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Papal Visit

Half a million have signed up to see the Pope - but how Catholic is Ireland?

Pope Francis will be in Ireland for two days, 25 and 26 August, as part of the World Meeting of Families event.

500,000 PEOPLE ARE set to head to Dublin’s Phoenix Park later this month for the papal mass.

Pope Francis will be in Ireland for two days, 25 and 26 August, as part of the World Meeting of Families event.

With that in mind, we decided to take a look at how many Roman Catholics are in Ireland, and where they’re geographically located across the country.

The most Catholic counties

Census 2016 is the most up-to-date source of official statistics in relation to religion in Ireland.

According to that, as of 2016, there were 3,729,115 Catholics in Ireland, which makes up 78% of the population. This is down from 84% in the last Census in 2011.

Offaly is the county with the high proportion of Catholics, with 88.6% of its population describing themselves as that religion.

That’s changed from the previous census, where South Tipperary was recorded as being 91% Catholic, with North Tipperary not too far behind (the two local authorities merged to become simply Tipperary in 2014) .

The Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown local authority area in south Dublin was recorded as the region with the lowest percentage of Catholics.

It’s worth noting that Dublin has the highest percentage of people with no religion at 41.5% (that’s 199,602 people). Longford had the lowest percentage of people with no religion at 0.4% (1,904 people).


Catholicism by age 

In 2016, the proportion of Roman Catholics across ages increased steadily from 75.5% for those aged less than one, to 83.5% for 11-year-olds.

However, with increasing age, the proportion of Catholics began to decrease, hitting a low of 60.% for 27-year-olds.

Unsurprisingly, it began to steadily rise again to reach a peak for 82-year-olds at 91.2%.

The percentage of the population who were Catholic was lower in Dublin across all the age groups compared to the rest of the country.

Some percentages of people identifying as Catholics varied across the country.

The largest percentage difference at an individual age group was in the 25 to 29-year-old category. Catholics in Dublin, in this age group, accounted for 54% of the population compared with 72.6% for the rest of the country.

The age group of 80-84 had the smallest difference with 89.6% in Dublin and 91.9% in the rest of the county.

With regards to the actual numbers of Roman Catholics across ages, the 5-9 age group saw the largest number of Roman Catholics at 291,882.

The over 85 age group saw the lowest number of Roman Catholics, with a total of 61,192.

Here’s a chart of the figures across all age groups:

20180809_Catholics_age (1) Statistica Statistica

Changes over decades 

As noted above, Roman Catholics accounted for 78.3% of the population in 2016 compared with 84.2% in 2011.

Looking back, Census results show that, historically, Roman Catholics represented on average of 89.5% of the population in each of the four censuses held from 1881 and 1911.

That subsequently rose to a peak of 94.9% in 1961. Since then, the number of Catholics as a proportion of the total population has been slowly declining.


Speaking of why the percentage of Catholics in Ireland reached a peak in the 1960s, Professor Tom Inglis of UCD’s School of Sociology said that the Catholic Church was seen as a “means of salvation” during this period of Irish history.

“There was a firm belief in life after death and there was a firm belief that the church was a means of attaining life after death,” Inglis said.

It was also because the Church was tied into a socio, political and cultural regime. In order to be involved in politics, it was necessary to be a good Catholic.

He also added that in “order to achieve honour and respect in society, it was necessary to be a good Catholic”.

“That is associated with the Church’s control of education, of families, of social welfare, of health. All of those things were tied up in being a good Catholic,” he said.

And looking at the decline in Catholics in Ireland since then, Inglis said: “With the separation of Church and State, with the Church’s declining vocations and with the loss of control of health, social welfare and, slowly but surely, education, it wasn’t necessary for people to be good Catholics for people to succeed and socialise.”

It’s worth noting that while the proportion of Catholics declined in 2016, the total number also recorded a fall of 132,220 people from 3.86 million in 2011 to 3.72 million in 2016.

Other religions

Looking at those who identify as other religions and as having no-religion, it’s clear that there is a variation between the remaining population.

Dublin had the highest percentage of people with no religion at 41.5% (that’s 199,602 people). Longford had the lowest percentage of people with no religion at 0.4% (or 1,904 people).

In total one in ten people in Ireland said they have no religion, an increase of 73.6% from five years previously.

Ireland’s Orthodox Christians grew by 37.5% between 2016 and the last census, and that group is made up mostly of Romanians. There were 63,443 members of Ireland’s Muslim community which is almost double the number recorded in 2006.

Looking at other, non-Christian, religions, the 14,332 Hindus recorded in Census 2016 was a 135.6% increase on the number in 2006.  The number of Buddhists increased to 9,758 (that’s up 12.1%) since 2011, while there were 2,557 Jews, an increase of 28.9% (573) on five years previously.

Republic & North 

When it comes to religion in Northern Ireland, the proportion of Roman Catholics is far lower than that of the Republic.

Of the 1,810,863 residents accounted for in the 2011 Census in Northern Ireland, 41% identified as Catholic.

Meanwhile, 19% said they were Presbyterian, 14% said they were Church of Ireland and 3% said they were Methodist.

Other Christians and Christian-related dominations accounted for 5.8% of the population, while other religions and philosophies made up 0.8%.

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