The New Ireland
Sir, - I would like to congratulate Kathy Sheridan on her piece on "the smooth, swaggering New Ireland (The Irish Times, December 24th). She ably articulated the huge poverty of contemporary Irish culture. Christmas was an apt time to write about this moral and cultural poverty, as we made our way through the frenzied riot that pre-Christmas shopping has become. It has now become cliched to say that the new-found, tigerish wealth is unevenly distributed, and that severe social problems persist. We know this, but nobody wants to hear the words of the Sister Stans and Father Sean Healys, and the collective public response to concerns about poverty and exclusion is: "Why can't they get a job?"
Working as a sociologist in this country, as I do, one's role is now reduced to that of a keener at a funeral, lamenting the death of Ireland's soul. One can list the various indicators of the socio-cultural mal-development of this country until one is hoarse, but it usually falls on deaf ears. The cost-benefit analysis reigns supreme, valuing the fast buck over all else. Chasing some mythical version of economic "progress" is more important than maintaining a civilised place based on humanity and other-centredness towards our own citizens and those of other countries who have come here to share in our new wealth. To me, the biggest advantage of cosmopolitanism is cultural diversity, but this is something to which Ireland has not yet proven too amenable.
Living in this new brash, tasteless Ireland, one often feels like running away to the hills, what's left of them. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find oases in the inhuman desert that Ireland has become. To find a shopkeeper, bartender, or bus-driver who takes the time for a word or a smile has become a serious challenge. One is now far more likely to find this in London, Paris or New York than at home. This new Ireland has become a place to retreat from, rather than to retreat to. Kathy Sheridan quoted Bride Rosney as saying that a visionary has to be "a very, very good listener". How could they possibly hear a single voice (especially a critical one) among the cacophony of economists' predictions, tribunal reports, Westlife singles self-congratulatory political speechifying?
If Ireland were to be personified now, it would no longer be a misty-eyed, red-haired maiden, but as a smug, mobile-phone-toting youth in a suit, driving a soft-top Merc, born in Termonfeckin or Tuam but speaking like Rachel or Chandler from Friends. What drives this character is the profound individualism born of "earning" too much money too fast and not having the taste to know what to do with it.
When I was growing up in rural Ireland, there was a terrible phrase to describe people like that - beggars on horseback. Much as I dislike this description, I can think of none more appropriate for the despicable cheapness of the character of the Celtic Tiger. - Yours, etc.,
Ethel Crowley, Ashford Estate, The Lough, Cork.