Ireland has, throughout most of its history, had a relatively small population; until the 19th century this was comparable to other regions of similar area in Europe. Ireland experienced a major population boom in the 18th and early 19th centuries, as did the rest of Europe as a result of the Agricultural and Industrial revolutions, and at the time had comparable population densities to Britain and Western Europe.
However this changed dramatically with the Great Famine of the mid-19th century, which created conditions of mass starvation and emigration. The famine was by far the most significant turning point in the demographics of the country, as not only did Ireland's population not grow for the next century, it continued a slow decline, the result of which is that the Republic of Ireland has a significantly smaller population today than would be expected for a western European country of its size.
Only in the mid-20th century did the Republic's population start to grow once more, but emigration was still common until the 1990s. For centuries a relatively poor nation of emigrants, the demographics of the country changed significantly from the 1990s onwards, as a result of an economic boom that gave the Irish economy the name "Celtic Tiger". After this point, immigration far outweighed emigration and many former Irish Emigrants returned home. Ireland then became an attractive destination for immigrants from a number of nations, mainly from Central Europe, but also from Africa, Asia and elsewhere. Since the end of 2008, however, the country's economy has suffered, and since then Ireland has experienced net emigration once again.
The nation's population is the youngest in the European Union and its population is now predicted to grow for many decades into the future, bucking the trend of decline that is predicted for most European countries. A report in 2008 predicted that the population of the country would reach 6.7 million by 2060. Even more unique is that Ireland has been experiencing a baby boom for the past few years, with increasing birth rates and fertility rates.
Celtic culture and language forms an important part of the Irish national identity. The Irish Travellers are a native minority group.
In 2008, Ireland had the highest birth rate (18.1 per 1,000), lowest death rate (6.1 per 1,000) and highest net-migration rate (14.1 per 1,000) in the entire European Union – and the largest population growth rate (4.4%) in the 27-member bloc as a result.
Ireland is home to people from all over the globe, especially in Dublin. These countries include Poland, Great Britain, China, India, Brazil, Nigeria, and Russia. Even during the harsh years of the 2008 Economic Crisis, the immigration rate to Ireland is high, and is expected to grow rapidly by the 2011 National Census.
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