Rising generation will regenerate a better Ireland


The youth of Ireland are challenging the traditional orthodoxies that left the State with such a dearth of values, writes ELAINE BYRNE

They will not force us

They will stop degrading us

They will not control us

We will be victorious

THE YOUNG audience at the recent Muse concert in the O2 went wild when the English rock band opened with these lyrics from Uprisingfrom their number one album, The Resistance. My 17-year-old sister and those around her became even more animated when the lead singer, Matthew James Bellamy, delayed his rift to pick up a Tricolour, which had been thrown on to the stage, and wrap it on the drum stand.

Despite the stage props of stunning lasers and flashing towers, which have earned Muse the title of one of the world’s apex live acts, the biggest noise of approval that night was reserved when Bellamy left the stage draped in the Irish flag.

“Look! That’s the Irish flag, he has our flag!” my teenage sister said, pulling me up from my seat just to make sure I had seen it. Then, like many others, she took a photograph of it and subsequently put it up as her profile picture on her social networking page, Bebo. No matter what the context may be or the way in which it is expressed, there is something fundamentally very deeply primal in how we articulate our pride for our country. The confidence to publicly declare Is breá liom mo tír is one which a younger generation appear to be more comfortable with. This elevation of ourselves beyond ourselves.

In her opinion piece on this page today, President Mary McAleese has written about the unshakeable pride and faith that young Irish citizens have in their country, as witnessed in the Irish TimesYoung Ireland series last week.

Nineteen-year-old Cameron Stewart from Holywood in Northern Ireland, for example, wrote how “all is not lost, and that there is everything to be found . . . the recession has stripped people of hope, it has also brought forward a national self-awareness”.

Andrew Murphy, a 22-year-old law student at NUI Galway believes that: “We may be children of the 1980s but we are not prisoners of the 1980s. We have the ability to lead and change this country.” On Wednesday, Ciaran McGuinness (28) and Neasa Cunniffe (27) from Dublin spoke of how “now is the time for optimism. Now is the time to take action. Ireland’s way out of this mess can be summed up in three words: education, entrepreneurship and technology”.

Shane McLoughlin (33) from Limerick emphasised how Ireland needed to be “creative in how we manage our wealth and support young people with fresh ideas” and pointed to our enormous natural resources and the influential Irish diaspora.

Finally, on Friday, Eloise McInerney (29) from Dublin stressed the importance of education in every aspect of Irish life. The sentiments expressed by each of these contributors were reflected in the Irish TimesBehaviour and Attitudes Opinion Poll, published in recent days, where more than eight in 10 people surveyed want Ireland to start believing in itself again.

According to the poll, it is young people who are most optimistic about the future with almost 60 per cent of those aged 18-24 who believe that their “greatest achievements” are ahead of them. It has always been, throughout our history, the positivity and passion of young Ireland that has challenged the traditional orthodoxies of older generations.

Theobald Wolfe Tone was 35 when he helped lead the 1798 Rebellion. Robert Emmet was 25 when executed for his part in the failed 1803 rebellion. Charles Stuart Parnell was one of the youngest elected members to the House of Commons at 29. Arthur Griffith founded Sinn Féin when only 33. James Larkin was 36 when he co-founded the Irish Labour Party. Seán Lemass was a mere 17-year-old when he fought at the GPO in 1916. Michael Collins was 32 when he died.

Our political parties are currently experiencing a transformation in their age profile. Fianna Fáil has 55 councillors under 35 and yesterday Cllr James Carroll (26), was declared elected to the Seanad. There are 59 Fine Gael councillors under 35 while the Labour Party has 17 councillors under 30 years.

Gaisce, Ireland’s National Challenge Award, for those under 25, celebrates its 25th anniversary next year. To date over 220,000 young people have participated in the President’s award programme.

It has been convenient to believe that the advent of the Celtic Tiger has somehow weakened and precipitated the decline of traditional Irish values. This flawed assumption rests on the premise that those so-called values which genuflected with due deference before authority, without ever taking individual responsibility for the consequences of the absolute power of the church, politics, Garda and professions, were acceptable standards to define the values of a state in the first place.

We live in a republic. For too long, the principles of republicanism were hijacked. Ireland’s young generation are now in a process of clarifying what, in fact, our values really are.

“Rise up and take the power back,” sing Muse in their song, Uprising.