In a previous post I wasn’t that kind about the quality of life in Ireland compared to the super-efficient and civilised Germans.
Kevin Hargaden gave me a hard time about moaning about life on the auld green sod. Fair comment. There are plenty of moaners around already. Indeed, with the extinction of the Celtic Tiger Ireland seems to be in the grip of a collective sense of profound, corrosive pessimism – about politicians; planners; bankers; bishops; unions; public sector fat cats; pessimism itself!; the weather; water shortages; flooding; negative equity and debt; ceding national sovereignty to Europe; unemployment; lack of hope; poor public transport; inequality; dysfunctional health care – and so on ad nauseum.
I’d like to reflect on the absence of hope in contemporary Irish culture some time – but, as Groucho Marx said about his wonderful evening, this ain’t it. First, I thought an optimistic post would be in order.
So, what is good about Irish life and culture? What would be on your list? With no negative qualifications allowed! Here are my thoughts in no particular order at all – please do add yours.
The people: at the danger of lapsing into stereotypes and wild generalisation, there is something I love about the informality, hospitality, relationality, and mocking humour of Irish culture. If the Irish are always polite to you, they don’t like you.
The landscape: I absolutely love the diverse Irish landscape, especially the western coastline. We spent some time in West Cork last summer and got to the end of the Beara, Sheep’s Head and Mizen peninsulas. Fantastic, wind-swept, beauty. The banner of faithinireland is Barleycove beach near Mizen Head.
The history: in the ancient past I studied for a degree in Irish archaeology. There is something special about belonging to a landscape that has been occupied since Mesolithic times and is dotted with megalithic tombs and evidence of other forms of occupation over the centuries. I once did field research on the Tower Houses of east Clare and Tipperary – Ireland is a great place for castles. But more than this, the tangled web of Irish history gives the culture a depth and complex tapestry.
The weather; those relentless warm and cold fronts flowing over us from the Atlantic shape our lives and culture and give us endless topics of conversation. The reliable unpredictability of our weather keeps us always hopeful of a clear blue sky. I could not cope with living in somewhere like Arizona with 300+ clear blue sky days per year; or in Australia and its relentless burnt brown parched landscape that has not seen rain in years.
The Christian legacy; There are very few places in the world that can rival Ireland’s rich historical Christian heritage with sites to match. Places like Skellig Michael, an early Christian monastery perched 700ft up on a pinnacle of rock, 8 miles out to sea off the Kerry coast. The gospel taken to the ends of the known earth. Wondrous.
Democracy; Christians enjoy huge freedoms to live their lives and participate fully in every institution of society. There is no repression or persecution, they enjoy freedom in employment, investments, in education, the economy, in schooling, in business, in the media, in government, and in the arts.
The missional / post-Christendom context: A while back I asked a bunch of students whether they would rather be living in old mid-20th Century Ireland or in today’s increasingly post-Christendom Ireland. 100% said today. Far more open than the past.
Health system; I know many may think me mad because of continuous bad press, but compared to most countries around the world we have amazingly good health care. For billions of people, the idea you can be treated by first class doctors via a public health system would be an unimaginable blessing.
Education; Sure it’s not perfect, but we have an excellent public (and free) school education system. Sure those with money have a huge advantage but university access is available on merit and without massive debts being hung around students’ necks.
And, the best til last, Ireland has some of the best links golf courses in the world – Royal County Down is quite simply heaven on earth.