3rd Year: Rural and Urban Life in 20th Century Ireland

A modern urban housing estate.
Main Page: Social Change in 20th Century Ireland

When you studied the Great Famine at the end of Second Year, you learned that most Irish people lived on farms or simply wandered the countryside looking for work. Between then and the beginning of the 20th Century the only major change was the huge decline in the population caused by the Famine. There was still widespread poverty, and many people lived in small, two-room houses.

This began to change by the middle of the century, when the government supplied electricity to many parts of the countryside which had not had it before. When Ireland joined the EEC in 1973, European funds helped to improve the living and working conditions of farmers across Ireland.

Meanwhile, in urban (town or city) areas, the bad living conditions you learned about from the Industrial Revolution still existed, but conditions improved from the 1930s as new and better houses were built and cities such as Dublin were developed.

Continue to Rural and Urban Work

What's the difference between rural and urban?
Rural means anything to do with the countryside. Urban means built-up areas such as towns and cities. You learn about the differences between rural and urban life in Geography as well.




  • Rural Life since 1900: Life in the early 20th century, types of farmer, bad conditions.
  • Rural Life in Recent Times:  Rural electrification, the EEC, Social Life.
  • Urban Life since 1900: Suburbs, Bad conditions, Health.
  • Urban Life in Recent Times: Better conditions, Corporation Housing, Middle-Class, Dublin City.




Click here for exam questions you can be asked about this topic. (Higher and Ordinary)


A rural farmer's cottage in the early 20th century.




The National Archives: 1901 and 1911 Census Returns
Do you know where your great or great-great grandparents were a hundred years ago? Search for them in the census returns and find out more about how they lived.

Central Statistics Office: Students' Corner
The CSO keeps records on Ireland's population and economy. They are responsible for the census forms we fill in every five years (you might remember the forms that went around in 2011). Have a look through some of their data on Ireland today here.

Dublin Then and Now
This photography site has pictures of Dublin city from the 1960s. Hover your mouse over the pictures to see what those places look like today. It shows how much Dublin has changed even in the last 50 years.

Cork City in the 1970s (YouTube)
This 10-minute video documentary of  Cork city was filmed in the 1970s. It talks about the different kinds of housing in and around the city, and it also shows many old features of the city which are now gone, such as Dunlop's Factory, the Ford plant and the Queen's Old Castle shopping centre (now Dealz and Argos). It also shows Cork University Hospital and CIT under construction. Really worth a watch.

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