Irish Catholic

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This article is about the cultural group. For the newspaper, see The Irish Catholic.
Irish Catholics
Total population
4.6 million Roman Catholics in Ireland
Unknown number of Roman Catholics of full or partial Irish ethnicity
Regions with significant populations
 Republic of Ireland 3,861,335
Northern Ireland 738,033
Irish, English
Roman Catholicism
Related ethnic groups
Irish people

Irish Catholics are those who are both Roman Catholic and Irish (or of Irish ethnicity). This is not a separate creed or sect in the sense that "Anglo-Catholic" or "Old Catholic" might be. There is no Autonomous ("sui iuris") Particular Church/Rite, such as Greek Catholic or Chaldean Catholic. Irish Catholics have a unique cultural history as a part of Celtic Christianity and make up a significant segment of Christians in Ireland and the Irish diaspora.


Divisions between Irish catholics and Irish Protestants (both those who would eventually be called the Protestant Ascendancy and those Protestants of more humble societal position), have played a major role in the history of Ireland from the 16th century to the 20th century. The religious divisions occasioned by the Reformation in Ireland may disguise or be a proxy for other divisions in Irish society that may have their origins more generally in access to political power. For example, while the majority of Irish catholics self identified as Irish and independent of Britain, most Irish Protestants opposed separatism. Nevertheless, a number of leaders of various rebellions against British rule were in fact Protestant Irish nationalists. During the Irish Rebellion of 1798, both Catholics and Protestants, particularly those Protestants from presbyterian denominations, found common cause, as they both endured religious discrimination.

Irish catholics can be found in many countries around the world, the English-speaking world especially. Emigration was often initiated by duress as was the case with the Great Irish Famine in the late 1840s. Following the Famine, the population declined by over half in the following century (from over 8 million to just over 4 million). The immediate effects of starvation greatly reduced the population, however, it also established a pattern of emigration so that the population continued to decline until 1971.

The term has currency in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Some of these states had, or have, a majority of Protestants who are British or of British descent. In these states, discrimination took place against Irish catholics both because of their ethnicity and their religious affiliation. In the United States, hostility to both these attributes was expressed through the Know-Nothing movement and Nativism in general.

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