50 reasons to love Ireland
We racked our brains for reasons why – despite the rain, recession and repression – we remain proud of our country. And here they are
1. Because we can find hope in
. One of the best things about Ireland in recent years has also been the willingness to look honestly and unflinchingly at the (very) dark side of Irish life. How can you exorcise demons if you don’t acknowledge their existence? Ireland has become infinitely better at telling the truth about itself. Artists have been crucial to this process and none more so than Louise Lowe. The continuing Monto Cycle she has created with her collaborators in ANU Productions is brutal, confrontational and deeply uncomfortable in the way it explores the history of what was once Dublin's notorious red-light district. How could the excavation of prostitution, Magdalene laundries, a drug epidemic and sexual violence be one of the good things about Ireland? Because it is brave, serious and superbly done, making for some of the best site-specific theatre anywhere in the world.
– FINTAN O’TOOLE
2. Because we have style. Our stylists, fashion and costume designers are some of the best around, and we’re pretty good at mixing old-school materials of wool, tweed and leathers with contemporary pieces. While an over-reliance on the high street, along with weird copycat uniforms among certain tribes, thwarts general style on occasion, there’s an improvised individualism here, an off-the-cuff way we wear contemporary fashion. The key to style is not caring, and we’re pretty good at being blasé.
– UNA MULLALLY
3. Because of the Dublin Bikes scheme. It makes getting around the city easier than ever, and not just for tourists. It seems that so many improvements in infrastructure are made with tourism in mind, but for once we have a scheme that puts the residents first. With a €10 annual subscription and a pair of legs, the city opens itself up for exploring. Where previously, north and south were a day’s work each, now you can go from Portobello to Mountjoy Square and back again in less time than it would take to hop on a bus. Fresh air, exercise and feelings of smugness are the icing on the cake.
– ROSEMARY Mac CABE
4. Because of our conversation
. Whenever I am somewhere else – and I am not just talking about China, where I’m living for a year – I miss the simplicity of conversation that we have in Ireland.
– DES BISHOP
5. Because we have our own superheroes now. We once relied on the Americans to invent Celtic-themed superheroes for us (Marvel Comics’ Shamrock is just one terrible example). More recently, however, Rob Curley cultivated a homegrown pantheon of mythically themed Irish superheroes called the League of Volunteers. Ireland also has some excellent offbeat comic-book creators such as Philip Barrett, Paddy Lynch, Cathal Duggan and Garret Shanley. You can find out about more of them by catching up with Liam Geraghty and Craig O’Connor’s Comic Cast podcasts at comiccast.com.
– PATRICK FREYNE
6. Because we have real heroes. People such as Andrew Madden, Dr Christine Buckley, Marie Collins, Michael O’Brien, Colm O’Gorman and, latterly, the Magdalene women, all of whom overcame decades of neglect, abuse, pain, and stigma to force the rest of us to look at what we were and might still be. But what they are most to be admired for is how, from such early privation, all have built successful lives for themselves and their loved ones.
– PATSY McGARRY
7. Because our roads are safer than at any time since the advent mass motoring. Even during the very worst years of the Northern conflict, you were far more likely to die or to be seriously injured in a car crash than from the effects of political violence. In the early 1970s, 600 people a year were losing their lives on Irish roads: an annual massacre that was largely avoidable but attracted nothing like the attention devoted to the Troubles.
Despite the far higher numbers of people driving today compared with the 1970s, 161 people died from crashes in the Republic last year: the seventh consecutive year in which the numbers fell. Of course, that’s 161 too many. But Ireland is now Europe’s sixth-safest place to drive, a vast improvement on past decades. You can reasonably conclude that there are hundreds of people walking around today whose lives were saved last year alone.
This should put our economic problems in some perspective. The breakthrough was a combined result of decisions deliberately taken by governments, State agencies, volunteer groups, the Garda, and individuals, all of whom can share the credit.
– FRANK McNALLY
8. Because we’re bringing our own bottle
s. “It takes the sting out of a night out,” says Marianne Delaney, owner of Café Gusto on Washington Street in Cork, which joined the BYOB recession-friendly trend three years ago. With a meal costing no more than €10 per head, Delaney’s place – “Mediterranean with a sprinkle of local passion” – attracts “people who like to spend less but socialise more, often over food and wine”. Try also: Rigby’s, Upper Leeson Street, Dublin; Galway Arts Centre; the Leisureplex centres in Dublin.
9. Because of the hope, fun and
empathy of our young. I see the world through my teenage daughters, and they see Irish society positively, in a way that my generation didn’t. They see the challenges of modern Irish life stoically – unemployment, emigration, trying to gain further education. ... What gives me hope in the work I do is watching how young people embrace life and find joy easily. They are open, they hug each other, sexuality is not an issue or barrier to life. People in their 20s are living life with a value system that has a strong and wonderful empathy.
