Just six men have begun training for the Catholic priesthood at St Patrick's College Maynooth this autumn, believed to be the lowest number since its foundation in 1795.
Twice as many students started training for ministry in the Church of Ireland this month, with 12 admissions, including two women, to the Church of Ireland Theological Institute in Dublin. In total there are 34 students in training at the institute, 10 of them women.
There are 41 men studying for priesthood in Maynooth.
According to the 2016 census, 78 per cent of the Republic's population, or 3.7 million people, declared themselves Roman Catholic. The census found the Republic's Church of Ireland population was 126,4 00, or 3.4 per cent of the population.
The six men admitted to Maynooth include two seminarians from Killaloe diocese, and one each from Tuam, Cork & Ross, Elphin, and Kilmore.
In addition, two seminarians began training at the Irish College in Rome, one at St Malachy's in Belfast and two at Beda College in Rome.
Earlier this year the Congregation for Clergy in Rome issued a document, The Gift of the Priestly Vocation, which strongly recommended that bishops around the world introduce a pre-seminary (propaedeutic) year for new candidates who wished to discern whether they had a vocation. Eight men have begun this propaedeutic year in locations around Ireland and abroad.
Last year 14 men began as seminarians in Maynooth. In 2015 the figure was 17, 14 in 2014 and 20 in 2013.
In August last year the college was at the centre of controversy when it emerged the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, said he was no longer going to send seminarians there because of its “poisonous” atmosphere.
He said students were accessing gay dating apps and anonymous letters were being circulated accusing seminarians of misconduct.
The college administration said it shared "the concern" of Archbishop Martin about the "poisonous atmosphere", created by anonymous correspondence and blogs. It added, however, there was "no concrete or credible evidence of the existence of any alleged 'active gay subculture'," at the seminary.
Last May it was announced a new president, Fr Michael Mullaney, had been appointed at the seminary and would hold office for the next three years as the Catholic bishops prepared plans to separate the seminary from the Pontifical University there.
A rector will then be appointed to oversee the seminary with a separate office of president appointed to run the associated university.