Living in Ireland Today
Fado, fado, the Celts began the tradition of storytelling in Ireland. Storytelling today is just one aspect of Irish culture and daily life that is celebrated in annual festivals throughout the country. Irish festivals can last one or two days, or even a month. Among the most notable festivals are the storytelling festivals in the west, the Galway arts festival, the Kilkenny arts week, and the Liisdoonvarna matchmaking festival.
Wandering through one of the country's many festivals, a tourist would frequently hear the phrase “no problem.” In Ireland, tourists will hear the phrase uttered by hotel clerks, waiters, and people on the street. This phrase and the many festivals create a perception that life in Ireland is slower paced, that the Irish have a lot to celebrate, and they have few problems.
Ironically, the undercurrent of life in Ireland is a painful problem that the Irish have described as “The Troubles.” The Troubles are indeed the most important factor affecting daily life in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Their roots can be traced back to the efforts of King Henry VIII,William of Orange, and Cromwell to destroy the religious freedom of the Irish. Over time, these roots branched out to include economic, social, intellectual, and cultural influences as well. Unfortunately, these destructive influences did not die with Irish independence. They continue to be woven through every fabric of Irish life even today. While the effects and events of The Troubles are far greater in Northern Ireland, they still have very real impacts on daily life in Ireland. Perhaps the best way to understand this is to compare it to a family in which two members are almost constantly fighting. The conflict continuously affects all other family members.As long as the fighting continues, it is a painful problem to all family members no matter where they live.
The island of Ireland is home to two distinct governmental units: the independent Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. The majority of people in the North are Protestant Unionists (or loyalists). Historically, they have used a variety of political actions to maintain control of the land and to restrict the civil rights of the North's Catholics. In the 1960s, a call for civil rights for the minority Catholic population developed in Northern Ireland. It called for an end to anti-Catholic discrimination. It was bitterly opposed by the Unionists. The result was troubling disorder and rioting.
During The Troubles, more than 3,000 people were killed. Most fatalities were of civilians on both sides. The deaths included members of extremist groups and British soldiers. Thousands of people also were injured. Homes were bombed and burned. Families were destroyed. Hatreds intensified. Finally, in the late 1990s, a series of actions and compromises occurred that attempt to address the concerns of the Unionists, the Nationalists, the British, the Republicans, and the Republic of Ireland. These fragile steps forward have given people hope for a peaceful and better life. It has lessened support for terrorists on both sides.
Nearly everyone on the island, whether north and south, wants The Troubles to end peacefully and quickly. Until this occurs, however, virtually everyone, everything, and everyplace is still affected by The Troubles.
An undercurrent of The Troubles flows through Ireland. The Irish have, however, created a lifestyle that reflects the “no problem” frame of mind. The Irish place a great deal of pride in their history, arts, and architecture. This pride grew stronger during the push for independence in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
MYTHS AND FOLKLORE
The Irish pride in their history can be seen in the numerous tales, myths, and legends passed down orally through storytelling. Over centuries, the Irish have explained many of the interesting aspects of their physical and cultural landscapes through myths and folklore. In Irish myth and folklore, there are seven different types of fairies. The most famous is the leprechaun, which is derived from the Irish words for shoemaker.
These mischievous elves avoid humans and guard pots of gold. Fairy tales and fairy forts are found across the land. Another fairy is the friendly Phouka, who will help people who treat him nicely. Still another fairy is the banshee, a wailing female spirit whose cry indicates death nearby.
THEATER AND FILM
During the independence movement, the Irish reclaimed their culture and worked to preserve their traditions of music, dance, and writing, as was explained in Chapter 4. At the same time, the Irish worked to reinvigorate and preserve their arts, architecture, and past times.
In 1904, the Abbey Theatre opened in Dublin. It is now recognized worldwide for the quality of its performances and performers. Many of its actors and actresses have achieved fame in London, on Broadway, and in movies and television. Irish culture is also reflected in a diversity of films such as The Quiet Man,My Left Foot,Michael Collins, The Commitments, and Waking Ned Devine.
In recent years, Ireland has made outstanding progress in preserving the artifacts of Irish culture and displaying them for the Irish people and tourists. Dublin is home to the National Museum, the treasure house of Irish antiquity.
Nearby is the National Gallery, home to some of Europe's finest art. Also in Dublin, at Trinity College, is the beautiful Book of Kells, illustrated by monks in Iona in 806 A.D. and containing the four gospels.
MUSEUMS AND ARCHITECTURE
Ireland has hundreds of museums scattered across the land. The national or local governments maintain some. Churches, organizations, or individuals operate others. The diversity of Ireland's museums is reflected in cultural collections and programs at centers such as the Bunratty Folk Park, Jameson Heritage Center, and the National Maritime Museum.
Irish culture can be seen in a fascinating range of architecture. The cultural landscape includes ring forts, round towers, thatched-roof houses, churches, castles, country homes, Art Deco buildings, and multistoried office buildings. Ireland's architecture reflects both its people and its invaders and occupiers. Ireland and the European Union are preserving and restoring the country's architectural wonders. The city of Dublin limits the height of buildings to four or five stories in order to maintain the city's architectural integrity.
