Ireland referendum men kissing LARGE
A couple embraces outside the count centre in Dublin as Ireland holds a referendum on gay marriage. Cathal McNaughton/Reuters

The Catholic Church has admitted that the latest referendum in favour of legalising same-sex marriage is a "social revolution", saying the institution needs to have a "reality check".

A senior cleric with the Church in Ireland said the religious institution needs to reconnect with the younger generation in the changing times.

Diarmuid Martin, the archbishop of Dublin, told the broadcaster RTE: "We [the church] have to stop and have a reality check, not move into denial of the realities. We won't begin again with a sense of renewal, with a sense of denial. I appreciate how gay and lesbian men and women feel on this day. That they feel this is something that is enriching the way they live. I think it's a social revolution."

An overwhelming 62% of the 1.9 million people voted in favour of modifying the Irish constitution legally upholding marriage between same-sex couples. Ireland also becomes the first country to hold a referendum on this. Homosexuality was decriminalised in the Republic of Ireland 22 years ago.

Leading up the vote, senior bishops of the church called on all congregations expressing serious concern over allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.

The archbishop added: "I ask myself, most of these young people who voted yes are products of our Catholic school system for 12 years. I'm saying there's a big challenge there to see how we get across the message of the church."

Messages have been pouring in from across the world congratulating Ireland for proposing to seek a popular mandate to change the constitution.

Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted: "Congratulations to the people of Ireland, after voting for same-sex marriage, making clear you are equal if you are straight or gay."