Is Ireland facing a secular future?

Clara Kelly

While Ireland remains a predominantly Catholic country, census results released October 12th suggest Ireland could be moving away from its Catholic roots, towards a secular future.

With the number of Catholics on the decline it seems Ireland is on the way to facing a secular future, with the percentage who identified as Catholic on the census falling from 84.2 per cent in 2011 to 78.3 per cent in 2016. There has also been a corresponding rise in the number of those with no religion, growing by 73.6 per cent. Those with no religion now account for just under 10 per cent of the population compared to 6 per cent five years ago.

Those with no religion are now the second largest category and the CSO suggests numbers are increasing rapidly. The average age of those with no religion is 34. Students were the group that had the largest response to non-religion increasing by 9.4 per cent in 2011 to 15.3 per cent in 2016. While students and middle-aged adults have the highest results of those with no religion, the elderly are amongst the lowest. This pattern suggests that younger people are starting to turn away from religion.

We see in urban, more modernised areas such as Dublin the percentage of those with no religion is a lot higher than urban areas, with 41.5 per cent of all non-religious people living in Dublin. As large cities such as Dublin are beginning to move towards secularism, it seems likely that rural areas will be next to follow in the footsteps of their more urban counterparts.

Thanks to technology, it’s now much harder to keep information hidden, seen with the Catholic church as many things came to light in recent years that have persuaded many people to turn away from Catholicism. Many things have come to attention, such as multiple sexual abuse cases and the abuse of children in church-run institutions such as in Tuam. Negative cases the church have actively attempted to hide came to light, causing many to turn their backs on the religion.

It can be hard for some to believe in Catholicism as people start to learn more about science compared to older generations. When looking at the theory of evolution, some find it hard to also believe in the Bible’s theory of events. People do find ways to believe in both, using the Bible as more of a guide than fact. The problem with young people using the Bible as a guide is that it doesn’t correlate with their beliefs. With Ireland moving towards a more accepting future, more are identifying as LGBTQA+ and most are accepting of this and some may find it hard to support a religion that historically holds beliefs so different from their own.

With people choosing to look away from what they have been shown in Ireland’s still predominantly Catholic schools and towards different beliefs, people have begun to question things and in doing so have begun to make moves toward a likely secular future for Ireland.


Clara Kelly

Image Credit Sam Boal