Ireland has a very rich history with religion, particularly Christianity, playing a huge part in it. Divided into two political entities, the country has two main religious groups: Catholicism and Protestantism. So which is more dominant today? Let me help you find out in this article.
The majority of the Irish are Catholics. This has been the case for hundreds of years, which is why it was once called the “Most Catholic country in the world”. While times have changed, Catholicism remains Ireland’s main religion today, even in Northern Ireland, which used to be predominantly Protestant.
That said, Ireland is made up of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. How does this affect the island’s religion? Continue reading to know more and find out the island’s history, religion, and what Irish Catholics believe in below.
What is Ireland’s Main Religion?
Catholicism is Ireland’s main religion. According to a 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom, the population in Ireland is approximately 78% Catholic, 3% Anglican (Church of Ireland), 1% Muslim, 1% Orthodox Christian, 1% unspecified Christian, and 2% other religious groups. The other 10% have no religious affiliation. This was based on the 2016 census.
From the Central Statistics Office, you can also see that Catholicism has been the main religion of the island for centuries. In 1961, the percentage of the population who were Catholics was 94.9%, which was the highest recorded in history. From 1881 to 1911, Roman Catholics also represented on average 89.5% of Ireland’s population.
So even with the decline in proportion of the total population on the island, Catholicism remains the main religion in Ireland. Even Northern Ireland, which was established towards a pro-British, Protestant stand, had more Catholics. According to a report, 46% of the population in Northern Ireland identify as Catholic or brought up as Catholic, and 44% were Protestants.
That said, the Catholic Church continues to have a prominent role in Irish society. But while it is the main church and religion today, keep in mind that Ireland is comprised of many cultures where all religions are welcomed and respected.
Brief History of Ireland
Ireland was ruled by Great Britain since the 13th century. But at the beginning of the 20th century, Sinn Fein – an Irish nationalist party – proclaimed a new republic in Ireland. With the threat of civil war looming, Britain divided the island in 1920 with the predominantly Protestant in the northeast and the predominantly Catholic in the south and northwest.
While such a formula was rejected by the Republicans, the Irish Free State was still formed in 1922. This relinquished Ireland’s association with Great Britain, giving the south and northwest parts of the country independence. In 1949, the “Free State” name was dropped and was replaced by the “Republic of Ireland”. It was also during this time that they finally achieved full independence while Northern Ireland remained a part of the United Kingdom.
Catholics and Protestants in Ireland have always been in conflict. In fact, in the 1600s, the English were so opposed to Catholicism that many rulers in Ireland were forced to move to other Catholic countries. As a result, Catholics became a symbol of nationalism and resistance. From the 16th to the 20th century, there were also “the Troubles” and “Home Rule Crisis”, two huge conflicts in which Catholics and Protestants took part in.
Is Irish Catholic the Same as Catholic?
Since we’re on the topic of Irish Catholicism, let’s also discuss one of the most frequently asked questions about it: whether or not it is the same as Catholicism. For this article, I’ll refer to “Catholicism” as that of the Roman or Latin rite, which is the largest Catholic Church in the world.
Irish Catholics are the same as Roman Catholics in practices and faith. Both follow the same branch of Christianity, focusing on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ with the central belief in the Holy Trinity. Meaning, they all believe in one God manifested in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Both also acknowledge the authority of the Bishop of Rome, known also as the Pope.
Now, the only difference between the two is that a Roman Catholic is a Catholic in the Roman rite. See, while all Catholics have the same faith, there are some differences in how people express their liturgies, depending on their location, culture, and traditions. Because of these differences, several “rites” were established.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1203), there are 7 rites in the Catholic Church. So aside from the Latin or Roman rite, there are the Syriac, Byzantine, Maronite, Armenian, Alexandrian or Coptic, and Chaldean rites. The church also says that all these lawfully recognized rites are of “equal right and dignity”.
On the other hand, being an Irish Catholic means being part of an ethnoreligious community. Basically, it means that an Irish, a native of Ireland, is a Catholic. That said, Irish Catholics belong to the Roman Catholic Church. It was St. Patrick who brought Christianity to the island of Ireland, which is why he is considered the country’s patron saint and national apostle.
What Do Irish Catholics Believe In?
As I’ve mentioned above, Irish Catholics have the same beliefs as Roman Catholics. This means that they believe in Jesus Christ and his teachings and that he was sent from heaven to save us from our sins. They also believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, and most of all, they are obliged to follow two of the greatest commandments that Jesus Christ himself taught us: to love God and love your neighbor.
Additionally, Irish Catholics share the same central Catholic faith, which is:
“The Church is one: she acknowledges one Lord, confesses one faith, is born of one Baptism, forms only one Body, is given life by the one Spirit, for the sake of one hope, at whose fulfillment all divisions will be overcome.” Catechism of the Catholic Church (#866)