Although there is no official state church in Ireland and the Irish Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion, about 95% of the population is Roman Catholic. Roman Catholicism has traditionally formed a strong bond among Irish people and continues to be an important part of contemporary Irish identity. As a result of years of British persecution, Irish Catholics became strong defenders of their faith.

The Catholic Church operates most of the public and secondary schools in Ireland and provides some health services. This has allowed the Church to maintain considerable influence in social affairs. Until recently, the government was reluctant to pass laws that would not be sanctioned by the Church. However, although religion is still important to the Irish, the political influence of the Church declined during the 1980s and 1990s, partly because fewer people chose to become priests or nuns.

Three famous pilgrimage sites in Ireland attract thousands of people every year. Pilgrims, some of them barefoot, climb a mountain on the northwest coast called Croagh Patrick, the site where St. Patrick is said to have prayed throughout the forty days of Lent in 441. At Cnoc (Knock) Mhaire , also in the northwest, the Virgin Mary is alleged to have appeared in 1879. The Holy Island in Lough Derg was once the site of an important monastery and pilgrims gather near the ruins to pray.

Other Christian denominations include the Church of Ireland, the Methodists and the Presbyterians. The Church of Ireland is a Protestant Episcopal Church, part of the worldwide Anglican Communion of churches. Methodist and Presbyterian churches are also found in cities and large towns. There is a small number of Jews in Ireland.

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The Irish Catholic Church sends missionaries to every continent. Currently there are more than 4,500 Irish missionaries working in 85 countries in Africa, Asia, Central and South America and the Pacific Islands.
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According to legend, St. Brendan was an Irish monk who crossed the Atlantic in a boat made of wood and leather in the 6th century. Modern sailors have repeated his voyage to Labrador in a similar boat and believe that such a feat was possible.