Southern Protestants and demographics

Surprisingly resilient

Sir, – I write in support of Ian d’Alton (Letters, September 24th). The events that led to the decline of Protestants in Southern Ireland have been well stated: the first World War, the 1916 Rising, the setting up of the Free State in 1922, with the consequent political separation of Protestants North and South (leaving those in the South in the lurch, so to speak), and particularly the effects of the Civil War.

Emigration of Protestants as a result of these events was immense, with Donald Akenson in his The Irish Diaspora estimating from census returns that over 100,000 Protestants left the Free State in the 1920s and 1930s alone, as they were made to feel unwelcome in their own land.

Despite these hammer blows, the Protestant population did not reach anything like “near-extinction”, in the words of Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister, but in fact remained surprisingly resilient.

For example, the slow decline in the Church of Ireland population in the Free State/Republic continued until the new millennium, when the census of 2002 showed an amazing increase of 29 per cent of those declaring themselves to be members. This was followed by an over 8 per cent increase in 2006.


While membership has since levelled out, this is in contrast to the numbers north of the Border. In 1991, there were 279,280 or 17.6 per cent of the population of Northern Ireland declaring themselves to be members of the Church of Ireland. By 2002, this had dropped to 257,788 or 15.3 per cent and the figure has continued to decline, resulting, in part, in the situation there today.

Such figures should not lead to any kind of triumphalism, as all churches, except perhaps some of the “new” churches, have seen a decline, largely due to the secularisation of society. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.