Population loss is one aspect of the process of desertification currently taking place in peripheral rural areas. It is at once a cause and a consequence of other dimensions of desertification such as the closure of service facilities and the abandonment of agricultural land. Patterns and processes of rural population loss merit attention not just as localised phenomena but with a view to understanding their place within broader national trends. Against such a national perspective, this paper addresses the issue of rural population decline in the Republic of Ireland during the past two decades having regard to size of place and estimated net migration for key age groups. The analysis is pursued at the level of some 160 Rural Districts. The results of the analysis confirm expected relationships between peripheral locations, small population size and a depletion of the young working age groups. The method used, however, permits the links between size of place, population change and the composition of that change to be identified with some precision.