The Future of Ireland

Each chapter of this geography of Ireland has told a story about Ireland’s physical, cultural, historical, economic, and political, geographies. Knowing more of Ireland through these stories may have changed some perceptions of the country while strengthening others.Visitors to Ireland would experience many of the stories told in this book and would also form new perceptions of the country.

THE PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY

The story of Ireland’s geography began with an analysis of the island’s physical geography. The island of Ireland is shaped like a cereal bowl, low and level in the middle and surrounded by higher hills and low mountains on the rim. For its size, the terrain of the island is fairly complex. The higher elevations were formed by two major European mountain-building forces. The bottom of the bowl or central lowlands is a limestone area built up from the ocean floor. Virtually the entire island was glaciated, leaving glacial drift and glacial landforms such as drumlins.

IRISH CULTURAL HISTORY

The story of Ireland’s geography became more complicated when people arrived. Once people interact with the physical environment, cultural landscapes begin to develop. The first known human occupants arrived in Ireland about 10,000 years ago. At that time, the physical environment of the island was changing from a post-glacial landscape to oak forests. About 8,000 years ago, the first Neolithic peoples arrived. They cleared parts of the forests to farm. They also built the fascinating passage tombs of the Valley of the River Boyne. Around 4,000 years ago, Bronze Age people from Mediterranean Europe arrived in Ireland. They brought knowledge of metal making, jewelry, as well as new tools and weapons to Ireland.

The Celtic people and the Iron Age reached Ireland somewhere between 2000 and 1000 B.C. Their arrival changed Ireland forever. With the Celts came iron tools and weapons, kingdoms, power, and wealth. The Celts controlled the land until 432 A.D., when Christianity, the most powerful force in Irish history, arrived in the person of Saint Patrick. Christianity again changed Ireland. The Irish became Christians. Church leaders were more powerful than were kings and chieftains. Monasteries dotted the Irish landscape and were among the major European centers of learning.

The arrival of the Vikings in the ninth century brought new challenges to Ireland. The invaders attacked farms and monasteries seeking food and wealth. They founded forts that became Dublin, Galway, and other cities. They intermarried with the Irish and reintroduced weaponry, shipbuilding, and warfare. In 1014 A.D., Brian Boru and his armies chased the Vikings from the land. Unfortunately, freedom was short-lived. About 150 years later, armies of England’s King Henry II claimed Ireland for his empire. This was the beginning of 800 years of English occupation.

During this time, smaller and somewhat weaker abbeys replaced powerful monasteries. Eventually, the English even tried to forcefully replace the Catholic Church with the Church of Ireland. Over the years, the British occupiers denied the Irish people civil and economic rights. Through penal laws and through land redistribution, the British tried to destroy Irish religion, culture, society, and traditions.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, cries for Irish independence began rising from the land. In 1916, on Easter Sunday, 1,500 Irish rebels raised an Irish flag, declared independence, and occupied key buildings in Dublin. The British countered, killing and arresting many of the rebels. This was followed by a series of conflicts that were terminated on July 11, 1921, with the creation of the Irish Free State and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, while this was probably the best possible solution for the time, it also became the basis for a continuing series of conflicts. In the new Irish Free State, partisan power conflicts lasted until the establishment of the constitution in 1937 and the Republic of Ireland in 1949.

Conflicts continue today in Ireland. These conflicts occur primarily in Northern Ireland, but they can happen anywhere on the island. They are called The Troubles. The Troubles are the result of an ongoing civil rights and economic power struggle among Unionists, Nationalists, and Republicans. The parties have entered a tentative accord, but The Troubles are still an undercurrent in the daily lives of the Irish.

The story of Ireland and the Irish people is indeed exciting. It shows the development of the people, their culture, and society. For hundreds of years, the Irish have fought for freedom. They have consistently shown a strong dedication to the preservation of their religion, culture, and independence.Many of the cultural traits associated with Ireland date back centuries. During the independence movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Irish worked to preserve and reinvigorate their language, religion, music, dance, writing, art, architecture, and past times.

Up to now, this story has focused on the reciprocal relationship between the physical and cultural landscapes of Ireland. Within this context, the Irish live their daily lives and create their own unique cultural environment. The cultural environment of Ireland today shows a country whose population is changing. Its government is interacting at new levels, its economy is rapidly growing, and the people have developed a way of life that copes with all of these changes.

