UP to 300 Irish Anglicans could soon be joining the Roman Catholic Church to the traditional hymn tune 'Faith of Our Fathers'.
A report in today's 'Irish Catholic' newspaper claims that three Church of Ireland parishes are Romeward-bound, and may soon be received by Pope Benedict into full communion with the Catholic Church.
This change of denominational allegiance is part of a long-standing doctrinal feud over the ordination of women.
All three parishes broke away from the mainstream Church of Ireland in 1991 after the House of Bishops of the Church of Ireland decided to start ordaining women, a move which they condemned as "a defiance of scripture and tradition."
Two of the parishes are in the North and one is in the Republic.
Newtownards in Co Down, Eskra, outside Omagh, in Co Tyrone, and Stradbally in Co Laois, are members of the so-called traditional rite within the Church of Ireland.
These traditionalist members, who do not have a national profile, were not listed in a separate box about religious identity in the recent census. But they say that they are true Anglicans.
In total, they claim to have 400,000 members belonging to the worldwide 78 million Anglican Communion. So their defection to Rome could have a dramatic effect.
Earlier this month, they sent a letter to the Vatican seeking "full, corporate, sacramental union" with the Catholic Church under the authority of the Pope.
While only a few hundred Anglicans in Ireland will be involved in converting to Rome, the move, if approved by the Vatican, will see 400,000 Anglicans worldwide admitted into the Catholic Church.
Last night, Michael Kelly, deputy editor of the 'Irish Catholic', said it was extremely rare for entire Anglican communities to seek corporate communion with the Catholic Church.
"But individual Anglicans frequently convert to Catholicism," he added.
Only last week Anita Henderson, wife of the Church of Ireland Bishop of Tuam, Killala and Achonry, was received into the Catholic Church at a private ceremony in the chapel of Catholic Bishop John Fleming, in Ballina, Co Mayo.
The prospect of three whole parishes shifting their loyalties -- and churches -- under the papal flag will come as a further shock to the Church of Ireland, which has been enjoying a growth in its membership, mainly of new immigrants but also of former Catholic priests.
A spokesman for the traditional rite based in Northern Ireland confirmed that a decision had been made "not to give interviews at this stage".
However, the spokesman did confirm that the members of the traditional rite of the Church of Ireland fervently hope to be received into "full communion with the See of Rome". The decision to petition Rome was made earlier this month at a plenary meeting of the international body known as the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), their umbrella organisation.
According to a statement: "The bishops and vicars, general unanimously, agreed to the text of a letter to the See of Rome seeking full, corporate, sacramental union.
"The letter was signed solemnly by all the college and entrusted to the primate and two bishops chosen by the college to be presented to the Holy See," the statement added.
A spokesman for the Australian-based Archbishop John Hepworth, primate of the worldwide traditionalist communion, said the letter was cordially received at the congregation for the doctrine of the faith in Rome.