Ireland of the Transitions

I’ve spent the last thirty-six hours retouching the frescos on the Blogstead ceiling and pondering the huge changes taking place here.

Two good ones to start with. First, Ireland is still a very young country. The emigration patterns which scarred every generation since the Famine have stopped. Perthshire looks somewhat mature by comparison. Second, the non-Irish population here is now 10%. There are stresses and strains but huge social change has taken place in a very short time and Ireland’s prosperity has been shared with the rest of the world.

And on the other side? Well the empty houses, of course. The process of turning land into a speculative commodity began in the ’70’s when resourceful people found that they could buy land at agricultural prices and get their political friends to rezone it for development. There’s a very sharp edge on some of the journalism here at present. Kate Holmquist wrote in yesterday’s Irish Times about the Irish businessmen who did well in the property boom: ‘one of those men who now finds himself stripped by the bank and working out of his car.’ She goes on, ‘This month, as opposed to last, his office consists of himself, his car and a mobile phone ….. parked at the far end of the Lidl lot.’

Meanwhile on the social and moral front, change continues apace. As I pirouetted on top of the ladder, I listened to one of those dreadful phone-in discussions which are the bread and butter of RTE radio. Marriage, living together, personal choice, the protection of children … Fascinating because one is listening to Ireland trying to make up its mind whether it is a secular, liberal social democracy which prizes personal choice. The old Ireland, where the Catholic church provided a moral compass has gone – let’s not talk about the confessional state – and no common set of values has been found to replace it.

Tomorrow it’s back across the snowbound Glenshane Pass into Northern Ireland. The story there is that the Northern Ireland Executive hasn’t met for four months. If the will of the people is for peace, the political class is failing them – still tending to look outside to Britain or America to help them to make the compromises which are essential in a working democrary. Of which more another day.

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