Religious majorities in Northern Ireland


PICTURE OF IRELAND:Religion and community background in Northern Ireland have a unique spatial distribution: large parts of the province have a dominant affiliation to one of the two main religious groupings, Catholics or Protestants.

The Northern Ireland census records the community background (religion or religion brought up in) of its population in four main groups: Catholics; Protestants and other Christian; other religion and philosophies; and no religion.

According to the 2011 census, the Protestant population is the largest group, at 48.4 per cent (875,717) of the population. Catholics account for 45.1 per cent (817,385); this has increased from 43.8 per cent in 2001, which suggests a narrowing of the gap between the two dominant religions.

There has also been an increase in those affiliated to other religions or philosophies – now at almost 1 per cent – and a significant increase in those listed as having no religion. This grouping has increased from 2.7 per cent in 2001 to 5.6 per cent in 2011 (an increase of 152 per cent, to 16,592).

There is a very mixed pattern of community background affiliation across the 26 district-council areas in Northern Ireland. Looking at the percentage of the population with a Catholic community background, it’s clear that some districts, such as Newry and Mourne (79.4 per cent), Derry (74.8 per cent) and Omagh (70.3 per cent), are predominantly Catholic, whereas districts such as Carrickfergus (9.6 per cent), Ards (12.7 per cent) and North Down (13.5 per cent), are mainly Protestant.

Much of the rest of Northern Ireland has a far greater mix: the populations of eight of the 26 districts have a Catholic affiliation of between 40 per cent and 60 per cent. Areas with the greatest mix in community background are districts such as Belfast (48.6 per cent), Armagh (48.4 per cent), Craigavon (45.9 per cent), Fermanagh (59.2 per cent) and Antrim (41.2 per cent).

Within these districts, however, particular areas tend to be dominated by one religious grouping or another. For example, the map above of Belfast shows its pattern of community background. Swathes of the city have proportions in excess of 85 per cent affiliated to a Catholic background. The west has a distinct pattern where predominantly Catholic areas such as Lower Falls, Turf Lodge and Andersonstown are separated from Cliftonville and Ardoyne by predominantly Protestant areas such as Shankill and Woodvale. The centre and east of the city have a much bigger mix in community background, although that becomes predominantly Protestant towards the outskirts of the city in places such as Castlereagh.

View all the maps in this series at pictureofireland

Ordnance Survey Northern Ireland licence no 70189. © Crown copyright 2007. Data source: NISRA. Produced by All-Island Research Observatory. Not to be reproduced without permission from Airo

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