|The population dynamics of Ireland are extremely complex and interesting, and the distribution of Protestants on the island is certainly no exception. Here we will look at the changing distribution of Protestants in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland between the years 1861 and 1991.|
In 1991, the population of the Republic of Ireland was approximately 3% Protestant, but the figure was over 10% in 1891, indicating a fall of 70% in the relative Protestant population over the past century. This trend is depicted by the following graph [see Appendix A for figures and source]:
A number of observations can be made from these figures concerning the Protestant population in the Irish Republic:
These effects have a number of causes:
The following map shows how the distribution of Ireland's Protestants changed in the 130 year period from 1861. The effect of Protestant depopulation in the Republic of Ireland is dramatic. In 1861 only the west coast and Kilkenny had less than 6% Protestant. Dublin and 2 of the border counties had over 20% Protestant. In 1991, however, all but 4 counties have less than 6% Protestant, the rest having less than 11%. There are no counties in the Irish Republic which have experienced a rise in the relative Protestant population over the period 1861 to 1991. Often, the counties which have managed to retain the highest proportion of Protestants are the ones which started off with a large proportion. In Northern Ireland, only counties Londonderry, Tyrone and Armagh have experienced a significant loss of relative Protestant population - and int hese cases the change is not as dramatic as in the Republic. See below for a detailed treatment of Protestants in Northern Ireland.
If you wish to see exact figures, the table below shows the proportion of Protestants in selected counties in 1861 and 1991 and the change that this represents in the period.
If the current trend were to continue at the same rate, there would be no Protestants in the Republic of Ireland by 2042. However there is evidence from the decade following the last census in 1991 that Protestantism in the Irish Republic may finally be making a recovery. This is based on several observations:
The conclusion would seem to be, therefore, that the Protestant population decline in the Republic of Ireland may halt within a decade or two.
Northern Ireland is home to the vast majority of Irish Protestants - around 90%. In fact, that is the reason Northern Ireland exists in the first place. The map below shows the distribution of Protestants in Northern Ireland in 1991.
Although it seems that about 2/3 of the province is Catholic, most of the blue areas are rural areas with a low population density, the only significant exception being Derry city in the northwest. Most of the population is concentrated in south county Antrim, Belfast, the Lagan valley and northern county Down. It is also in these areas that most Protestants are concentrated, explaining why almost a million of Northern Ireland's 1.5 million people are Protestant. The most heavily Protestant areas are the area north of Belfast Lough, east Belfast, North Down, central Antrim and the Ards Peninsula. Today, only counties Antrim and Down have a majority Protestant population (71% and 67% respectively) although it is worth noting that these counties also house 2/3 of Northern Ireland's population. County Tyrone is the least Protestant, at 38.7%, although this is still far in excess of the 9.5% in nearby county Donegal.
We can study the population level in much more detail by looking at the 26 Local Government Districts rather than counties. We have included below some of the figures for selected districts: (The full list of figures can be found in Appendix B.)
The map in the previous section, comparing the Protestant population in Ireland in 1861 and 1991, can also be used to show approximate traits in Northern Ireland. It indicates that Protestants have been leaving counties Tyrone, Londonderry and Armagh. However, the level in Antrim, Down and Fermanagh has remained much more constant. Fermanagh is unusual in that it is a relative stronghold of Protestantism surrounded by less Protestant areas. This is one reason why Fermanagh always returns a Unionist MP to Parliament despite being the most westerly county in Northern Ireland. Also note that no county has actually gained a relative Protestant population, although the level in some of the Local Government Districts in north Down and south Antrim may have increased.
Here we compare the proportion of Protestants in Northern Ireland counties in 1861 and 1991. The 1861 figures are official Census figures, whereas the 1991 figures are derived from district council Census figures and are thus not quite as accurate. However, the expectation is that they are not more than 1 point away from the true value.
The future of the demographics of Northern Ireland are the subject of ongoing debate,made more difficult by the fact that many people have political interests in the subject. Around 1990, indications strongly suggested that the Catholic population was rising at a higher rate than the Protestant population, and that the two would be equal within a few decades. This was attributed to the Catholic church's misgivings about contraceptives. However, a study of primary schools in Tyrone around 1998 indicated that the Protestant population there was rising at least as fast as the Catholic population, indicating that the Catholic-Protestant ratio would stay as it is now.
The 2001 census is eagerly awaited.
|Appendix A: Figures for the
Catholic and Protestant population in the Republic of Ireland, 1891 to 1991. For dates
prior to 1926, the figures are derived from the figures for the 26 counties that later
constituted the Republic of Ireland. Source: 1991 Census for the Republic of Ireland, book
*'Others' includes Jews, Athiests, other religions and those who did not answer the census question. Approximately 40% of the 'Others' figure is made up of Athiests. The 'others' figure seems to rise so much, because people were historically not prepared to state Athiesm as their religion, whereas they are more inclined to do so now.
|Appendix B: Figures for the Catholic and Protestant population in Northern Ireland Local Government Districts, 1991. Source: "Demographic Review Northern Ireland 1995", Compton, ISBN 1-897614-187.|
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