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Immigrant population doubles to 420,000

MAYBE they're attracted to the angling lakes nearby, but one-in-six people living in the small town of Oldcastle in Co Meath is Lithuanian.

And one-in-seven residents of Millstreet in Co Cork is Polish. A fascinating picture of where Ireland's new residents are living has been painted in the results of Census 2006 published by the Central Statistics Office.

It shows that Polish and Lithuanian guests of the nation are as likely to be living in rural Ireland as in the bigger cities. The census shows that one-in-10 people living here comes from somewhere else, with 420,000 foreign nationals living in the country.

The results are the most accurate figures of immigration available since the expansion of the EU, and shows that the foreign-born population has almost doubled from 224,000 in 2002 to 420,000 last year.

Polish nationals numbered 63,300, while the number of Lithuanians was 24,600.

And based on the number of people living in small Irish towns, Polish people enjoy a wider geographical spread than their Lithuanian counterparts.

Apart from Oldcastle, smaller towns in Monaghan are the most likely to have a high proportion of Lithuanians living there; while Poles are living in Cork, Carlow, Kerry and Monaghan. There are 15,338 Lithuanians living in Leinster, followed by Munster (4,841), the three Ulster counties (2,184) and Connaught (2,005).

But most are attracted to the capital, which has 7,318 residents.

Leitrim is rarely first choice, with just 118 Lithuanians living here. Carlow is the second least-popular destination with 187.

"The town has changed, definitely," Oldcastle county councillor Michael Lynch (FF) said yesterday. Of a population of 1,299, over 17pc -- or 232 residents -- were born in Lithuania.

"They're mostly working in industry, in furniture, bedding and flooring. A lot would be in church on Sunday, they go to work early and are very industrious. They're very nice, and beginning to integrate into the town. Where I had looked for jobs for people 30 or 40 years ago in industry, in recent years the industry couldn't get people and might have had to move if it wasn't for the new people.

"It's a mix of people -- single men, families and children -- making their first holy communion. They're fine people, very friendly but a bit reserved."

In Millstreet, 195 of the town's 1,376 population are Polish. Local councillor Noel Buckley (FG) says they came for the work.

"They've been very successful because the building trade is good, but they're also working for farmers, in factories and for local entrepreneurs," he said.

"A fair minority are families, but there's a lot of single people. But what's going to happen if the building trade slows down or the economy takes a downswing? Maybe there will be some problems, but hopefully it won't come to that."