The Changing Faith of Dublin’s North-East Inner-City: Building Bridges Across Communities with Dublin City Interfaith Forum

sign hanging in a brick wall saying Dublin Christian Mission Welcome
Adrian Cristea
Adrian Cristea is the Executive Officer of Dublin City Interfaith Forum. He has a background in sociology and social work and holds a master’s degree from Trinity College Dublin.

“Human migration is an important part of our ancestral story. The places we live shape us, the places we leave behind forges our history, and the places we might travel to becomes our mysterious future.”
Kilroy J. Oldster


In the space of the last two decades, the fabric of Irish society has changed profoundly. But it would be a mistake to think that change itself is new.

If we go back a generation, we quickly recall that at that point Irish was in flux. According to the 2006 Census, Ireland’s population then comprised about 10% of non-nationals.1 Whilst this was not significantly different from our European neighbours,2 the pace of this change certainly was and is near unique in modern peace-time history.3 Other countries have faced a much more gradual change in their cultural mix, they had much more time to gradually test the waters. Ireland has been subjected to a somewhat more sudden immersion in the deep end of multiculturalism. A direct consequence of this demographic change is the surge of many religious groups. One of the most innovative and dramatic
changes in the Irish religious landscape is the birth and spread of immigrant-led religious groups.

Today, the number of people living in Ireland who were not born here has grown from 466,000 in 2006 to 757,000 in 2023.4 The North-East Inner-City of Dublin has undergone even more significant demographic shifts in recent years, leading to an even greater intensification of the diversity of its religious landscape. These changes have significant implications for community cohesion and integration, and they underline the importance of interfaith dialogue and engagement in the area. Informed by the social data and community initiatives, this essay aims to shed light on the evolving religious dynamics in the area and the role of the Dublin City Interfaith Forum (DCIF) in fostering understanding and cooperation among diverse religious groups.

In 2006, in the North-East Inner-City of Dublin alone, the scale of the change in the religious landscape was staggering and evident to those paying attention. For instance, one church building, Abbey Presbyterian Church, eighteen years ago became home to three Pentecostal Congregations: French speaking Congolese, Nigerian, and Romanian. St. George & St. Thomas Church of Ireland parish, in Sean McDermott Street, was hosting an Indian Orthodox Congregation. Today the parish still continues to provide this accommodation. In the vicinity there used to be a Gideon International Ministry Church
and a House on the Rock congregation, both meeting in the Royal Dublin Hotel. The Royal Dublin Hotel is now long gone, and with them those congregations. A little further down Sean McDermott Street you’ll find Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, who were already back then hosts to a Romanian Catholic Church; a relationship that persists to this day. The newer congregation is now well established. One of the most historic churches in the city, St. Saviour’s Parish in Dominick Street, used to be home to a Croatian Roman Catholic Chaplaincy. Whatever assumptions Irish people might harbour about the
conservative nature of religious communities, it is inarguable that they have always been at the forefront of diversifying movements in our society.

The North-East Inner-City of Dublin has long been a hub of immigration, shaped by waves of migration over centuries. Waves of refugees arriving on shores is not new – the traces of the arrival of Hugenot exiles in the late 1600s are still easily found in the area. Industrialization and urbanization in the 19th
century attracted migrants from rural areas of Ireland and abroad, seeking employment opportunities in factories and ports. The influx of workers from rural Ireland, particularly during periods of economic hardship such as the Great Famine of the 1840s, contributed to the growth of diverse communities in the
area. Additionally, Dublin’s strategic location as a port city facilitated immigration from other parts of the British Empire, including Britain itself, as well as from Europe and beyond. Sailors, traders, and workers from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds settled in the North-East Inner-City, adding to its ethnic and religious diversity. The historical migration patterns in Dublin’s North-East Inner-City were accompanied by the establishment of religious institutions catering to the needs of diverse immigrant communities.

Catholicism has historically been the dominant religion in Ireland, and churches and parishes served as focal points for internal migrants, providing spiritual guidance, social support, and a sense of community. However, alongside Catholicism, other religious traditions also took root in the North-East Inner-City, as a result of immigration. Protestant denominations, such as Anglicanism and Methodism, were present, reflecting the religious diversity within Ireland itself. Moreover, and more recently, immigrants from Europe, Asia, and Africa brought with them their own religious practices and traditions, including Judaism with evidence of a Synagogue at Marlborough Green, off Marlborough Street dating as far back as mid-18th century.5 With centres in Talbot St., Sherrard Lane and Hardwicke
Place, at the time of writing, the Muslim Community is completing the Holy Month of Ramadan by showcasing its diverse and vibrant presence in the area. Similarly, Buddhism, well established in James Joyce Street, is enriching the religious tapestry of the area.

