For centuries the Catholic Church held a powerful influence over the people of Ireland. It was so dominant that people could be shunned by their communities for not living their life in the way the church preached.
Over the last few decades, due to a more modern outlook among Irish people, as well as the many sex abuse scandals, the church has lost much of its influence.
However, there are still millions who live their life by its teachings and are thankful to have it in their life. They take comfort and strength from their beliefs.
Two of Ireland’s most successful actors, Pierce Brosnan and Gabriel Byrne have polarised views on the Catholic Church. Their opposing standpoints reflect how many people in Ireland now feel about religion.
James Bond star Pierce Brosnan has spoken about how important his Catholic faith is to him. His first wife Cassandra Harris died from ovarian cancer in 1991. His adopted daughter Charlotte died from the same disease last year. Both times Brosnan was able to find the strength to carry on from his religious beliefs.
The 61-year-old said: “I would say faith, being Irish, being Catholic, it’s ingrained in my DNA.”
Like many Irish people he is thankful to have faith to help him through the darkest times in his life.
He said: “It always helps to have a bit of prayer in your back pocket. At the end of the day, you have to have something and for me that is God, Jesus, my Catholic upbringing, my faith … God has been good to me. My faith has been good to me in the moments of deepest suffering, doubt and fear. It is a constant, the language of prayer.”
However, many Irish people now dismiss the church as irrelevant in the 21st century. Actor Gabriel Byrne is even more scathing, labelling the Catholic Church ‘a force for evil’.
Byrne had a strict religious upbringing and says he was sexually abused in a seminary as a youngster. He refused to bring up his own children as Catholics.
He was sent to train as a priest in an English seminary when he was 11. In an interview with the Irish Independent the Usual Suspects star said: “It was part of the culture. It was a very religious, oppressive society, though we didn’t see it as oppression at the time.
“The Jesuits have that expression: ‘Give us a child until he is seven and he will be ours for life.’ That was why the Catholic Church and the Nazi party fed off each other.
“After the rally at Nuremberg, the pope said: ‘We need to be doing something similar and we have the theatre for it with St Peter’s.’ So that was when he started coming out on the balcony to address the crowds.
“And the Nazis, meanwhile, were learning from the Jesuits and making sure they got the child by seven in order to have them for life. The Hitler Youth.”
The 64-year-old now lives in New York and is pleased to have escaped the church. Even today he feels it still has far too much influence his home country.
He said: “They have way too much hold on this country. It’s a very corrupt and nefarious institution. The nuns were vicious because you have all these women living together in denial of love. They turned inward on themselves, became twisted creatures.
“I read a lot on the subject and had many conversations and I have come to the conclusion that the Catholic Church is a force for evil.
“How can you enslave women? How can you deny men who are supposed to be serving you the comfort of marriage? How can they deny sending condoms to Africa? How can they deny women becoming priests? It’s an anti-woman and anti-love church.”
For centuries Irish people have found comfort in their faith, but after the political and economic upheavals of the last 50 years, attitudes are changing.
Brosnan and Byrne may represent the extremes of the debate but they show how opinion is divided over the role of the church in modern life.