More people pray but Mass attendance down

More people pray but Mass attendance down A pilgrim is blessed by the newly ordained Father Gerard Quirkeat the summit of Croagh Patrick mountain during an annual Catholic pilgrimage near Lecanvey, Ireland. Photo: CNS photo/Clodagh Kilcoyne, Reuters
European Social Survey-Summary of findings on religion in Ireland


Chai Brady examines the European Social Survey findings on Ireland’s religiosity


There has been a sudden decrease in the number of Irish people who say they attend religious services once a week or more according to the most recent findings of the European Social Survey for 2018.

The major survey is conducted every two years and investigates the attitudes of people from a range of countries, including Ireland, regarding issues like religion, politics, immigration, sexuality and more.

Faith in politics and religion has decreased significantly. The figure for those attending religious services once a week or more has shown a sharp decline, from 36% in 2016 to 29% in 2018. Comparatively, the drop from 2014 to 2016 was just 1%.

Dr Tom Finegan, lecturer in Theology and Religious Studies in Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, told this paper the results were part of a trend he would have expected.

“I’d say the continuing drop in religious practice is completely unsurprising to me, I’d expect it, I’d expect it to continue,” he said.

“In the years to come… there’ll be a bigger and bigger drop off, I don’t think that will change for the foreseeable future. I think the main way it might change is through immigration, but Europe – outside of Islam – Europe has a Christian Church that is afraid to preach the Gospel, so that’s obviously only going to end in one way.”


While there has been a large increase in the number of people who say they don’t belong to a particular religion or denomination, 26% in 2016 to 32% this year, only 13% say they are not at all religious.

Compared to the Czech Republic – the least religious country in Europe – and the UK, which stand at 42.1% and 25.7% respectively of people who identify as ‘not at all religious’, the figure is quite small.

It’s theologically daft to insist on priestly vocations without beginning to talk about lay vocations”

However, 11.5% of respondents in Ireland gave answers between 1 and 2 out of 10 when asked how religious they are, pointing to a lack of conviction in religious belief among a large proportion of the population. Only 4.2% of respondents in Ireland described themselves as ‘very religious’, with that number growing to 19.6% if including people who said they are quite/very religious. This has dropped by 1% since 2016.

Dr Finegan said that despite people not adhering to a specific religion or identifying with a denomination, “there is the innate human desire for transcendence, for the spiritual, for God, you can’t eradicate that from human nature.”

He said the figures “may partly explain why there is this growing sense within European society of alienation. There are huge amounts of research being done on religion and mental health: showing a positive correlation between religion and spirituality with good mental health.”

When asked how often Irish people pray apart from at religious services, almost 55% said they prayed at least once a week, with 10.6% of them saying they pray more than once a week and 33% saying they do every day.

This shows an increase from 2016 of people who pray every day, the figure stood at 31.2% when the survey was taken that year. Of those who belong to a particular denomination, 89.5% identified as Catholic in 2018, down from 90.9% in 2016.


When asked if there was anything that might change some of these downward trends in religiosity among people in Europe in the near future, Dr Finegan said if there was it would most likely come from immigration.

“I’d say immigration, obviously it will turn on its head with regards to mass migration of Muslims into the continent because they have a much greater sense of religious zeal and they’re much prouder and convinced about the faith than Western Christians are. They are probably the best candidates for religiosity in Europe,” Dr Finegan said.

Regarding Christian religiosity he mapped out his opinion on how the trends may change saying: “The only way Christianity will grow is if it becomes more confident, convinced with the basic Faith message and starts to, instead of accommodating itself and the world around it, convert the world around it, going into the world and preaching the Gospel eye to eye with every sinew of conviction and spiritual muster.

I’d say immigration, obviously it will turn on its head with regards to mass migration of Muslims into the continent because they have a much greater sense of religious zeal”

“I think a lot of that springs from the absolute collapse in priestly vocations, springs from an exclusive focus on priestly vocations as distinct from lay vocations, because we don’t talk and insist on a focus upon lay vocations and the idea that every baptised Christian has a vocation, has a calling from God to live out according to their talents to build up Church, the Kingdom of Heaven, if you don’t have that you never enter into people’s perspective that they’ve got any sort of calling from God.

“Every priest begins with a lay person. It’s theologically daft to insist on priestly vocations without beginning to talk about lay vocations, so I think that’s a huge error made by the Irish Church and probably every other Church in Europe.”


Trust and interest in politics seems to be having the same fate as religion, with only 15.8% of Irish people saying there are ‘very interested’ in politics and 44.8% of Irish people saying they’re ‘hardly interested or ‘not at all interested’.

Over half, 58.4%, say the political system gives Irish people very little or no real say in how the country is governed. Just 32% said it gave Irish people ‘some’ say.

Of the countries surveyed, Serbia, Slovenia, Cyprus and Italy had the highest figure for people who had ‘no trust at all’ in politicians, at 35.9%, 23.3%, 22.3% and 21.5% respectively.

It seems that while figures regarding religiosity are in decline in Ireland, and across Europe, there is also a significant decline in trust in politicians and political systems.