Ireland Turning Atheist?


A new poll just released shows a whopping 400% increase in atheism in Ireland over the last ten years. Is Ireland giving up its traditional religious history and turning atheist instead? Last year, it was revealed that lessons about atheism would be formally added to the curriculum for Irish school children. While the majority of Irish citizens, 84 percent, still identify as Catholic, a 400% increase in those who consider themselves to be atheists is an indication of how rapid and drastic the shift toward atheism has been there in recent years.

The numbers out of Ireland reflect an overall increase in atheism in the U.S. as well. A PEW study released last year showed that atheism was on the rise, especially in young people, who have been increasingly turning away from organized religion. There were numerous studies last year that showed as education increased, so did atheism, and that atheists had higher IQs, overall, than religious people. This caused some to speculate that as people in a society gain more access to education, overall religiosity declines.

The new school curriculum in Ireland, in part, will teach children about atheism, agnosticism, and the tenets of a secular humanist society. Given the huge increase in numbers of those who consider themselves atheists, some are asking if Ireland is slowly turning atheist or if this new trend toward atheism is a temporary reaction to disillusionment with the Catholic Church. The abuse scandals over the last few years are viewed as contributing to a vast amount of people turning away from the Catholic Church in Ireland and the U.S.

The 2011 poll out of Ireland which was recently released  showed enormous increases in the categories of “atheist,” “agnostic” and “no religion.” The total for all of those classifications combined was 277,237- over a quarter million people. Considering that only 4.4 million people live in the Republic of Ireland and 1.8 million live in Northern Ireland, those who fall into one of the aforementioned categories represent a significant portion of the population. The 400% increase in atheism in Ireland could perhaps be the harbinger of a gradual shift away from religion in the country overall.

Still, many Irish atheists find that not believing in God in Ireland can be challenging. In a blog post entitled The Difficulties of Being an Atheist in Ireland, writer Michael Hegarty points out that “blasphemy” is a punishable crime in Ireland, carrying with it a fine of almost $34,000. Hegarty also points out that the Catholic Church influences basically “everything” in Ireland, including government and education.

Despite these challenges, Irish atheists hold out hope that Ireland may be turning atheist; if not immediately, then over time. The 400% increase in atheism is a stunning number, especially from a country with such a long history of religiosity and problems stemming from the tension between Protestants and Catholics. Hegarty also points out a trend toward “cultural Catholicism” in which people participate in the celebrations and rituals of the Catholic Church without actually believing in a personal God, and he says this trend is also on the rise. With the numbers of those with no belief in God increasing so drastically, the changeover to an atheist majority in Ireland may eventually occur.

By: Rebecca Savastio

Irish Central


Irish Examiner


Planet Ivy

Sage Journal


8 Responses to "Ireland Turning Atheist?"

  1. cas   January 21, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    I live here in Ireland and I can tell you that this is junk. Blasphemy is not against the law. The problem is that neither it it an offence to tell HUGE porkies like this article. And if there is an increase in the number of Athiests it is due to the huge influx of East Europeans, who grew up in Communist countries, moving to Ireland. And most worrying now is, as soon as our American cousins read this they will take up a BIG collection on Sundays to fund an “Outreach” programme to send arrogant street-preachers to save all the poor pagan Irish.

    • Daragh   January 22, 2014 at 8:52 am

      @ Cas

      I think you will find that blasphemy is against the law in Ireland. The legislation was introduced in 2009 and enacted in 2010.

      Also, you state that “if there is an increase in the number of Athiests it is due to the huge influx of East Europeans, who grew up in Communist countries, moving to Ireland.”
      This is clearly false. The vast majority of eastern European immigrants in Ireland are Polish. In contrast to the Czech Republic, Poland has remained overwhelmingly catholic. If anything, catholic number in Ireland have been propped up by the large number of Poles in the country. See graph in below article for the figures of the immigrant breakdown in Ireland.

    • Rob Comment   January 22, 2014 at 6:26 pm

      You’re probably right . . . immigrants from countries where communist state education brainwashed them to be atheists probably account for that difference. But maybe a few street preachers might help “them.”

      • Andrew Ferber   January 22, 2014 at 7:48 pm

        To the contrary, it’s likely that many of those eastern Europeans would actually be Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox.

  2. Andrew Ferber   January 21, 2014 at 11:22 am

    If I’ve done the math correctly, that’s still only 6.3% of the population. Though I suspect the number of non-superstitious is likely higher, there’s still a long, long way to go.

  3. Rebecca Savastio   January 21, 2014 at 9:29 am

    Robb, thank you for pointing out my typo. It’s been corrected.

  4. john moriarty   January 21, 2014 at 5:35 am

    thankfully I will not be in need of their kind offer anytime soon

  5. Robb   January 20, 2014 at 11:51 pm

    I would love to be a tenant of secular humanism. Do you know if they have any vacancies or what the monthly rent would be?


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