The population of Northern Ireland, which has been predominantly Protestant since the state's founding in 1921, will likely be dominated by Catholics in three years, according to a new census, reported the Catholic News Agency on April 23.
"According to the last census in 2011, Protestants outnumbered Catholics in Northern Ireland by just three percent," reported the news agency. "More recent numbers show a Catholic majority in every age group of the population, except for those over 60."
"Among school-aged children, Catholics outnumber Protestants by a wide margin -- 51 percent to 37 percent," said the news agency.
Historically, Protestants settled in the Northern Ireland region and their allegiance, in general, was to Britain and the Church of England, which split from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534. Southern Ireland, territory that covers about 5/6ths of the island, is dominated by Catholics, who trace their Catholic roots on the island back to the 5th century.
After the legal separation of Northern Ireland from Southern Ireland in 1921, social and political friction continued between Protestatns and Catholics and it escalated to horrific violence in the 1960s. This period was called "The Troubles," and lasted until 1998. During that time, there were more than 16,200 bombings and more than 3,500 people were killed. It's estimated that more than 50,000 people were injured.
A peace agreement, the "Good Friday Agreement," was reached in 1998. However, friction between Protestant unionists and Catholic nationalists still surfaces. Protestant neighborhoods in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, are sharply divided from the Catholic neighborhoods.
Dr. Paul Nolan, speaking with the BBC, said of the population changes, "Three years from now we will end up, I think, in the ironic situation on the centenary of the state where we actually have a state that has a Catholic majority."