Ireland is a predominantly Catholic country, with 87 percent of the population considering themselves members of the Catholic church, according to the CIA World Factbook. However, members of the various Protestant denominations form an important part of the Irish community. Some famous Irish historical figures, including Arthur Guinness, founder of the brewery that bears his name, and Jonathan Swift, author of “Gulliver’s Travels,” were Protestants.
Most Irish Protestants trace their history to English and Scottish settlers who arrived in Ireland at various times from Great Britain. When King Henry VIII broke from the Catholic church in Rome in the 1530s, all religious property in Ireland passed to the new Anglican church. In the early 1600s, thousands of Scottish settlers brought a simpler, more austere form of Protestantism to Ireland. After the foundation of the predominantly Catholic Irish Free State (today known as the Irish Republic) in 1922, thousands of Protestants left the country, partly because of intimidation. This reduced the Protestant population by one-third between 1911 and 1926.
Ireland’s Protestants make up less than 5 percent of the Irish population but belong to a variety of religious denominations. Of the 137,000 Irish Protestants recorded in the 2011 census, the majority -- more than 93,000 -- were Anglicans. Presbyterians numbered 14,300, while Apostolic or Pentecostal Christians numbered 5,500. A total of 24,000 Protestants categorized themselves in an alternative census classification, “Other Christian Religion."
Many Protestant cultural organizations center on the church. For example, 10,500 Irish women are members of the Mother’s Union, a family-oriented organization linked to the Anglican church, while the Girl’s Brigade and Boy’s Brigade provide opportunities and activities for young boys and girls in a Christian setting. The Orange Order is more commonly associated with Northern Ireland, but this Protestant organization also operates in the Irish Republic, with lodges active in Dublin, Longford, Cork, Limerick, Tipperary and Carlow.
Culture and Sport
Sport forms an important part of many Irish communities. Historically, Protestants have not played Irish sports such as Gaelic football and hurling, but are more commonly associated with playing and supporting rugby and soccer. Many Irish Protestants support the Scottish soccer team Glasgow Rangers, while their Catholic compatriots follow Glasgow Celtic.
- CIA World Factbook: Ireland (People and Society)
- “Guinness: The 250 Year Quest For The Perfect Pint”; Bill Yenne (Google books, unpaginated)
- St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin: Jonathan Swift, Dean 1713 - 1745
- BBC History: The English Reformation
- Church of Ireland: Information, Irish and Universal
- BBC History: The Plantation of Ulster, Presbyterianism
- “Past and Present”; Exodus, The Emigration of Southern Irish Protestants; Andy Bielenberg
- Central Statistics Office: Population Classified by Religion and Nationality
- Mother’s Union: Northern Ireland and Ireland
- Boy’s Brigade: About Us
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images