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 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 revival.
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.

Ireland's Provincial Flags
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 Celtic Tiger
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.
 The 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.
Ireland is 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.


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