Data Driven Narrative

When I looked at the title of this assignment for the first time my thoughts sprang to light about what sort of data I could use. My initial plan was to create my own data set and analyse it but when that proved too complicated a task between categorization and organisation of the data I decided to move to my Plan B. Plan B was stirring in my mind for quite some time so it excited my spark of curiosity. I researched the living religions present in Ireland from 1881 until 2016 and came up with some striking results. Throughout this narrative I will explain the connotations in the data that suggest the popularity of religion in Ireland over this time period, the dip in the religious population in Ireland possibly due to global social events and how Ireland has had a slow road to becoming a diverse society. This started in the 1970’s but Ireland only really became a fully fledged diverse society in the 1990’s. I got my information from the Central Statistics Office website and you can see it all the raw data here if you wish.

Made with Flourish

The graph above shows the amount of the population who confess to having a belief in one religion or another from the years 1881-2016. What took me by surprise was that religious belief is more popular in number of the population despite the fact Ireland is becoming a more secular society. It is still very clear from Central Statistics Office figures that Roman Catholicism has been and continues to remain the the hegemonic religion since the records in 1881. However, it is clear from occurrences such as the revelations and research from the Magdalene Laundries and the passing of time that secularism, with beliefs such as ‘No Religion’ emerging, is growing in Ireland. St Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland in the 5th Century so Roman Catholicism had plenty of time to be nurtured and and prosper before these records begin in the 19th Century.

It is only when we delve a little deeper into this data that we can uncover the true meaning of the figures behind it. When looking at this first graph one has to wonder if there was any social reason that figures rose and dropped from decade to decade. While religious population is relatively high in 1881 it starts to drop in the census immediately after it. This trend continues and there is a very significant drop between 1911 (3,139,688) and 1926 (2,971,992). These years also happened to be a significant time in history as World War I began in July 1914 and ended in November 1918. “Over 200,000 Irish men and women served in the British army during World War I.(Dorney, 2018) . This may start to explain why the religious population dropped significantly over this short time period. Interestingly, if look at the years of World War II the religious population is in a state of plateau which is a notable difference. The figures in this data correspond with what was happening in Irish social and political history as Home Rule had been promised in Ireland since 1912. When World War I broke out Irish politician John Redmond encouraged many of his supporters to join the British army in a speech Woodenbridge, Wicklow (Dorney, 2018). He believed that this would show Britain that Ireland supported their war effort and that it would encourage Prime Minister Henry Asquith to introduce Home Rule soon after the war. This did not come to pass. By the time World War II occurred the 1916 Rising and Irish War of Independence 1919-1921 had already happened. Dramatically less Irish citizens volunteered to fight with the British during World War II, amounting to only 70,000 (Roberts, 2015) . These numbers indicate the change in the Irish attitude towards the English culture between these decades and may by an attribute towards to plateau in religious population numbers during the early 1940’s.

Made with Flourish

This next graph shows the religious landscape of Ireland from 1881-2016 but focuses on the number of the population who confess to belonging to Roman Catholicism. From one glance at the legend of this graph and the graph itself it is quite clear that Roman Catholicism boasts a large support, according to the figures. The remainder of the blue area represents five different religions between 1881 and 1961. This number slowly crept up throughout the decades until the area embodied up to twenty two different religions by the time we reach the 1991 census and beyond. You can see from this chart the gap between the Roman Catholic population and the multiple other religions population only begins to widen in 1981 which is not even forty years ago and within living memory for a lot of people alive today. This observation alone is a clear example how Ireland is quite a young country in regards to diversity within society.

This data tells a compelling story when you break down the population into the separate living religions present in Ireland throughout the years. While I have mentioned that Christianity is far and away the hegemonic religion throughout these records between 1881 and 1946 only six religious groups were represented within Irish society: Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian, Methodist, Jewish and Other Stated Religions. This number of religions slowly grew and by the time Ireland reached 1991 this number had spiraled upwards and there were now twenty four documented religious communities present in Irish society. The numbers within these twenty four communities have, on the whole, risen as the decades have passed by. These episodes of migration coincided with major world events that may have been part of the cause of the influx of migration, a modern example being the Syrian civil war. Our next graph attempts to illustrate the immigration of minority religions into Ireland from the year 1991. I have picked to only represent the religions that were first documented in Ireland in 1991 and beyond to depict their growth in Irish society over the decades. The events of the Celtic Tiger years in Ireland may have also attributed towards this inward migration during the mid-nineties and two thousands as Ireland was an attractive place to live.

It is clear from this chart that both Islam and Orthodox far outweigh other minority religions in Ireland just from a number of followers perspective. The consistent rise in these numbers could be attributed to global news that is happened around the globe during these years. The civil unrest in both African nations and the Middle East encourage emigration to safer locations. While other minority religions such as Buddhism are growing in number in Ireland it is only by a few thousand followers each year. Then there are also cases like the Baha’i religion that is only shifting within double digits of the previous census number, remaining a constant presence in Irish religious society if not a growing one. The demand of globalisation to be embraced in the world today is necessary to allow for the development of a modern, diverse religious society in Ireland. Globalisation opens the door for ceremonies such as interfaith dialogue to nurture this diversity in modern Irish culture.

According to this data, there was a decrease in followers during the 1961 census. This was a time when emigration in Ireland was decreasing as the economy improved (Glynn, 2012)However, despite this fact, emigration was still occurring in the Irish population. This was partly due to the fact of the poor education system that existed in Ireland up until the late 1960’s. This left the uneducated Irish population unskilled to do the skilled jobs that may have existed around the country so the option was to emigrate. The announcement for free education after primary school was not made until 10th September 1966 by Minister for Education Fianna Fáil TD Donogh O’ Malley (RTÉ, 1966) . These changes in the education system did come to pass and by the time Ireland reached 1971 many religious organisations were now running secondary schools across the country (RTÉ, 1971) .The 1961 census was the first time we saw part of the population splitting into the ‘No Religion’ group. It was just the first sniff for Irish society of the multitude of groups that would migrate into Ireland over the following decades. This may be the start of an explanation as to why belief in religion dropped during this decade.

In conclusion, from my research I have found that belief in religion in Ireland is more popular than it ever has been before despite our state growing more secular. This increase in population who believe in a religion could be attributed to the returning Irish diaspora, a number that has overtaken those leaving the country for the first time since 2009 (Kenny, 2018). Political history in Ireland may have had an impact on these figures during the years of World War I and World War II. I have also concluded that Ireland migrant religions are growing in Ireland, on the whole, according to Central Statistics Office figures. Lastly, it is clear that social conditions such as no free secondary school education may have been a factor in the drop in believers in Ireland in the 1961 census. This is supported by the fact that the religious population in Ireland rose in 1971 after the introduction of schools across the country.


Dorney, John. 2018. The Irish Story. November 9. Accessed April 1, 2019.

Éireann, Raidió Teilifís. 1971. An Average Irish Secondary School 1971. February 26. Accessed April 7, 2019.

Éireann, Raidió Teilifís. 1966. Free Education On The Agenda 1966. December 31. Accessed April 7, 2019.

Glynn, Irial. 2012. Irish Emigration History. December. Accessed April 3, 2019.

Kenny, Ciara. 2018. More Irish emigrants returning than leaving for first time since 2009. August 18. Accessed April 7, 2019.

Office, Central Stastics. 2016. Average Percentage Change in the Population 1891 to 2016 by Province or County, Religion, CensusYear and Statistic. Accessed March 28, 2019.

Roberts, Professor Geoffrey. 2015. In service to their country: Moving tales of Irishmen who fought in WWII. August 19. Accessed April 2, 2019.