Before I came to Ireland, whenever I pictured it, I would imagine misty rolling hills, medieval battles, and traditional Irish music. This same image is what many Americans call to mind when picturing Hibernia. If Carl Jung is correct, then our collective memory is about three hundred years old. Ireland has changed immensely since the time when that image was accurate.
For starters, Ireland is its own country. Or rather, three quarters is. Things used to be very bad in Northern Ireland. Today, we refer to the widespread killing in County Ulster, which is still part of the United Kingdom. While things in Northern Ireland have clamed down in recent years, my Irish friends have been telling me that tensions might rise again 2016 when the Republic of Ireland celebrates one hundred years of independence.
Today, Ireland uses the Euro, and the Emerald Isle was the first place in Europe to ban smoking in the pubs. They also consume more wine than France. Religiosity is falling. The sexual abuse scandals, which racked my hometown of Boston, were mirrored in Ireland over the past several decades. I had the privilege of meeting the Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, a very kind man by the name of Father Charles Brown. His office is diplomatic, though he entered the Church as an abuse investigator. He worked closely with the current Pope, and was hand picked for this position because of his experience, which denotes serious change in how abuse is considered by the Church that has become characteristic of the new Pope. Needless to say, the times they are a-changing.
Some things remain the same though. Not to say that is good. Ireland’s economic boom, called the Celtic Tiger, perished with the rest of the world economy in 2008. Put simply, both the private sector and the Irish state did not save as they perhaps should have, and now money for the publicized schools and universities is lean. Things are now back to the way they were before the Tiger. But even sadder is that for so long, everyone could make a real living in Ireland. People were always leaving to make their fortunes in other lands, which left its mark on the people who stayed behind. Then with the Tiger, suddenly Ireland was a place of wealth for the first time. There were eighteen years of feast, and famine (though recovering) since 2008.
Ireland is also in the midst of resurrecting its native language—Irish Gaelic. There are Irish immersion schools now, and signage always lists Irish first. There are still some places in Ireland that speak Irish natively. One such people are the natives of Inis Óirr, Inis Meaín, and Inis Mór—the three Aran Islands, three green rocks off the coast of Galway, which have captured my heart forever. Bury my soul on banks of Inis Meaín.
In spite of everything, the Irish people remain the same: kind, frank, and honest. I have met amazing people during my time here, and they are as sad to see me go, as I am to leave. Now, whenever I come back, to this city nestled on the banks of the River Lee, I will feel like I am coming home.
Erin go Brah,
Cork City, County Cork