The rate of Irish men entering the priesthood in Ireland has doubled.

This year's intake is 38 - up from 20 last year.

Sources say the jump in vocations could well be down to the recession as men see the priesthood as a secure future.

"Sure, your housing and food is looked after," said one man who asked to be kept anonymous. "They're the biggest expenses myself and my wife have.  The only thing you'd be missing is the sex but if you're married there's no sex anyway."

However, officials in the Catholic Church in Ireland have disputed that claim saying the surge isn't linked to the recession.

"They would have been in conversation with their diocese and would have been making that decision more than a year ago. At that stage, economically, things were looking good," a spokesman for the Catholic Communications Office said.

"Numbers of priests do vary. Thirty-eight is a relatively high number. But it would be premature to be considering it a trend."

Most of the new candidates, who range in age from 18 to mid-40s, come Dublin and the diocese of Down and Connor.

Two will study in Rome, seven will study at St Malachy's College, Belfast, and 26 will study in Maynooth.

The new priests will be sent back to their own diocese to work after ordination.

Not only have the numbers of would-be priests changed. So has their profile.

All the seminarians were working or studying fulltime before applying to the priesthood and have what the spokesman described as experience of life and success in a secular field.

The numbers are the highest since 1999 when 46 were selected for the national seminary at St Patrick's College, Maynooth.

However, they pale to the numbers recorded in the 1950s and 1960s, when there were often more than 100 seminarians in any given year.