The Irish people love sports. Their two favorite sports are the indigenous Gaelic football and Irish hurling. In 1884, the Gaelic Athletic Association formed to preserve these two sporting activities. The All-Ireland Football Final in Croke Park,Dublin is the country's single most popular sporting event. The All-Ireland Hurling Final also is held in Croke Park. These games are played at both the parish and county levels. County flags and colors are flown across the land during their sport seasons.
Soccer is another popular sport. It is played on the international level. The Irish are avid supporters of their national team's efforts in European and World Cup championship competition. Ireland's love for horses and the importance of the country's stud farm industry are reflected in the Irish Grand National Steeplechase and the Irish Derby.Other popular sporting events and past times include walking, golf, fishing, rugby, marathons, regatta, and horseback riding.
HOLIDAYS AND FEASTS
Major Irish holidays and feasts include New Years, St. Patrick's Day, St. Bridget's Day, Christmas, St. Stephen's Day, Shrove Tuesday (the day before Lent), and Easter. All Saints Day, or Hallomas, is an ancient Irish feast that in American culture has become Halloween. Ireland also has three very important bank holidays when the whole country seems to shut down. They are known as the June, the August, and the October Bank Holidays.
The Irish government provides education and health services for its people, and these provisions are certainly part of daily life in the country. Ireland has an excellent, wellestablished educational system. In Ireland, students enter the first level in school at five years of age. At age seven, they enter first class and attend through sixth class. They then enter second level which takes five or six years to complete. After the first three years of second level schooling, students take the junior certificate exam. Depending upon the results and individual goals, the student will have two or three more years of secondary schooling. They finish by successfully passing the leaving exam. The score on that exam determines if a student can attend a technical school or a university. Everyone in Ireland is required to attend school until age 16.
The third level is the university. Students select major courses of study, just as in America. Irish universities also offer graduate degrees in a variety of majors and degrees in professions such as medicine and law.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
Health and safety are also important aspects of Irish life. Ireland has a national health care and insurance system that, depending on income, provides a full range of services that vary from free to full payment. Safety is the responsibility of the police. Overall crime in Ireland is low. There are exceptions in some urban zones where drugs are a problem.
Stemming from the Great Migration and Ireland's huge tourism industry, a growing sector of Ireland's culture has an interest in genealogy. Among the Irish people, family history is passed down orally from generation to generation. For Americans, Australians, and others, often all they know is that a grandfather or great-grandmother was born in Ireland. They are the people who want to know more and are willing to pay to find the answers. In the process, they also often find relatives in Ireland that they did not know existed.
Genealogy has provided well-paying careers to some professional researchers in Ireland. If people do not want to pay researchers to unlock the history of their families in Ireland, the townland, a unique geographical aspect of genealogy in Ireland, may be the key. Ireland is divided into over 60,000 pieces of land called townlands. They range in size from about 3 acres to 600 acres. If someone seeks genealogical information about relatives in Ireland and knows the townland of his ancestor, it is much easier to find records. Also, if one knows the townland, it is possible to visit the exact place in Ireland where one's ancestors lived and died.
DAILY LIFE IN IRELAND
Daily life in Ireland begins around 8 A.M. The Irish stay up late at night and get up later in the morning than do most Americans. By about 9 A.M., people are on the streets. The traffic rush hits the roads about the same time. Mothers with prams (baby carriages) are walking their older children to school or going to the grocery. School children of all ages are on buses or walking to school. Students wear sweaters and pants or skirts displaying the colors of their school. In the country, farmers gather along the roads with milk pails awaiting the arrival of dairy trucks. By 10 A.M., everyone is at school, work, home, or shopping. At noon, the Irish have lunch. It often consists of a bowl of soup and a sandwich. School children leave the school grounds and some eat lunch in restaurants, cafeterias, or pubs. After lunch, the Irish return to work, school, or shopping.
The school day ends in the late afternoon, and the workday between 5 and 6 P.M. There is another brief traffic rush hour in the city centers and on the roads.About 8 P.M., or later, the Irish enjoy their evening dinner. Watching television is not an important evening social activity of the Irish. They only have a few channels (one in Irish only) and the shows are generally not comparable to nightly television in the United States.
Nightlife for adults in Ireland begins about 10 P.M. The center of this activity is the pub. It is the social center of the neighborhood or community. It is the place for Guinness, friendly people, storytelling, music, craic (pronounced “crack,” this is Irish for “fun”). Live music in an Irish pub seldom begins before 10 P.M. By midnight, the people are on their way home, where they then sit around the table or fireplace and discuss the events of the day before bed.
As the story of daily life in Ireland concludes, one can see that life in Ireland is in some ways very much like living in America and that Irish life contains some unique and wonderful exceptions that are truly Irish. They include a great range of cultural and social impacts such as The Troubles, the intellectual stimulation of their schools, legends and stories, and the physical bawdiness of Irish sports. The Irish people enjoy life, their pubs, and their festivals. More importantly, they enjoy each other. They have built a society and a lifestyle that makes Ireland uniquely Irish.