I attended a talk organized by UCD's Newman Society yesterday evening. Billed as a talk on faith and science, it turned out to be a potted history of University College Dublin and its antecedent institutions, with some reference to Newman and the opposition to science-teaching by the Irish hierarcy of his time. Aside from the two academics who delivered the talk, there were three other attendees; the chap who organized it, a young lady, and myself. I was the only Irish person there.
I can't really criticize too much, since I haven't attended any of the talks given by the Newman Society, UCD's Catholic society, in my ten years of working in UCD's library. But from what I can see, the Christian student movement here is not exactly flourishing. It's a long way from C.S. Lewis's Socratic Society at Oxford, which regularly held debates featuring the best and brightest of unbelieving and believing minds. (Having said that, a debate on whether religion is a good or bad thing was held in UCD last night, organized by the Literary and Historical Society.)
I have occasionally attended Mass in the church at UCD, always on Holy Days of Obligation (the regular Mass is not at a time I can make). The congregation is usually of an encouraging size. Of course, people go to Mass for all sorts of reasons, not always out of religious conviction or commitment-- I suspect for many rural students it is a link to their way of life at home.
It is also worth noticing that, in a recent survey for the University Observer, three-quarters of UCD students polled were pro-choice on abortion. A few years ago about seventy per cent, in a survey by the same newspaper, affirmed a belief in God.
None of us need to be told that statistics and numbers mean little. The Pope has wisely re-echoed Jesus's words on the mustard seed in recent times, reminding us that the fidelity of the faithful is more important than their numerical weight. But if a Catholic revival is going to come about in this country, it is natural to look to the universities as its springboard.