What’s the largest religious category in the last Irish census? Roman Catholic, of course. But do you know who comes next? Odds are you’re thinking Church of Ireland, followed by Presbyterians, or maybe Methodists.
Well, you’re not far off. In the last census in 2002 there were just short of 3.5 million Catholics, and 115,611 Church of Ireland adherents. After that the numbers tailed off. There were only 20,582 Presbyterians for example, and 10,033 Methodists.
Other newer groups are growing in Ireland. There are almost 20,000 Muslims, and 10,000 orthodox Christians. There are 4400 Jehovah’s Witnesses, and 3894 Buddhists.
But ahead of the Church of Ireland, second in number only to the Catholics, were those who answered ‘None of the above’ to the religion question on the census. A total of 138,264 people put down ‘No religion. Almost half of those without a religion were aged between 20 and 39 years, and of these 60 per cent were male.
I’m one of those people. We more than doubled in number between 1991 and 2002, or maybe we just came out of the closet. A further 79,094 people refused to answer the religion question at all, and although we should be wary of equating an unwillingness to answer with a lack of religion, those figures stand in stark with 1961, when only 1107 people said they had no religion.
It looks like there’s a design flaw in the census.
In addition to those who ticked the box marked ‘No religion’, an additional 500 went to the bother of writing out ‘Atheist’. The CSO, being rather literal number crunchers, categorized the Atheists separately to those of us with ‘No religion’. Its likely we’ll see the same pattern this time. The box for the godless among us still says ‘no religion’, not ‘atheist’.
Personally, I’ll be watching to see how many of the 79,094 refusniks in the last census bite the bullet this time and tick the ‘No religion’ box. In theory, refusing to answer the census carries heavy penalties, in practice I’m at a loss to remember the last time someone was prosecuted.
Meanwhile, internet trivia fans will be disappointed to learn there is no indication of how many of the 2,197 of “other religious” in the last census were Jedi Knights. A hoax email before the last population count claimed that if 10,000 people responded by putting the Star Wars mystics in the religion box, it would ‘become a fully recognized and legal religion.’