How religious is Ireland

In addition to the dominant Roman Catholic Church, a small but increasing proportion of other creeds and worldviews has developed since the 1990s. The people “without religion” have been the second largest group since 2002. What is striking is the development from 2005 to 2011, which shows a speed of self-secularization that is so far unique.

The 2011 Census report in the Republic of Ireland also includes an analysis of religion in Ireland.

In the census, the question of religious affiliation (as question 13) is asked clearly and simply. The result is a detailed overview of 19 creeds, a collective category of other religions and the secular categories “No religion”, “Agnostic” and “Atheist”.

Even if this self-classification has been criticized because it does not ask about actual religious practice, it is essential information for the religious self-image of the resident population.

With a share of 3,861,335 members (= 84.2 percent of the resident population), the Roman Catholics (2011) define the religious life in the Republic of Ireland.

Since 1971, the option “No religion” has been shown separately and the figures show the continuous increase in the number of people who do not belong to any religious community. While in 1971 there were 7,616 people (= 0.3 percent), their number had risen to 269,811 residents (= 5.9 percent) by 2011, with an upward trend throughout. They form the second largest group after the Roman Catholics.

In third place in 2011 is the Anglican (former state church) Church of Ireland with 134,365 members (= 2.9 percent of the resident population), followed by the 49,204 Muslims with a share of 1.1 percent. Since 1991, Muslims have been recorded as a separate group (without any further sub-groups). In fifth place are the Orthodox with 45,223 members (= 1.0 percent). All other creeds have a share of less than 0.5 percent each.

(Due to its size, the overall presentation 1881 - 2011 is attached as a file)


Import of religions and worldviews

Have the changes been 'homemade' since 1991 or are these changes more or less influenced by immigration?

If one takes the percentage of Irish, i.e. of local people, as a yardstick, then all groups with over 50 percent Irish are 'home-made': these are the Roman Catholics, the Irish without religion, the members of the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterians and other smaller Christian people Religious communities. Most of the “imported” are the Orthodox, who come primarily from the EU (especially from Romania and Latvia). The other non-Christian religions (46 percent Irish, others primarily from Great Britain and India), the Pentecostals (40 percent Irish, others primarily from Nigeria and Romania) and Muslims (38 percent) are also not 'homemade', but with Irish components Irish, others mainly from Pakistan and Nigeria).

Age pyramids and regional distribution

The distributions in the age pyramids of religious and non-religious show the similarities as well as the differences. In all graphs it is clear that the population in Ireland has increased continuously since 1991 and that all four groups shown have benefited from it.

With the exception of the oldest age groups, Catholics have an equal distribution for men and women and are able to reproduce themselves. In the youngest age groups, the number of children is increasing again. The Anglicans of the Church of Ireland have an equally stable 'foundation' in their youngest members.

In the group without religious affiliation as well as in the Muslims, the gender ratio is not as balanced, with a long-term clear majority of men, which only balances out in the youngest age groups. The significance of the increase since 2002/2006 can be seen in both groups, albeit on a different scale. It is also clear that the people without religion have not yet been able to reproduce from their own membership, which is not a problem for Muslims. While the non-religious represent a continuous age pyramid, this age pyramid ends with the Muslims in their mid-sixties.

When it comes to the regional distributions by size of place of residence, Muslims and those without religion also have the parallel characteristic that they prefer to live in metropolitan areas - as is also the case in Germany. A good half of the Muslims in Ireland live in the greater Dublin area, and the proportions of those without religion are above average in the cities of Galway, Dublin, Cork and Limerick.

Religiousness and self-secularization

The self-classification of membership in a community does not say anything about the intensity of this membership and can be based on a tradition or, with reference to Ireland, that 92 percent of the elementary / primary schools in the country are under the direction and control of the Catholic Church and it is pragmatic to be baptized Catholic.

In Ireland much has happened in this regard in the past few years in terms of self-secularization.

