Protestants of Eire

Location: Mostly Dublin and throughout Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan and Leitrim, bordering N. Ireland
Population: 115,400
% of population: 3% of Eire’s population; 9% of Dublin’s population
Religion: Various Protestant denominations
Language: English

The Protestant population of Eire, or the Republic of Ireland, is a small and diminishing minority. In the mid-nineteenth century, when British rule was at its height, Protestants were in the ascendancy in the island and numbered over 800,000. Those who remain are mostly living along the border with Northern Ireland although a small number live elsewhere in the Republic, notably in County Cork.

The Protestants of Eire retain an influence out of proportion to their numbers. Although they are not an identifiable political force, 6.5% are company directors, managers or company secretaries compared with less than 1% of Catholics, and about one fifth of farmers working over 200 acres are Protestant; they are greatly under-represented in the senior ranks of the civil service, however, and very few have entered parliament although there have been two Protestant presidents, Dr Douglas Hyde and Erskine Childers. A small number of those living close to the border are members of Orange Lodges and reject the republican state, but the majority play little part in politics.

Article 44 of the constitution, which was repealed in 1972, declared that the Catholic Church as the guardian of the faith of the great majority of citizens had a special position in the state. In various areas the law of the state has been interpreted according to Catholic doctrine and applies equally to Catholic and Protestant. Laws concerning divorce, contraception, blasphemy and censorship all affect Protestants. A Catholic must obtain a special dispensation in order to marry a non-Catholic, and the children of mixed Protestant-Catholic marriages have by law to be raised in the Catholic faith. In 1961 it was estimated that one third of Protestant men marrying in that year and one fifth of Protestant women married a Catholic partner, and this trend is having a major impact on the Protestant population of the Republic. As the numbers of mixed marriages is rising steadily there is a steady decline in the number of Protestants as a result of this ruling by the Church. There has been much debate in the Republic about the provisions relating to the Church and some minor changes have been introduced although these have met with considerable opposition. Some contraceptives are now available, for example.

Protestants in Eire are declining numerically and they seem more willing to assimilate now than has previously been the case. There is little or no economic discrimination against them as individuals and as they are less and less perceived as a threatening community by the Catholic majority they are under less political pressure than in the past.

(See also Northern Ireland)