POPULATION growth has shot through the roof in the ever-widening commuter belts of Ireland's biggest cities.
New Census 2006 figures show that people are moving out of cities and into smaller towns.
And these are groaning under the pressure of seeing their numbers double or even treble in just a few years.
The five cities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford have lost population share compared to the rest of the country with a total growth of just 4pc that is half the rate of the country as a whole.
Galway was the exception to this as its population has grown by 10pc since 2002. It now stands at 72,720 and could hit 100,000 by 2020 if growth continues at this rate.
But the number of large towns has increased from 28 to 34, with Mallow, Wicklow, Arklow, Cobh, Midleton, and Ballina the new arrivals on a list dominated by Leinster with 22 towns inhabited by over 10,000 people.
Balbriggan was the fastest growing big town. Its population soared by 51pc to 15,559, while, also in north Dublin, Swords saw its population soar to 34,000.
Drogheda narrowly pipped Dundalk to become the largest town in Louth, and with a population of 35,090 is now Ireland's biggest urban centre outside the main cities.
Towns near Cork city such as Carrigaline, Midleton and Mallow also saw massive increases, most notably in Carrigtwohill which saw its population double to 2,782.
Towns near Galway such as Athenry also boomed, while the population of Oranmore doubled to 3,500.
Near Dublin, the population of Stamullen in Co Meath trebled to 2,500 in just four years.
Other commuter-belt towns around the capital such as Lusk, Rathcoole, Blessington, Kilcock, Kilcullen and Duleek also witnessed population explosions, with the phenomenon reaching out as far as Portarlington in Co Laois, Enfield in Co Meath and beyond.
Overall, the Irish population has grown by 322,645 since 2002, but most of these live outside the big cities.
This means that the city share of the population fell from 35.5pc to 34.2pc, the census figures just published by the Central Statistics Office show.
The biggest population increases were in villages with a population of between 50 and 1,500 people in Dublin, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow which grew by over a third, twice as fast as villages elsewhere.