Around the year 2000, Ireland and the USA were still the 'outliers' from the connection between a modernization hypothesis between traditional religiosity and GNP per capita, as a high level of religiosity is lived in both countries - here using the example of daily prayer - although the gross national product per capita - as an indicator of economic prosperity - is high.

The graphic from the SWS Rundschau (Journal of the Social Science Study Society) illustrates this situation.

In Eurobarometer Special No. 225 on “Social values, Science and Technology” (2005) it was recorded that 73 percent of Irish people believe that there is a God.

That is already less than there are "Roman Catholics" according to self-description, but this level of religious identification also corresponds to the lower identification of the data of the European Social Survey (ESS) for 2004, in which around 61 percent of the population in Ireland is classified as "religious".

By 2012, this value will then decrease to 47 percent in a WIN Gallup survey. This ranks the Republic of Ireland 9th (out of 57) of the non-religious countries.

Other trends are also running in parallel. Regular attendance at church services has fallen among Catholics from 81 percent (in 2006) to 48 percent (in 2010) and to 35 percent (2012).

In this respect, the Republic of Ireland has quickly become one of the most ecclesiastical countries in Europe, despite the high number of people who call themselves “Catholic”.

Reasons for the change and consequences

Why Ireland - the "land of the saints and scholars" has turned into a more secular "Celtic tiger" in a very short time - can be explained on the one hand in the rapid change from an agrarian state to an industrial nation, from rural conformity to urban individualism.

In addition, the age distribution in the European Social Survey (2004) with regard to those who classify themselves as being more religious (values ​​7-10 on a 10-point scale) shows that the younger ones are significantly less religious than the older ones.

On the other hand, the Catholic Church itself has contributed to alienation and secularization through its behavior with regard to investigations into sexual abuse.

In May 2009, the Irish Government's Commission of Inquiry, set up in 2000, published the first report on sexual abuse in Catholic homes and schools.

Further events and the reactions of the Catholic Church (chronology) have also significantly damaged the credibility of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

  • In July 2011 the “Cloyne Report” appeared and Ireland's Prime Minister, the practicing Catholic Enda Kenny, was enraged. "For the first time in Ireland, a report on child abuse shows that the Holy See has tried to obstruct investigations in a sovereign republic," said Kenny, referring to a government commission report presented last week. This reveals how 'aloof, elitist and narcissistic the culture of the Vatican' is, said Kenny. Rape of children is played down, instead the primacy of the church as an institution is upheld, and its power and reputation are emphasized.
  • The new Irish head of state will be appointed on November 11, 2011 and a representative of the Irish humanists will also speak at the inauguration.
  • In October 2013 the Irish Minister of Education decided that all non-denominational schools in Ireland would provide one hour of “Atheism” per week for all children between the ages of four and thirteen.
  • The law was passed on October 30, 2015, five months after 62.1 percent of those who voted in a referendum on May 22, 2015 for full equality for all marriages “regardless of gender”. Ireland is the first country to have full equality of same-sex marriage enforced by referendum. The Vatican commented on this same-sex marriage law as a "defeat for humanity".
  • In December 2016, it was announced that the Irish National Council for Curriculum Development and Assessment is planning to remove Catholic RE from the state core curriculum for elementary schools (two and a half hours per week) and leave the timing to the schools themselves.
  • In January 2017 the New York Times reported: "Ireland is reconsidering its constitutional ban on abortion". In Ireland, abortion was already banned, but this was reinforced by a referendum in 1983 as the eighth amendment to the constitution: the right to life of the unborn was put on an equal footing with the mother's right to life. The discussion about the abolition of this constitutional amendment had intensified again in 2012 after a 31-year-old woman died of septic shock in a miscarriage after a hospital denied her an abortion that could have saved her life.

If one tries to bring these developments to a common denominator, one could say that around half of Irish Catholics have decided not to follow the instructions of their church superiors, but, as Catholics, to use their own intelligence.

(CF)