Number of Catholics at record highBut non-believers make up second largest group in nation, census shows
BOTH the number of Catholics and the number of non-religious people in Ireland have soared to their highest-ever levels, according to new census figures.
But the number who consider themselves atheist, agnostic or of no religion has also soared, making non-believers the second biggest group. More than 277,000 people say they have no religion -- a four-fold increase since 1991, the Census 2011 report on Religion, Ethnicity and Irish Travellers reveals.
The Catholic Church now has 3.86 million members, which is the highest number since records began, the Central Statistics Office said.
Despite this, the Catholic Church's share of the population has fallen from a peak of 95pc in 1961 to just 84pc now, because other religions -- and atheism -- are growing faster.
David Quinn of the pro-religion Iona Institute said it was notable that the number of Catholics had actually risen.
"Despite everything that's happened over the last decades with scandals in the church, it's amazing that so many people are still willing to call themselves Catholics. Even if some people aren't practising regularly there's still a strong cultural link," he said.
The fact more people were also ticking the box for "no religion" didn't mean they were irreligious, as new research in the US showed many people in that category considered themselves religious or spiritual and prayed frequently, he said.
CSO statistician Deirdre Cullen said the report "underlines the fact that Ireland has an increasingly diverse population where changing cultures and religious beliefs play an important part."
The report shows the Church of Ireland has seen a 6pc increase since 2006 to 129,036 members, while the Presbyterian and Jewish faiths also saw marginal increases.
However, newer faiths to Ireland grew much faster, with the number of Muslims doubling in a decade to 49,000. There are now over 10,000 Hindus, some 45,000 Orthodox Christians, while the Apostolic and Pentecostal church-goers have quadrupled to over 14,000.