Wednesday 28 November 2018

Ireland - Today and Yesterday

I take a couple of busloads of Americans and Canadians to Ireland every October. Most are listeners to Celtic Crush, my three-hour weekly radio program. As the show deals with history, politics, and current events the travelers already have a general awareness of the Ireland of today and yesterday.

Through conversations and attempts to answer my guests’ many questions I’m often forced to re-evaluate my own ideas and core beliefs.

I long ago realized that modern Ireland is far removed from the island I left behind in the 1970’s.  Even as late as the 1990’s there was still a familiar quaintness to the country - something I came to treasure, even though I had railed against it while living there.

I didn’t care for the changes that occurred around the time of the Celtic Tiger; but I partly attributed my attitude to the deaths of my parents in the early 2000’s. Those two milestone events cause most people to reassess life in general.

The financial crash of 2008 had dreadful consequences, yet oddly enough I began to relate to Ireland once again. People seemed more gracious, and as my mother would have put it, they regained “the run of themselves.”

Then recently Ireland took a giant leap forward. The present Taoiseach though young, gay, and of Indian descent, is very Irish.  And yet compare Leo Varadkar to Eamon de Valera, Charles Haughey, or even Enda Kenny, his immediate predecessor. We’re talking revolutionary change! 
Now you could say this is a fluke and that the old status quo will reinvent itself in the guise of some new conservative leader.

But I doubt it, for the electorate who chose Mr. Varadkar has transcended many Irish traits, customs, and prejudices. The Ireland I grew up in would never have countenanced such a change.

This brings us to the position of the Catholic Church in modern Ireland. What a change - and a healthy one at that!

My opinion has little to do with faith or lack thereof; but the lifting of the awful blanket of clerical oppression that suffocated the social, sexual, and spiritual life of Ireland has transformed the country.

It’s not that one couldn’t temporarily kick off this suffocating blanket - I remember no clerical oppression in the randy bedsitter world of Rathmines in the early 1970’s; but as soon as you caught sight of the foreboding twin spires of Wexford town you could feel the clammy fist of clerical power reassert itself.

Don’t get me wrong: there were many compassionate and charitable people of the cloth, but the system had already corrupted itself by protecting the monsters who preyed upon children and the trusting.

The question is – what will replace the paternal influence of the Catholic Church? 

And now with the rise to respectability and prominence of Sinn Fein, nationalism – the other twin strand of Irish DNA – is also being transformed.

Of course, Brexit could change that. It’s hard to imagine that the British would be stupid enough to resurrect a “hard border,” but they’ve surprised us before.

Nor is Ireland impervious to the nativist winds of change sweeping Europe; the country even appears to have spawned its own mini-Trump in the figure of recent presidential candidate, Peter Casey.

And yet I witnessed a new Ireland last month when I watched a woman in hijab casually stroll through a small town with her Syrian husband, their young son already flaunting his Kerry accent.

I heard teenagers in Dublin converse as Gaeilge as though it were no big deal while a gay couple among them embraced openly without fear of aggression or ridicule.

The country may have problems – people sleep on trolleys in hospital corridors as they await medical care – but its citizens are no longer weighed down by the repressive baggage of centuries.

Ireland has finally become a modern European country. People may still be “wearin’ the Green” but they’re now doing so as a fashion statement.

Who knows what brave new world the little Syrian refugee boy will help build in County Kerry. But it will smack a lot more of Leo Varadkar than Eamon de Valera.

For Information on Larry Kirwan Tour of Ireland Oct. 1-7, 2019 write