This level of religious diversity in Dublin’s North-East Inner-City has profound implications for contemporary trends in the social landscape. First, it highlights the long-standing presence of diverse religious communities in the area, challenging the notion of Irish society as homogenously Catholic. Second, historical migration patterns have shaped the social, cultural, and architectural fabric of the North-East Inner-City, with churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, and other places of worship serving as visible markers of religious diversity. Third, the historical coexistence of multiple religious
traditions underscores the importance of interfaith dialogue and engagement in fostering understanding, tolerance, and cooperation among different religious communities. By recognizing and appreciating
the historical roots of religious diversity, and celebrating the contemporary diversity, we are better placed to see our communities flourish today.


New and existing faith communities in Dublin’s inner city continue to face practical challenges, including finding suitable places of worship, navigating planning regulations, and securing financial resources. Among the practical needs of the new faith communities, and this seems to extend right across the
spectrum of new churches, is that of finding a comfortable place of worship. Many of the new faith communities started in halls and lounges of hotels or the dining rooms of asylum seeker hostels. In some cases, the groups had to move on because hotel proprietors feel there’s a conflict between this use of their premises and their license, or simply because of the level of ‘noise’.

Through our work at grassroots level with diverse faith communities in the Dublin inner city areas and further afield, we note that initial specific needs such as sourcing appropriate places of worship in order
to respond to the continuing increase in membership, are becoming now both more pressing and more complex. This is almost always followed by the difficulty in negotiating the complicated planning application process and financial costs. Due to the increase in attendance numbers, the need to have a
bigger space arises, and this brings with it the challenge of meeting the costs. These difficulties put great pressure on the leaders, many of whom are not on any salary.

A pertinent question now emerging is how long a ‘new’ faith community is considered new. Religion is almost always a way of life closely connected to one’s cultural expression. This variety of places of worship now part of our civic landscape are so much more than just a spiritual or a praying space. They cater for information and social needs of their members, and offer a sense of reconnection with one’s own culture and identity. We’re also witnessing the emergence of a new, younger generation now asserting themselves with faith and community trends and ideas and ideals sometimes quite different and in conflict with those of their parents. They are seeking new directions, new horizons and where and how they will get support is a real question. Should the wider community of the city not be more open to them?

Many immigrants coming to Ireland already have contacts or have gathered knowledge, not only about the social and economic life but also the religious life. They arrive with an idea about where their own ethnic community worships. For others, where they go to worship depends on his/her first contact or where they find themselves living e.g. an asylum hostel. However, a final choice is usually made after
becoming established and conversant with other places of worship in the city and deciding which mode of worship they prefer.

In his book, Embracing Difference, Canon Patrick Comerford, eloquently makes the point that the new communities in Ireland have brought with them their own religious identity and that their faith community also welcome people from beyond their own ethnic lines.6 He also highlights the important role these faith communities play in preserving people’s identity and homeland-connections. It can also be argued that a significant number of the immigrants who have joined a black or ethnic minority faith community may have worshipped in a mainstream place of worship but have felt that they were not welcomed and accepted, or were labelled and devalued. Situations where some groups in a congregation are stigmatized and looked on as second class citizens do not bode well for integration.

Often, immigrants are perceived as asylum seekers and erroneously regarded as second class citizens. As we all like to be valued and respected, people move towards or start a fellowship where they can feel very
comfortable and respected for who they are, rather than what they are. Given that most of the newly established ethnic churches and faith communities are not yet members of the established Inter-Church and Inter-Faith structures and thus not within the existing networks, DCIF focuses on the need to work
with such groups in the communities in which they are established.


At the end of January 2012, in Wood Quay Venue at the official launch of the DCIF, the then Lord Mayor of Dublin, Andrew Montague stated:

“It is with initiatives such as Dublin City Interfaith Forum that we dialogue and work together through building relationships that promote integration, nurture harmony, and deepen
understanding and respect.”7

It is impossible to sum up in a few paragraphs over a decade of building bridges, sharing common grounds, and promoting integration. Through interfaith dialogue and engagement, the DCIF continues to advance human rights, promote integration and interfaith respect, and helps to create a better understanding of our cultural and religious diversity.

Since its inception, our Forum has been committed to creating relationships of deeper respect and acceptance of each other as human beings. If we can harness the extraordinary resources that the faith
traditions offer, problems such as racial and religious prejudice can be alleviated perhaps even overcome. This deep sharing is important for all people, but it is especially important for people whose spiritual nurture comes from other parts of the world. Their faith dominates their whole life. For many it is what makes their life.

