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The Role of the Church in Ireland: Past and Present Research Paper

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Updated: Jun 11th, 2021


Ireland has always been known for its unique culture and traditions. Throughout all its history, the people inhabiting the Island have tried to protect their customs and not merge with their powerful neighbors, who later transformed into the mighty colonial empire. The area was included in the British Empire and ruled by its kings; however, Ireland remained a unique region with its own language, culture, and a high level of resistance to invaders.

Due to these same patterns, the state managed to acquire its independence in the 20th century and continue cultivating its culture. Thus, analyzing all these facts, it should be said that religion became one of the fundamental reasons that impacted the development of nationhood in the area and preconditioned formation of the unique image of the nation that is proud of its achievements (6). Catholicism has always been essential for Ireland, but today a decrease in the popularity of the Church is observed, which can be considered a bad sign. For this reason, the key aim of the paper is to answer the following research question:

What role did the Catholic Church play and still plays in Irish society?


Speaking about the unusual position of the Church in Ireland, it is critical to mention that unlike the population of the British Empire who became protestants, or Anglicans, inhabitants of the Island refused to forget the religion of their ancestors and obey new rules. It resulted in the emergence of recent tensions between the official power and the locals, as religion was one of the powerful levers of influence. At the same time, it also created the basis for the growing importance of the Catholic Church for Irelands. Being one of the symbols of resistance, the Church and its priests supported people in their desire to become independent, preserve their unique culture and traditions (4). For this reason, the roots of the significant role this institution plays nowadays in the state can be found in the past.


The first signs of Christianity in Ireland emerged in the fourth and fifth centuries when settlers or traders from the continent arrived at this land and communicated with residents (11). Additionally, trading relations with neighboring areas, Roman Britain, Gaul, and Wales, facilitated the cultural exchange between these peoples and cultivated the ground for the emergence of the first Christian beliefs (11).

Finally, being expansionists, the ancient Irish performed multiple raids and took thousands of captives who had different cultures and religions. It is presupposed that Catholic priests found among them contributed to the growing popularity of Christianity on the Island, and it’s becoming a dominant paradigm (11). For this reason, in 431, the first written evidence of the existence of Christian traditions on these lands emerged as Pope Celestine sent a special mission headed by Palladius to the Island (11). Finally, the activity of St. Patrick, who visited many areas in Ireland to educate people, promoted the further evolution of this religion (11).

In the course of time, the Catholic Church transformed into a highly potent institution with millions of followers in Ireland. Having passed a long way from paganism to the recognition of this religion, residents became vigorous adherers to this paradigm and followed its rules. Moreover, under the impact of various external factors, their faith became even more vital. As it has already been stated, one of these factors was that England gained control over these lands and settled them with protestant settlers (11).

However, most of the Irish remained Roma Catholic. This pattern preserved in the 20th century as religion still played an essential role in the functioning of the state and served as the potent force supporting its unique culture and providing people with opportunities to express their feelings (3).

Church Nowadays

However, today religion in the world experiences a particular crisis related to multiple issues. The main symptoms are declining mass attendance, changing social norms, and reconsideration of cultural patterns (10). The Irish Church is not an exclusion as it also suffers from the processes mentioned above. For years, it had enjoyed the higher levels of devotional loyalty, cultural power, and influence on people (10).

This factor slowed down the decline of the Church’s popularity and reduction in the number of religious people. At the same time, representatives of the young generation and teens often protest against the given religious institution, trying to outline their position (2). The legalization of gay marriage also evidences the disregard of the Church’s demands (1). It means that today, it cannot enjoy its beneficial state as there is a threatening situation evidenced by the emergence of new scandals related to its functioning and the growing number of dissatisfied individuals.

Reasons for Decline

One of the main reasons for the decline described above is the existence of multiple scandals associated with the functioning of the Catholic Church. For areas where religion was not so essential, these accidents were not so significant; however, for Ireland, they became a complex challenge because of the peculiarities of the national identity that are closely connected with faith (10). Mainly due to its strong influence, the country became independent in 1922 (9).

