Ireland is the emerald island near Europe, and also a republic that covers most of the island.
Prior to the coming of Christianity, the pagan religion of Ireland was a form of Druidism. In 431, Pope Celestine appointed Palladius as the first Bishop of Ireland, establishing Christianity on the emerald isle. Two years later, in 433, Saint Patrick became the second bishop, and is remembered as the patron saint of Ireland (feast day March 17).
Ireland is 94.1% Christian. The demographics break down as: Roman Catholic 90.4%, Church of Ireland 2.95%, Presbyterian 0.5%, Methodist 0.25%, Jewish 0.05% other 0.27% (2002)
The Republic of Ireland is officially 90.4% Roman Catholic. However there has been a massive decline in adherence to Roman Catholicism among Irish Catholics. Between 1996 and 2001, regular Mass attendance, already previously in decline, declined from 60% to 48%. (It had been 90%+ in 1973.)
All but two of its priest-training seminaries have either closed or are expected to close soon. The Roman Catholic Church was hit in the 1990s by a series of sexual scandals, including the resignation of one bishop who had fathered a child by a divorced cousin and the notorious case of child sexual abuser Fr. Brendan Smyth. In recent years, another bishop has been forced to resign over his incompetent handling of paedophile priests in his diocese.
The second largest religion, the Church of Ireland (Anglican), with a largely elderly membership, had until recently been in decline. It had been forced to close down many of its rural churches, and even some in urban areas. However, recent immigration of thousands of African Anglicans has buoyed the Church's following. A similar phenomenon is also affecting the very small Jewish community in Ireland, which is ageing and sees many of its younger adherents emigrating to Israel. The religions showing major growth are Islam (See Islam in Ireland) and small born-again Christian faiths associated with Ireland's growing immigrant communities.
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