Religious Knowledge Weak in Northern Ireland

Poll Results Are Lower Than Those in the Republic

BELFAST, Northern Ireland, DEC. 18, 2007 ( Contrary to popular perception, Northern Ireland is not more religious than the republic in the south, at least, not judging by a poll on religious knowledge.

An opinion poll conducted by Millward Brown Ulster on behalf of the Iona Institute and the Evangelical Alliances of Ireland and of Northern Ireland showed that levels of religious knowledge in the North are even lower than in the rest of the Emerald Isle.

The poll is a follow-up to a religious-knowledge poll conducted in the Republic of Ireland in April. This found low levels of basic religious knowledge in the population, especially among young people. This latest poll allows a comparison between levels of religious knowledge in the North and the republic, and between Northern Catholics and Northern Protestants.

The poll finds that levels of religious knowledge among Northern and Southern Catholics are roughly the same. However, in general, levels of religious knowledge among Northern Protestants are lower than among Northern Catholics. Thus Northern Ireland as a whole seems to show lower levels of religious knowledge. In the Republic of Ireland, the population is almost 90% Catholic.


David Quinn of the Iona Institute commented, “As with the poll conducted in the South, we find that levels of religious knowledge in the North are very low, especially among young people. It shows that knowledge of Christianity, both North and South, is disappearing from general knowledge.”

The Northern Ireland poll showed that only 42% of respondents can say there are four Gospels (Catholics, 52%; Protestants, 36%). Some 65% of Catholics could name the persons of the Holy Trinity, whereas only 45% of Protestants could.

Protestants were more able to name the first book of the Bible — 68% got that question right, compared with only 54% of Catholics.

Almost 40% of Catholics could say the First Commandment; only 26% of Protestants could.

The poll also found a marked difference between the levels of knowledge among younger and older age groups.

Just 21% of Northern Ireland respondents aged 16-24 could say there are four Gospels. Some 54% of those over 65 could.

Similarly, only 33% of young respondents could name the persons of the Holy Trinity, whereas 67% of those over 65 could.

“The results of this poll throw serious doubt on the claim that we are a ‘Christian country,'” Stephen Cave, of the Evangelical Alliance of Northern Ireland, said. “Overall the figures are not good, but the drop in knowledge, almost halved within a generation, indicates that the Christian faith is becoming less meaningful to those under 25 years of age. […] Older people of faith must seriously consider how they are passing on what they know to future generations.”

And Sean Mullan of the republic’s Evangelical Alliance added, “The notion of Ireland, both North and South, being a Christian culture is becoming a thing of the past. The notion that Christianity can be transmitted through the culture from one generation to the next is clearly no longer valid. […] Communicating that message is not primarily the job of schools or state institutions. It is the job of those who still believe the message.”