– FIACH MacCONGHAIL, Director of the Abbey Theatre
10. Because you can take a wheelchair on to the beach. Until two summers ago, wheelchair users were not able to enjoy the beautiful beach in Kilkee, west Clare, as the vehicles are not designed for sand. Unless it’s a Deming De-Bug All Terrain BeachWheelchair, which looks like a cross between a noon buggy and four-wheeled ball-barrow.
The community wanted to support a project that was focused on changing perceptions around disability, and found the Deming wheelchair on the internet. This will be the third summer the wheelchair will be freely available on Kilkee beach. It offers a way of experiencing the pleasure of being on the beach in a way so many able-bodied people take for granted.
– ROSITA BOLAND
11. Because Ireland at the moment has a potential for greatness. “That possibility is there despite all its problems, foreboding and economic difficulties. There is still a residue of possibility. People feel part of something here, even if it is part of a problem. Most other nationalities don’t really feel that sense of home that we do. We are coming to terms with lots of issues in Ireland but I don’t know anybody that didn’t love being in Ireland, if only for a visit.
– MANNIX FLYNN , Independent Dublin city councillor and artist
bond we have with horses. Even the most unhorsey of Irish people have shown sympathy for the major victims of the horsemeat crisis: horses. The scandal has also finally alerted Government, authorities and the breeders to the ramifications of the indiscriminate pre-recession breeding that caused the surplus of horses in the first place. The Irish horse enhances Ireland’s international image; this vulnerable beast may now earn some much deserved respect and better standards of welfare.
– EILEEN BATTERSBY
13. Because of our cloudscapes. Okay, so they might dump large amounts of water on us – 141 millimetres so far this year if you live in Dublin; a whopping 353 if you're a Valentia islander – but with their kaleidoscope of moods and textures, from wispy to whimsical, scuddy to scary, Irish skies are a cloud-spotter’s paradise.
– ARMINTA WALLACE
14. Because we have rediscovered the run of ourselves. We are chastened, and nicer, since the recession has blunted the coarseness of the Celtic Tiger. Many of us are poorer, and angrier at the unfairness of a debt not of our making being foisted upon us and our children. But maybe we’re more considerate of others too, with a renewed appreciation of what’s important in life.
– DEIRDRE FALVEY
15. Because we can build beautiful modern neighbourhoods. The most depressing images of recent years have been of ghost estates, derelict building and empty apartment complexes. It’s even more frustrating when brilliant examples of modern neighbourhoods are sited next to the dingy ones.
The Grand Canal Dock area is an example of what can happen when architecture, planning, and a proper mix of business, leisure, entertainment and living space is worked out properly.
It is Ireland’s finest modern neighbourhood, almost living up to the digital images that preceded it, with rollerbladers leaping off benches, people brunching in waterside cafes and Facebook and Google mirroring each other across the water. Daniel Libeskind’s stunning theatre and Martha Schwartz Partners’ red light sculptures bring colour and style to the square.
There are newer developments too: a neighbourhood warehouse holding parties and installations, and The Marker hotel opening in April. Planners might have screwed up so many developments, but at least they got this one right.
– UNA MULLALLY
16. Because of our rainbows. They might be as common as chips, but people visit us to see them, and our emigrants miss them. We have ideal conditions: a mixture of sunshine and showers with the sun not too high in the sky, especially in the spring. The farther south you go towards the equator, the rarer they become. To see a rainbow, the sun has to be behind you with the shower in front of you. If the sun is more than 42 degrees above the horizon, no rainbow will be visible, which is why our position in the northern hemisphere is perfect. Double rainbows are common enough, but a rare triple rainbow over Shannon, in Co Clare, last November was remarkable enough for Met Éireann to issue a press release.
– KATE HOLMQUIST
17. Because of our Eurovision obsession. You say you’re not going to watch it. You say you haven’t watched it in years and that it’s not the way it used to be, but when May 18th rolls around, you’ll be glued to the Eurovision as well. Don’t feel bad. We all will. Although our Eurovision glory years might be behind us, and this year’s Irish entrant has average odds at 25 to 1 to win, the Eurovision is still one of the country’s annual talking points. Our obsession with the contest is here to stay.
– JASON KENNEDY
18. Because we
readers. It is fitting that a literary prize as wideranging and inclusive of foreign-language fiction in translation as the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award should have originated here. This year’s shortlist will be announced on April 9th, and it is fairly certain that librarians throughout Ireland have already been ordering many titles from among the 154 nominated books for readers. If the readers are keeping their local libraries busy, it is equally certain that the librarians are keeping their local book clubs well provided with choice. What makes the Irish reader special? He or she is just as likely to be reading a Polish classic, a contemporary German or French title, or the latest big US novel as works by Irish writers, who enjoy a loyal domestic readership.
– EILEEN BATTERSBY