I think it was Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland at the recent World Atheist Convention in Dublin that made the point that the Irish public mind has changed but that our institutional minds are still living in Catholic mindset; that it is not the public, but our institutions we need to tackle.
To me, attending mass on Sunday is a good benchmark of how Catholic we as a country are, as this is one of the prime aspects of being a practicing Catholic.
In the 1970’s apparently 91% of Irish Catholics attended weekly Sunday mass. By 2006 this had dropped to 48% even though 87% of Irish people identified themselves as Catholic.
Today in 2011, only 18% of the Catholic population of Dublin attends Mass on Sundays and there are parishes in Dublin where attendance is below 2%. In the rest of the country it is reportedly still as high as 45-48%. However given that Dublin in the 2006 census accounted for 1.2 million of the state’s 4.2 million residents, this suggests that as a back of an envelope calculation that approximately 39% of Irish people attend mass on Sunday.
If roughly 60% of Irish people are either not Catholic or so lax that they do not attend mass weekly, then I think it is safe to say that we are not a devoutly Catholic country as the stereotype and often our political masters like to portray.
What does the future hold?
A UNICEF survey of 16 – 20 year olds in Ireland included the following two questions:
What phrase would best describe your religion?
12% I am religious and go to religious gatherings
23% I am religious but don’t go to church regularly
24% I’m not religious
14% I used to go but not so much anymore
21% I’m spiritual but not religious
2% I have alternative spiritual interests
4% None of these
Does your religion or spirituality bring you happiness?
12% Yes lots
27% Yes some
57% Makes me neither happy nor unhappy
3% No it makes me unhappy
2% No it makes me very unhappy
This strongly suggests that the future in Ireland is not very religious and our political institutions should acknowledge this and legislate appropriately.
Also for interest, on the Irish Census website can be found a fascinating summary of the evolving religious profile of Ireland from 1881 to 2006.