By 1901 less than one percent of the population were
Irish-speakers, while the percentage that claimed to be able to speak
the language had fallen to fourteen per cent. Moreover, by this time
the areas where Irish was the normal community language were largely
confined to enclaves on the western and southwestern seaboard, and
even these were becoming increasingly penetrated by English. In short,
by the end of the nineteenth century the language-bound culture that
was the most unmistakably Celtic feature of Irish culture in general,
was in full retreat towards the Atlantic seaboard.
However, the linguistic dimension is only one aspect of the Celtic
element in modern Irish society. Indeed, in the conquest and
colonisation of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the key
determinant of loss and gain, of dispossession and preferment, of
victory and defeat, was religious loyalty and affiliation rather than
ethnic or racial criteria. And, contrary to what is widely believed,
there was not an exact or total correspondence between religious
choice and ethnic background.
The interplay between religion and the more specifically ethnic
aspects of cultural identity became extremely complex. The Catholic
sense of collective identity - based on a shared historical fate, 'a
shared sense of grievance, dispossession and defeat' - either subsumed
or eclipsed other marks of cultural identity. A sense of Catholic
identity did not necessarily (and increasingly did not in fact) mean a
sense of Gaelic identity.
While the majority of the Gaelic-speaking Irish remained Catholic
during the Reformation and its aftermath (with the majority of the
Protestant communities in Ireland composed of those of planter stock,
including, it is worth noting, Scottish planters of impeccably Celtic
ancestry), continued adherence to Catholicism did not, as we have
seen, require continued support of the Gaelic culture. For a time, it
is true; the Catholic clergy were generally supportive of the
preservation of the Irish language, seeing it as a kind of linguistic
insulation against Protestantism. But in time this attitude changed.
As it became clear that a mass conversion to Protestantism was
unlikely, and as the Catholic bourgeoisie and comfortable farming
class increasingly showed that Anglicization in speech and other ways
did not mean abandonment of Catholicism, the Catholic Church changed
from being, in the words of one historian, 'a negative collaborator'
to an active agent in the process of linguistic and more general
cultural change in Ireland. A Catholic revival did not mean a Gaelic
But by the early twentieth century political polarization had
drastically reduced the room for making cultural choices of this kind.
Political nationalism laid claims to the Celtic heritage, in effect
the language, seeing it as the irrefutable evidence of the distinctive
Irish nation for which a national state was being demanded. The more
vague and imprecise (i.e. not language-bound) marks of the so-called
Celtic temperament were likewise adopted by those whose sense of
identity was primarily in terms of their Catholicism; it was an easy
matter to translate the supposed spirituality of the ancient Celts
into the fidelity and strong devotion of the majority of the Irish
people to Catholicism, 'in spite of dungeon fire and sword'.
Unionists opposed to the creation of an Irish national state, tended
in the main to reject the Celtic dimension (in the past or in
contemporary Ireland) as having anything to do with their heritage.
This heritage was defined exclusively in terms of its Protestantism
and its Britishness. After the political settlements of 1920-22 there
were strong pressures at work in both parts of Ireland to establish an
official version, as it were, of cultural homogeneity in each of the
two political jurisdictions in Ireland. This had more to do with state
ideology than with the richer and more complex cultural history of the
communities in both parts of the island. In both jurisdictions
cultural ambiguities and complexities of identity continued to intrude
upon the certainties of official ideology.
While it is true that the personality of Ireland has been shaped by
the interplay over the centuries of the forces of habitat, heritage
and history the Irish have played their part in shaping that
personality in recent times by self-conscious and deliberate
cultivation and by their response to the images and opinions which
others have of them. There are Celtic traits or characteristics
evident in all sections of the Irish population.
During the Celtic Tiger period, Ireland was transformed
from one of the poorest countries in Western Europe to
one of the wealthiest.
Saint Patrick (about 389-461) is the patron saint of
Ireland. Patrick was born in Britain.|
Ireland, together with Britain, joined
the European Economic Community in 1973.|
population of the island as a whole is just under 6 million(2006),
4.20 million live in the Irish Republic and 1.7 million
live in Northern Ireland. |
a parliamentary democracy. The National Parliament
(Oireachtas) consists of the President and two Houses:
Dáil Éireann (the House of Representatives) and Seanad
Éireann (the Senate) Northern Ireland
has a parliamentary monarchy and an electoral democracy.
The voting age is 18 in both parts of Ireland.