IRISH POPULATION AND GOVERNMENT

The population of Ireland is changing, having reached 3.9 million in 2002. This figure represents the highest population count since the Great Famine of 1846 and the heavy out-migration that followed that tragic event. Population growth in Ireland is expanding at a rapid rate. Almost half of the growth, however, is the result of in-migration from foreign lands. The greatest population growth is being experienced in the counties that surround Dublin as the urban sprawl of Ireland’s capital expands outward. Cork remains the second largest city, but Galway is challenging it for this position.

The government of Ireland is working not only within the country; it is now interacting on a new dimension, the European Union. Ireland, like America, has three powers of government: the executive, legislative and judicial. Ireland has both a president and a Taoiseach (prime minister). The presidency is primarily a ceremonial position within the legislative power. The day-to-day operation of the government is under the leadership of the Taoiseach, in the executive power. Ireland’s legislative body is the Oireachtas. It has two houses, the Seanad Éireann, or Senate, and the Dáil Éireann, or House of Representatives.

Ireland has benefited immensely from membership in the European Union, as measured by its growing economy, new roads and communications technologies, and its newly preserved cultural artifacts. The people of Ireland strongly support their membership in the European Union and recognize that they have benefited since becoming members in 1973.

As a member of the European Union, the Irish government works within the country, within the counties, and also within the context of European politics. The Irish government is an active, involved, and respected member of the world community. Ireland participates fully in international organizations, agencies, and efforts. Ireland’s government, churches, and people are particularly noted worldwide for service to the poor, the sick, and the hurting.

IRISH ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Ireland’s economy is growing rapidly. Ireland has made tremendous economic changes in a relatively short period. For centuries, Ireland survived by farming the land and processing its agricultural resources. Today, as in the past, Ireland is agriculturally a land of livestock, but with some key crops. Beef and dairy cattle comprise the most important part of the agricultural economy. Historically, a New World (the Americas) crop, the potato, became the key food crop of the Irish people.When the potato blight and resulting famine hit in the 1840s, Ireland suffered tremendous hardship, loss of life, and out-migration. Today, the key crops in Ireland are barley, wheat, and flax.

Through efforts of the Irish government, membership in the European Union, and investment by foreign corporations, manufacturing has increased dramatically in the last 25 years. Today, Ireland is a key player in the world’s high-tech computer hardware and software industries. It is a center for pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and communications equipment. It is also experiencing the massive development of important cement and construction industries that are building the new infrastructure. Ireland is also a land of internationally valued, traditional products such as Waterford Crystal, Aran sweaters, and Guinness stout.

Perhaps the most rapidly changing aspect of Ireland’s economy is the transportation infrastructure. Fueled by funds from the European Union, wide modern high-speed highways are replacing the old, narrow roads. Airport and port facilities are constantly being upgraded. This new infrastructure not only encourages industrial development, it also facilitates spectacular tourism expansion as well.All of these developments have also increased the importance of banking and finance in the Irish economy. Ireland moved from a land of high unemployment to one experiencing labor shortages in less than 25 years. Today, the country is a rising economic and manufacturing force in Europe’s economy.

IRISH LIFE

The final topic of this adventure is the story of life in contemporary Ireland. Life in Ireland is both complex and relaxed. This combination is a result of the sorrowful impact of the ongoing Troubles, cultural practices, and daily life that point to a strong faith and a “no problem” attitude.

Ireland has been blessed with a strong oral tradition that preserved its myths, legends, and genealogy. It is a land of outstanding literature, poetry, theatre, music, and dance. It is also a land that through architecture and artifacts has made major efforts to preserve the treasures of its past. Ireland is a land of sport and celebrations, with a fanatical love of its native games of Gaelic football and Irish hurling, as well as a national commitment to feasts and festivals. Irish culture provides a welcoming environment to tourists who are most often people of Irish descent seeking to learn more of the land and peoples of their ancestry. Irish and tourists alike enjoy the “crack” (fun), music, and social benefits of pub life.

THE FUTURE OF IRELAND

The chapters yet to be written in the story of the geography of Ireland will surely address many of the changes the Irish economy has experienced in the last 25 years. Storytellers of the future will certainly have many characters and plots to discuss. Certainly they will incorporate the reinvigorated Irish culture of the 1900s, the Irish education system, and entry into the European Union. They also will tell of The Troubles, the tourists, and the new Irish economy.

The outcome of the story is uncertain. Surely, they will tell of Ireland’s changing physical and cultural landscapes. No doubt they will include reference to the way the Irish people identify themselves, the way the government gets involved in European and world politics, and the way the Irish maintain and change their culture and daily lives. Having learned the many stories of Ireland, it is clear that when they are faced with the challenges of tomorrow, the Irish people will assuredly say “no problem!”