| Religious Belief » Introduction
Faith Patterns in Northern Ireland
According to the 2001 Northern Ireland Census there are 119 identifiable religious
groups present in Northern Ireland and a further 366 other denominations with
less than ten followers.
Most of the religious groups are Christians of one kind or another, but the other
main world religions are all presented in the Province. Some of the other groups
included under religion would be better described as secular alternative life-stances-Humanists,
Atheists and Agnostics for example.
Perhaps unexpectedly, considering the perception of Northern Ireland as a very
religious society, almost 233,853 people said they had no religion or did not
state their religion.
Northern Ireland is traditionally seen as a Christian society made up almost
exclusively of either Catholics or Protestants, but this has never been the total
reality, and even the perceived reality is changing.
Ethnic and religious minorities in Northern Ireland have long seemed invisible,
but now their presence is becoming much more evident and even celebrated.
Many of the members of the more-recently-present religious communities have their
family origins in other countries within a generation or so, especially those
who have come from India, Pakistan and Hong Kong. However, they also include families
which have been present for several generations and people of British and Irish
background who have chosen to join a different religious tradition.
The number of Muslims in Northern Ireland has risen steadily over the past decade,
as has the number of Hindus. Both groups now have thriving community centres in
Belfast, with growing activity elsewhere.
- The Bahá'í come from a range of ethnic groups including many whose origins are
in traditional Northern Irish cultures.
- The Sikh community is centred mainly in the North West of the province.
There are also some small groups of Buddhists of various kinds, mostly of local
Jewish numbers have declined in recent decades as many young people have moved
elsewhere but the Belfast Hebrew Congregation maintain a presence focused on the
synagogue at the Somerton Road in North Belfast.
The larger Christian Churches have experienced a continuing decline in their
active memberships, and also significant population movements partly due to the
civil unrest of recent decades. However, some of the smaller evangelical Protestant
denominations have grown in membership during the same period.
Northern Ireland is slowly learning what it is to be a more overtly plural society.
Some people find this to be an uncomfortable lesson, but little by little we are
gaining confidence in our diversity.