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EU > Ireland > Killarney

Going to church

Killarney, IE (View on map)

Ireland legalised divorce only as short as 10 years ago. Religious leaders oftentimes make headlines through controversial statements about equally controversial topics: abortion, same-sex marriages and contraception. It`s Sunday in Ireland and I`m interested to find out about the role of the church in people`s daily lives.

Going to church on Sunday:

..usually followed by a pub visit in the afternoon
Only 1% of the population of Killarney claims to be christian (protestant), yet no less than three different christian churches are open to the public on Sunday. I visit two of them: the methodist church and the anglican church. They both seem to teach how people are inferior to God but do so in two different ways. While the methodist church emphasises the greatness of God, the Anglican church focuses on the insignificance of mankind and its sinnful nature. Both churches welcome about 50 people this morning. People of mixed age for the methodist church; mostly older people in the Anglican Church.

Attending mass
In order to get a grasp of the difference between the christian churches and the catholic church - largely dominant in numbers of attendance - I subsequently find my way to the catholic cathedral. It is a huge building, equipped with flat screens for people who sit to far away from the altar to attend the service live. The church quickly fills up and by 12 o'clock, people are forced to keep standing because no more seats are available. Coming from all layers of the population, the attendants together seem to make up a fair representation of the Irish population.

A large part of the service consists of highly structurised bits, where the priest quotes lines and the public replies like an automated response system. At other moments, the priest tells anecdotes and relates his words to daily life. Road safety, the weather and even sexuality and crime - the diversity of matters presented is surprisingly large. Main advice of the day is to force yourself to govern your possessions instead of them governing you.

The mass ends at 12h45 when people return to their cars to drive home (photo). As Adrhian (47) tells me, the usual program for Sundays runs as follows: attendance of church service, sports, pub, dinner. Hardly any shops open before noon, so this fits in well with the day schemes of most people who attend Sunday morning service. Adrhian also tells me that marriage in church is legally binding and that no separate declaration has to be signed with the municipal authorities. Most people still nowadays get married in the church and only a minority of people choose not too.

Church and legislation
The opinion of the church is also reflected in Ireland`s laws, especially in family laws. Way too much, thinks Karen (21) who is originally from Killarney but now lives in Liverpool (UK). She is not a member of any church and says that her friendships do not suffer largely from that. People may be offended if she tells she`s an atheist, and that is why the subject is not often brought up. She is happy to live in England however, and says she experiences more freedom there. Kellie (18), Kyle (20) and Adam (21) also think that the church influences family law too much but they are happy to see this influence slowly diminishing as time passes. But just like Karen, they are not happy to talk about them not being a member of any church. Many of their friends and family do regularly attend service and the fact that they themselves do not, is not a favourite subject of conversation.

Amanda (20) is catholic and she goes to church at least once every two weeks. She thinks that what she learns is reflected in everything she does - not necessarily on the surface but at least as a basis of reflection. That reflection is also her main reason to attend church services: they help her keep thinking about the things she does and experiences. When I ask her whether she knows of any mosques in the area, she looks at me with a gentle surprise in her eyes. She then replies that there are bound to be a few of those in Dublin, but none in the entire Kerry county.

Shortly after talking to Amanda, I meet a lady by the name of Cathy (46) at the local market near the railway station. She is christian, not catholic, and like most of my other conversation partners of today, she claims that people`s individual religion is not something that is openly discussed in detail. Instead, it is taken for granted, either in acceptance or in slight disapproval. What she does not agree to, is the fact that children in primary school now get taught about both the evolution theory and the story of creation. She disagrees that both theories can be compatible and says it will confuse kids without any apparent benefit to them.

The church is at the centre of many controversies, especially in relation with family law. While attendance numbers are dropping, the church is forced to modernise in order to keep attracting people. This development helps legislation get more secular. While old people are attracted to a more traditional approach, young people welcome the increased freedom with joy. Above all and regardless of the changes, religion remains a personal matter and to that, all my interviewees have agreed.

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