Religion and culture can’t be separated. DCIF works to prevent religious and ethnic communities – including the more vulnerable communities – from being marginalized or ghettoized. DCIF stands united in challenging racist behaviour through our various actions and initiatives. It is not difficult to notice how things have changed in the world; sadly, not for the better. With a concerning rise in the
number of right wing, supremacist, and neo-Nazi movements gaining traction around the world, social media is providing an easy conduit for fomenting racism, hate speech, and vile images. The ready availability of platforms where these hate-filled messages can be promulgated serves to normalise destructive prejudice. Even more concerning, the more this language is tolerated, and the more it seeps into the national discourse, the more it becomes acceptable and mainstreamed. It must be called out for what it is and whenever and wherever it is manifested, as with all other manifestations of racism.8

“Safe Haven” is DCIF’s interfaith response to hate and extremism.9 It is a training programme supported by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. The programme works with our faith communities and supports them in addressing the serious impact caused by racism and hate crime. Such
programmes can change someone’s life. More importantly it can save someone’s life.


DCIF is concerned with people: how they live, what they believe and how their lives are shaped by what they believe. We do not pretend that there are no differences. There are differences. They matter. They matter because the people who believe these different things matter. DCIF’s work is extraordinarily
multi-layered and multi-dimensional as we seek to help people.10

The reality today is that every major city is now the home of many faiths. There is hardly a city in the world which is peopled by devotees of only one faith. We, at DCIF, continue our work to build bridges across ancient rifts, to build bridges out of the walls that keep us apart and work in partnership with others, towards establishing dialogue, promoting interfaith respect and understanding of our religious
diversity. The conversations around interfaith are both enlightening and challenging. As the face of Dublin and Ireland changes, so does the range of faith communities and the importance of the development of a cohesive society that understands, acknowledges and respects its diverse parts as the principles listed in the DCIF Interfaith Charter states:

To promote dialogue between the different communities of belief coexisting in our city; we believe this to be fundamental to guaranteeing the necessary conditions for living together in peace, justice and solidarity.11

In conclusion, by understanding the historical forces that have shaped this area, we as part of the community invested in the area and as stakeholders, can better navigate the complexities of religious pluralism and work towards building a more inclusive and harmonious community for all residents,
irrespective of their religious affiliations.

This changing religious landscape of Dublin’s North-East Inner-City presents both challenges and opportunities for community cohesion and integration. Interfaith dialogue and engagement, facilitated by organizations like the DCIF, are becoming more and more essential for promoting understanding,
cooperation, and social harmony. By embracing diversity and building bridges across religious divides, the community can work towards a more inclusive and united future.

1 Central Statistics Office, “Census 2006 – Non-Irish Nationals Living In Ireland” (CSO, June 30, 2008),
2 Johan Wullt and Anne Herm, “Immigration in the EU27 in 2006,” Text (Luxembourg: Eurostat, 2008),
3 In an excellent report produced for the Irish Catholic bishops in 2006, the geographer Eoin O’Mahony recorded the dramatic change in migration flows that had occurred in the previous years. In 1995, Ireland was still in a net-emigration pattern. By 2005, the annual net-migration level was over 50,000 people. Eoin O’Mahony, “Demographic Change in Ireland 1995 to 2005:” (Maynooth: Irish Episcopal Conference, 2006), 11.
4 Central Statistics Office, “Population and Migration Estimates, April 2023” (CSO, September 25, 2023),
5 Patrick Comerford, “The Synagogues of Dublin: 3, Marlborough Green,” Patrick Comerford (blog), September 30, 2019,
6 Patrick Comerford, Embracing Difference (Dublin: Church of Ireland Publishing, 2007).
7 Irish Council of Churches, “Dublin City and Faith Communities to Launch
Interfaith Forum,” Irish Churches, January 30, 2012,
8 It is noted elsewhere in this issue how violent, racist speech was a hallmark of the November 23 riots and these leaked Whatsapp messages and speeches are prominent in the accounts of migrant and immigrant people.
9 Dublin City Interfaith Forum, “Safe Haven” (Dublin: DCIF, 2021),
10 For example, in the week prior to writing, we completed the rolling out of the Safe Haven programme for the 6th consecutive year. Last month we participated in consultations with the An Garda Síochána Diversity Forum. As I write in April 2024, tomorrow we’ll celebrate the Eid ul Fitr with our Muslim friends across the City. Later this week we’ll be in All Hallows Campus. Next month we’ll host our bimonthly meeting and there we’ll plan the celebration of World Refugee Day 2024 as we have done each
year since 2012.
11 Dublin City Interfaith Forum, “Dublin City Interfaith Charter” (Dublin: DCIF, December 20, 2016),