Are Irish people religious? Is the Catholic Church dying in Ireland?

In the not-too-distant past, the people of Ireland were extremely religious. For the most part, they were devout Catholics that both feared and respected the Roman Catholic Church.

However, because of a number of different reasons, this has since changed.

In 1981, weekly church attendance among Irish Catholics stood at 87%. By 2011, this figure had fallen to 30%. The results of the 2016 Census showed that 132,220 less people identified themselves as Catholic compared to the 2011 Census.

A notable decline in a population of only 4.7 million people.

Are Irish people religious?

Catholic Church control.

In the past, the Church had an extraordinary amount of control over Ireland’s schools and hospitals and it regularly attempted to influence government policy.

For example:

  • Condoms and other forms of contraception were illegal up until 1980.
  • The constitutional prohibition on divorce wasn’t removed until 1995.
  • Same-sex marriage didn’t become legal until 2015.
  • Abortion was strictly outlawed until 2018.

During the 1950s, the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland prevented free health for mothers and their children up to the age of 16. They fought against this proposed scheme because they considered it to be “socialized medicine” and it feared that giving non-religious medical advice to mothers would lead to birth control contrary to Catholic teaching.

As a result, the proposed scheme was engulfed in crisis and it inevitably brought down John A. Costello’s coalition government in 1951.

Pedophile cover-ups.

It eventually came to light that the church had attempted to cover up a large number of cases where priests had sexually abused children under their care.

Throughout the 1990s, a series of criminal cases and government reports made it clear that hundreds of priests in Ireland had abused thousands of children over the previous decades.

In many cases, the church did not report the abuse to the authorities. To avoid any embarrassing scandals, the priests in question were simply moved around from parish to parish.

Other reports such as the Ferns Report found that members within the church had failed to keep children away from alleged abusers.

These revelations inflicted a large gaping wound in the “moral authority” of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Magdalene laundries.

The church operated the controversial Magdalene laundries, which were workhouses for women that were considered to be sexually promiscuous. These asylums essentially cut women off from their families and separated unmarried women from their babies. During the 1990s, it became increasingly clear that the women who lived in these workhouses suffered a great amount of physical and mental abuse.


Over the decades, Irish society began to modernize and become less sexually repressed. However, it seems that the church has decided to bury its head in the sand and refuse to accept this.

To this day, priests are still not allowed to get married and women are not allowed to become priests. This might explain why in 2017, only six men began training for Catholic priesthood in Ireland. A new record low.

Conclusion: Irish people are no longer religious.

Based on both the statistics and my own personal experiences, I would say that Ireland is no longer a religious country.

A few of my own personal anecdotes and opinions:

  • Nobody in my age group goes to mass on a weekly basis. If they do, then they certainly haven’t mentioned it.
  • When I drive by my local church on a Sunday morning, it is highly noticeable that most of the church-goers are elderly people.
  • When people in my age group do go to church, it is for a special occasion, such as a baptism or a wedding.
  • From what I can see, church weddings and baptisms are the result of people following social traditions. i.e. It is not driven by any kind of underlying religiosity.
  • Census figures do not tell the full story. Many people check the “Roman Catholic” tick box because they were baptized as such or they see it as part of their identity. My guess is that most of these people don’t even say a prayer from one month to the next.
  • The Census figures were also impacted by the arrival of Polish workers during the 2000s. Most of which were Roman Catholic.