housing density in, for example, south Wexford, Kerry (especially around Tralee, and between Killarney and Killlorglin). Overlaying the density map with the major road network highlight the relationship between housing and road infrastructure.

The major driver of very low density is topography, with the areas of lowest density being situated in mountainous areas (such as the Wicklow Mountains) as well as areas of blanket bog (such as west Mayo).