Few countries have generated as many would-be expatriates as Ireland. Which is strange, considering how much persecution and racial hatred the Irish have been subjected to over the centuries. Whether it's the Scottish denying their Irish roots, the British despising their less fortunate neighbors, or the Americans resenting the presence of outsiders, there's a long and dubious tradition of being unpleasant to the denizens of Eire.
And yet there's always been a mystical aspect to Ireland and the Irish that many find irresistable. For one thing, the Irish are good with words. It's not just the accent (though that doesn't hurt anything)—it's the grasp of language so many of them exhibit, from the old guy at the pub to William Butler Yeats to James Joyce. There's also the warmth typically associated with the Irish, their hospitality, cozy hearths, and pubs filled with singing and banter.
But perhaps the most stereotypically Irish trait is membership in the Catholic Church. Images of stone Celtic crosses, humble peasants in prayer, and beautiful yet quaint churches are as recognizably Irish as pictures of green mountains and shepherds. The Church's roots there are deep (St. Patrick began his missionary work in the fifth century), and few countries in Europe embraced the true religion as ardently or as wholesale as Ireland.
One reason for this may be the familial nature of Irish life. Descendants of ancient tribes, the Irish think in terms of clans and groups, not just individuals. Villages, parishes, and congregations are intimately connected, and overseeing everything are the priests, who've replaced clan chiefs as the abiters and glue of society. Priests are not only admired, they fulfill a very real role in Irish society that shapes the lives of the Irish people themselves.
A society so immersed in Christian religion and healthy family relationships will naturally develop both admirers and detractors. Wholesome cultures are intrinsically attractive, illustrating as they do the way God created humans to function and fluorish. Irish culture, to the extent that it exemplifies these ideals, remains fascinating and attracive, not just to Christians and supporters of traditional family values, but to those with an innate desire for life at its best.
Modern Ireland has changed socially and culturally in ways older generations would find unfathomable and even distasteful. Yet the imprint of the past isn't easy to eradicate from the pages of history or the global consciousness, and Christian Ireland remains a tantalizing ideal. Of course there are plenty of dark parts in the history of Erin, but there's also plenty to be lauded. You'll find books that give the warts and all history of Ireland here, but you'll also find plenty of celebrations of a place and culture all too rare in the history of the world.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.
Did you find this review helpful?