As Keith Duggan reflected in his book ‘House of Pain’ about Mayo football, Ballyhaunis lost a certain vibrancy when the Sligo to Galway road stopped going through its central streets decades ago. The town itself is very much isolated in east Mayo, on the Roscommon border, nowadays.
Drivers to Athlone now usually cut across through Cloonfad and avoid the sentinel of East Mayo, so it might surprise many to see the tag ‘Ireland’s most cosmopolitan town’ and ‘Ballyhaunis’ in the same sentence.
A bit of poetic license is needed, mind, but the latest release of census figures from the Central Statistics Office show that it is not a lie either. Ballyhaunis has the highest percentage of non-Irish nationals living there according to the 2011 Census.
The town has 2,299 non-nationals living there — 42 per cent of its total population. The town has always been quite diverse, by Mayo standards. It’s the only town in the county to have a mosque and there have been scores of Muslims living in Ballyhaunis for decades, initially brought about by the opening of the Halal meat-processing plant in the town in the early 1980s.
In more recent years the number of foreign nationals in the town has grown, in pace with the growing diversification of Ireland itself. In the 2006 census, 36.6 per cent of the population of Ballyhaunis was from outside of Ireland. It was second to Gort in Galway, who had a population of 40.7 per cent from outside Ireland.
Mayo is relatively low, however, in terms of total numbers of non-nationals. A total of 13,778 non-Irish nationals were resident in Mayo for the 2011 census, which is 10.7 per cent of the county’s total population. The percentages for Connacht (11.3 per cent) and Ireland as a whole (12 per cent) were higher. Ten counties have lower percentages than Mayo according to the CSO figures.
Of the non-Irish nationals living in Mayo, UK nationals comprise the largest non-Irish community in the county, with 5,796 of the 13,778 non-Irish nationals in the county. Polish nationals are second in number with 2,933 living in Mayo at the time of the census. Those figures are at odds with the national figures which show Polish nationals as the single largest non-Irish nationality, ahead of UK nationals in second place.
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