PEOPLE & LIFESTYLE
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Irish people have a reputation of being welcoming, warm and friendly. They love to chat, whether with friends or strangers, and for centuries they have been known for their eloquence, humor and wit. Being able to take a joke is the foundation of a good friendship, but trying not to take things too seriously also reflects the careful Irish nature not to step on anybody’s toes or hurt feelings. Traditionally, Irish people are cautious about modesty, but since the last three decades brought economic success, prosperity and a growth in expectations, people developed a new self-esteem and are eager to celebrate achievements and success.
Traditional Ireland with large families and a close link to church and community has largely disappeared due to the increasing urbanization of the country. The bigger cities and especially Dublin reflect a multicultural and cosmopolitan lifestyle and multinational companies keep attracting a young and international workforce. Around 17% of the population is now foreign-born. This marks a significant shift in a country that has long been struggling with mass immigration in the 19th and 202th century.
Ireland has seen a remarkable journey from a deeply Catholic country that only de-criminalized same sex activity in 1993 to the modern society that has seen its first openly gay prime minister in 2017 and was the first country in the world to introduce marriage equality for same-sex couples by popular vote.
Still 78% of the residents are Roman-Catholic, but the religion is now more seen as a cultural identifier and the Catholic Church came under harsh criticism in relation to past clerical abuse scandals. Since it is felt by many that the Catholic church failed to satisfactorily take responsibility and public opinion is often opposed to the Church’s stand on contraception, divorce or homosexuality, the bond between parish and parishioners is not what it used to be.
The local pub still plays an integral role in Ireland and especially in more rural communities the pub is the centre of social life. It’s a social meeting place for friends, families or to come together to watch sport or other events. Often local bands or musicians will perform in the evening.
ARTS & CULTURE
Despite the century-long suppression, Ireland has managed to develop a rich cultural heritage. Irish culture, including the Irish pub, music and literature, enjoys huge international popularity and the St Patrick’s Day Festival is celebrated by millions of people all over the world every year. The native Celtic language is still an important subject to be taught in school and it is still spoken on an everyday basis in certain areas in Ireland. The significance of Irish heritage and identity also shows in the huge support for Gaelic sports.
The stream of Irish world literature that has enriched world culture has almost entirely been written in English, which is mainly due to the suppression of Irish language under British rule. Those manuscripts composed in Irish, many of them are of religious nature, include lyric poems or fragments of epic verse.
Literary production was generally low until the 19th century and the revival of literature goes hand in hand with the renaissance of Irish language which emerged with Irish nationalism and put Irish plots into the focus. Some of the most relevant writers of 19th and 20th century Ireland, including Brendan Behan and Flann O’Brien, published their work in both English and Irish. Some of the works of Oscar Wilde and Samuel Becket were also composed in French.
The Easter rising and War of Independence brought a period of censorship and many writers joined the Republican movement. The time after independence saw a new height of the Irish short story. Two Irishmen were awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in the 1920s - poet William Butler Yeats in 1923 and dramatist George Bernhard Shaw in 1925. Further awardees include Samuel Beckett (1969) and Seamus Heaney (1995). Other literary figures with international reputation include George Moore, Enda O’Brien, Flann O’Brien, Roddy Doyle, John Banville, Sean O’Casey, Oscar Wilde and of course James Joyce.
MUSIC & DANCE
For centuries, Ireland has been producing a unique mix of traditional music. Music makes up for an important part of Irish culture, has been passed on from generation to generation and is known all over the world.
Irish traditional folk is characterized by thrilling melodies and emotional ballads accompanied by local instruments, including fiddle, bodhran, celtic harp and the tin whistle. For long, the Irish harp was the only instrument and the fiddle, accordion and uilleann pipes were added later. Irish songs gained popularity in Europe in the 19th century and it became one of the main sources of American folk music.
The revival of traditional music in the late 19th and early 20th century was followed by an even more energetic resurgence in the 1960s. Interest in traditional Irish music grew hand in hand with the international popularity of the Irish pub.
Elements of traditional Irish music have also been used to create a distinctive Irish popular music form with great international appeal, including bands like U2, Thin Lizzy, the Corrs or the Cranberries. Ireland always had an extremely vivid music scene and there seems to be a never ending stream of young Irish bands and musicians.
Besides the music, Ireland has a long tradition of folk dancing, Irish dancing being the most popular style which is characterized by lightning footwork, high kicks and some tap dancing elements. The Riverdance and Lord of the Dance formations are internationally famed ambassadors of Irish dancing.
Little is known about early Celtic arts in Ireland as relics made from iron decayed quickly in the Irish climate and gold was rare. Therefore, rarely any early Celtic relics exist in Ireland that share the same characteristics as Celtic relics found on the European mainland.
Celtic Irish arts often relates to artifacts and manuscripts from the early Christian period between the 6th and 8th century when Irish monks traveled to Europe and England bringing back inspiration from various cultures that would merge into an expression of art which is unique to Ireland. Lavish decoration, Celtic knots and sophisticated, entangled structures are characteristic for this period. The famous Book of Kells or the Irish high crosses are excellent examples of this early Christian Irish Celtic Style.
Between 1200 and 1700, Irish arts was relatively stagnant and remained isolated from the trends that shaped the European mainland. Portraiture and landscape painting emerged from the late 17th century and the early 18th century saw an increased prosperity and the establishment of new cultural institutions like the Royal Dublin Society and the Royal Irish Academy. A lack of perspective led to the emigration of many Irish artists to London or Paris during the 19th century, but things improved with the turn of the century. The renewal of interest in all aspects of Irish culture and increased patronage slowly led to an art scene of homegrown talent and returning emigres.
Irish art remained relatively isolated from the art trends that spread throughout mainland Europe. Jack Butler Yeats, brother of the famous poet, became known for his depiction of Irish subjects and elements of Celtic mythology.
More abstract and experimental arts evolved in Ireland after World War II. An increase in exhibition space and galleries made it possible for alternative arts to be noticed by a larger audience. By the end of the 20th century, Irish arts became an important feature of modern Irish life and is reflected in a range of styles and media, including painting, printmaking and film.
The Irish are keen about sports and foster an enthusiasm for outdoor activities, especially water sports like surfing, kayaking or sailing are popular in a country which is surrounded by sea on all sides.
Like in most Western countries, soccer is popular and the Irish are glowing supporters of their national team. But the real passion shows in Rugby and the Irish sports, including Gaelic Football (a combination of rugby and soccer) and Hurling (a rougher version of field hockey). Croke Park, the biggest stadium in Ireland, is home to the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) and is dedicated to Irish sports while soccer fixtures and other sport events take place in the newer Aviva stadium.
Further, the Irish are extremely passionate about horse and greyhound racing. The annual Galway Races are a major horse racing event and the Irish Derby in the Curragh in Co. Kildare draws some of Europe’s best competitors.