Catholicism, nationalism, and the state are the three close domains for the Irish, which means that the abuse crisis stroke all population groups and the youth, especially as it is one of the most vigorous representatives of any society (10). Scandals involving priests and children destroy the image of the institution and distract young individuals from it. In Ireland, priests can still enjoy a respectful attitude, but the situation changes (10). Church attendance decreases and fewer individuals attend it weekly because of their inner needs (4).

Solutions to Restore the Image

Regarding these facts, it is critical to bring back the superiority of the Church to preserve the national identity and attract the youth. People in Ireland still remain religious; their dissatisfaction and anger are directed not towards Catholicism, but they disrespect the Church as the institution that concealed those ugly actions and tried to avoid scandals (2). The population still believes in Jesus and wants to pray for him; the only fact is that clergymen serve inappropriately, which distracts people (2).

In such a way, one of the possible ways to improve the situation is to show that the Church remains with people and it judges individuals responsible for the abuse or other inappropriate behaviors (5). Instead of protecting these people, the Pope should be ready to communicate with the religious and find solutions.


The former popularity and control can still be retrieved by the Church through a chain of practical and wise solutions. First of all, it is already changing to be able to adapt to the new environment and satisfy people’s diversified demands. During the last Councils, multiple new ideas were introduced, which means that the institution becomes more liberal (5). It is ready to accept new visions and communicate, which is critical for situations such as the abuse crisis (5). This strategy will apparently help the Church to become more integrated with new communities and play an active role in its development. Finally, in Ireland, the institution should become more integrated with society as one of the fundamentals of further rise and evolution.

Future of the Church in Ireland

Analyzing this information, it should be said that today the Catholic Church in Ireland Experiences difficult times because of the crisis of trust, new ideas, and the emergence of new demands. For instance, today, there is an idea to eliminate the ban on abortion, which contradicts the fundamental principles of the Church (7). However, it still has a future in the region because of the rich history and people’s love for God, and their need for him.

It is one of the most essential parts of the Irish identity, which means that residents still need the Church, but in an altered way (5). That is why it can regain its power and control by creating a wise strategy aimed at cooperation with all people and the creation of appropriate solutions to problems that arise today. The abuse crisis should also be condemned to ensure that people will see that the institution tries to correct mistakes and serve God appropriately.


Altogether, Ireland has always been a unique land with its own culture, traditions, and beliefs. Due to its history full of battles and struggle for independence, people acquired a specific worldview closely related to the Church, which obtained a national character and became one of the symbols of nationhood (8). For this reason, it is critical to solve all problems associated with this institution nowadays and attract young people who are the future of the nation. Only in this way, the national identity of the Irish will be preserved, and their belief in God will be cultivated in the future.


  1. Bell, M. . PRI [Internet]. 2018. Web.
  2. Bundy, J. . Medium [Internet]. 2019. Web.
  3. Cunningham, K. . Berkley Center [Internet]. 2012. Web.
  4. Fast facts about religion in Ireland. [IE]. Chara; 2017. Web.
  5. Martin, D. [IE]. [Internet]. Tullamore Parish. Web.
  6. Martin, D. [IE]. . [Internet]. Archdiocese of Dublin. Web.
  7. O’Loughlin, E. Irish vote pushes Church into the background. U.S. News [Internet]. 2018. Web.
  8. O’Malley, J. . The Daily Beast [Internet]. 2017. Web.
  9. Sherwood, H. . The Guardian [Internet]. 2016. Web.
  10. Waldemir, J, Cochran, D. . The Irish Times [Internet]. 2015. Web.
  11. Walsh, J, Bradley, T. A history of the Irish Church 400-700 A.D. Columba Press: Dublin, 2003.
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"The Role of the Church in Ireland: Past and Present." IvyPanda, 11 June 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/the-role-of-the-church-in-ireland-past-and-present/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "The Role of the Church in Ireland: Past and Present." June 11, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-role-of-the-church-in-ireland-past-and-present/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'The Role of the Church in Ireland: Past and Present'. 11 June.

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