For the first time in living memory, first-year clerical student numbers are higher in the Protestant Church in Ireland than in the biggest Catholic institution for the priesthood.

The Irish Times reported that just six men have begun training for the Catholic priesthood at St. Patrick’s College Maynooth this autumn. It is believed to be the lowest number since its foundation in 1795.  There are a total 41 men studying for the priesthood in Maynooth.

Twice as many students started training for ministry in the Church of Ireland this month, with 12 admissions, including two women, to the Church of Ireland Theological Institute in Dublin. In total there are 34 students in training at the institute, 10 of them women.

Read more: Only six Irish sign up for the priesthood - a 222-year-record low

According to the 2016 census, 78 percent of the Republic’s population, or 3.7 million people, declared themselves Roman Catholic. The census found the Republic’s Church of Ireland population was 126,400, or 3.4 percent of the population.

Last year 14 men began as seminarians in Maynooth.  In 2015 the figure was 17, 14 in 2014 and 20 in 2013.

St. Patrick's Maynooth.

St. Patrick's Maynooth.

In August last year the college was at the center of controversy when it emerged that the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, said he was no longer going to send seminarians there because of its “poisonous” atmosphere.

He said students were accessing gay dating apps and anonymous letters were being circulated accusing seminarians of misconduct.

The college administration said it shared “the concern” of Archbishop Martin about the “poisonous atmosphere” created by anonymous correspondence and blogs. It added, however, there was “no concrete or credible evidence of the existence of any alleged ‘active gay subculture’” at the seminary.  

St. Patrick’s College in Maynooth.